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June 2021

Why the way football is reported is both insulting and incredibly dangerous

by Tony Attwood

There was an editorial in the German magazine Der Spiegel a few months back about the leaders of Turkey and the United States, which says, roughly, “Erdogan and Trump are positioning themselves as the only ones capable of truly understanding the people and speaking for them. It’s their view that freedom of the press does not protect democracy and that the press isn’t reverent enough to them and is therefore useless. They believe that the words that come from their mouths as powerful leaders are the truth and that the media, when it strays from them, is telling lies. That’s autocratic thinking — and it is how you sustain a dictatorship.”

I have seen these sentiments echoed elsewhere and by and large I’d go along with them.

But then I got to thinking how this related to football journalism in England.  Certainly not the same way, because the voices of the leaders of the Premier League and Football Association are rarely heard and are even less rarely held to account by the media.  In fact, thinking on this, it seems to me to be almost the reverse situation.

In the absence of any powerful leadership, the journalists have taken over, “positioning themselves as the only ones capable of truly understanding the people and speaking for them.”  Except for “people” just put “the fans”.

So while the Washington Post are pleased to quote Brian Klass of the LSE,  thinking along the same lines as Der Spiegel saying, “Trump is not yet going nearly as far as Erdogan, who jails journalists, but the preliminary logic is the same — an attempt to undermine the credibility of those who hold power to account,” again we have to think: who is standing up for the regular supporters?

Of course occasionally the media try to, by running stories about the cost of going into a game, but even then they normally don’t bother with research and get their “facts” wrong.  And certainly they do nothing at all to consider the bizarre and dangerous behaviour of PGMO who run refereeing for the Premier League.  Worse, for one year we had the Telegraph running what looked very much like PGMO press releases and counting them as news.

And yet, if they wanted to, the media could run a whole series of campaigns lambasting the way football is run in England, and they could be there asking the difficult questions of the authorities, and holding them to account.  But no they absolutely don’t.

As a result, just as the President of the United States is, as the Washington Post put it, “like a rock in a stream; he creates turbulence and is to be avoided, but everything flows on around him,” so the English journalists in both the press and broadcast media, and their imitators in the bloggettas are the same – the real news flows around them.

As I have said many times before, the football media in England creates the agenda (ie it decides what is important and what it not) and then takes up a position on it.  In doing this it makes up any stories it wants, creates an agenda it wants, and basically become a wholesale irrelevance. Except they do have an influence of sorts.

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In short they position themselves so that they are the only ones capable of truly understanding football and the people who pay money to go and watch it.  As Der Spiegel said about Trump and Erdogan, “That’s autocratic thinking — and it is how you sustain a dictatorship.”

Indeed a dictatorship is what we now have in football, because all the mass media follow the same line, because they are all involved in buying the rights from the same people, because they won’t ask the important questions like why, still, can we not have decent investment in grass roots football.  After all we do have a crisis of fitness in the country.

And there are other issues which they won’t go into.  Here are a few…

1: Why is PGMO set up with so few referees that some teams get the same ref over and over again.  While the rest of Europe has moved on since the Italian refereeing scandals the PGMO uniquely is set up to run refereeing exactly as it was in Italy at the time of the corruption scandals.  Now why is that?

2: TV edits football – even on live matches – a technique that was used during the Italian match fixing era, so that publicity was not drawn towards dubious refereeing decisions and the things that spoil the image of the game, like time wasting.

3: Fifa is widely recognised as corrupt – as corrupt now as it was a few years ago – and yet public money is still being paid to the organisation, instead of countries calling time on the whole corruption ethos.  Yes we do get some criticism of Fifa in the media occasionally, but it is all put aside and we join in once more.

4: The media has picked up and used Untold’s figures showing that the reason for England’s failure in international tournaments is primarily down to the lack of fully qualified coaches, compared with the ratio in other countries.  But no pressure has ever been brought to bear on the FA over this.  They report the issue as if to say, “look aren’t we clever to have found this” and then fail to make the point that the FA ought to do something about it.

5: In under two years time the UK will (unless the current political regime is overthrown) walk out of the EU, and immigration will be greatly reduced.  No one seems to want to talk about what happens to the Premier League at this point: it is rather like the notion that the EU will back down on trade talks because “they need us more than we need them.”

Given that many EU nationals in other industries are seriously worried about how they will be able to stay in the UK if the EU doesn’t cave in to the demands that the English courts will decide who can stay or not (rather than the European Court of Justice) there is every chance that EU nationals will be forced to leave come Brexit Day if there is no radical change of heart.  And no one says a word.

6: Of course some foreign nationals born outside the EU such as Alexis, are in the UK because they have gained residency rights in the EU through their previous clubs in Spain or Italy.  No one has ever begun talking about how that will be dealt with.

7: If the money paid to the clubs by the media were suddenly to drop (because of drastically declining audience figures, perhaps as a result of many of the foreigners leaving the English game) some of the clubs (who spend all that money on salaries) would be unable to continue and would face liquidation.  Is there a contingency plan?

8: I’ve written so many times about the ineptitude and ludicrous organisation of the FA that you’ll probably know about it off by heart.  And yes occasionally the journalists mention this… but then continue as if nothing is wrong.  The journalists would hardly cover the fact that Sport England took its money back, so awful did they find the FA.

9: In the same way, the Observer runs its “Said and Done” column each week which highlights the corruption of Fifa.  But then continues to report Fifa’s competitions as if they are a good thing.  It’s a bit like denouncing the rallies of the far right on Sunday, but telling us the catering was good and the marchers were all jolly nice people, on Monday.

10: And I have reached point ten and haven’t even started on TV coverage, moving fixtures to times and dates that make it impossible to plan a life properly.  And yes, I love football, and I support Arsenal, but I do have family events I want to be at, I want to plan my holiday, I have other hobbies – but football rides roughshod over every aspect of a normal life, leading us to endless chopping and changing.

And here as in so many other situations, the multiple possible solutions are hardly mentioned.

But instead we get page after page of fake news.  Fake news about transfers, fake news about contracts, fake news about the clubs’ intentions, and tactical analyses that are so inept it rather looks as if the writer wasn’t in the ground at all….   Plus how many times do we need to hear the same stories about Bellerin.  And today, as the news of Arsenal’s signing (allegedly as I write) of Lacazette, we have a list of all the players who are about to leave.

Of course maybe this time they are right, but the fact that the Daily Telegraph has on its front page at 4.40pm on 4 July the headline, “Arsenal return for Alexandre Lacazette but striker faces Champions League dilemma” doesn’t give me much confidence.

Infantino, Trump, Erdogan.  OK Infantino is unlikely to be able to start a world war or overthrow a democracy, but all three need holding to account.  So does the FA.  So does the Premier League.  But instead we get “Aston Villa confirm John Terry signing in the most cringeworthy way possible ”

All we can do is make fun of the endless transfer nonsense, and tot up the numbers as we did last season where we found under 3% of the transfer stories were true.  But for the press, it is cheap, and doesn’t touch difficult subjects, and in the end, for them (although not for some of us) that is all that counts.

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7 comments to Why the way football is reported is both insulting and incredibly dangerous

  • Eezzee

    great article, for me with all the money in football , I would be staggered if it was,nt corrupt. There are so many decisions made by referees that are unexplainable and all we are ever told is they even themselves out over the season. Football is a gravy train and players managers and officials are all onboard Anyone who speaks against them is just ignored.

  • Leon

    Regarding points five & six I would imagine that the PL will still be strong enough to maintain its position as a top league. The system of overseas players having to achieve at international level could be applied to all world players, and teams may look to produce more from their academies.
    There’s been plenty of interest in this issue over the past two years from most of the main newspapers.

  • nicky

    Couldn’t agree more.
    The professional game today is in such a Big Business mode, that corruption is inevitable…from FIFA right down to the smallest of clubs.
    Players are now all-powerful and contracts are no longer respected.
    The bubble will burst eventually because things simply cannot continue to escalate as they are doing. 😉

  • Samuel Akinsola Adebosin

    We may soon have dynasty in journalism like what is obtained in the leadership of North Korea i.e. if we don’t already have it. I think we have dictatorial democracy in the leadership of a country like it’s currently happening in Nigeria my country where the ruling APC government leadership don’t honour court orders and doesn’t see anything good in the opposition party of the PDP. Not only that, if they have their way, the ruling APC led government want to be the only ruling party in control of Nigeria in a kind if one Party state affair as they have attempted to be the only party that wins every States governors election. Imagine all the 36 States governors in Nigeria belonging to the APC ruling Party. Then, where is democracy? The sane thing happened when the PDP government under president Goodluck Jonathan was in power.

    I believe the same thing is happening in Russia where president Vladimir Putin is the alpha and the omega in that forgery democracy where prime minister and himself succeed one another as the president of the country with no any credible opposition party or leader allowed to rise to strive to offer alternative options to the Russians to buy or refused in a Russian presidential election.

    In the US, president Donald Trump sees himself as the know all the US problems President and the only one President who can proffer the correct solutions to solve those problems. Some of which he himself has imagined them out of the void and turned them to issues. e.g. like his the United States first slogan that led him to pullout of the Paris world climate deal as he becomes obsessed with taking down president Obama:s legacy including the incredible Obamacare. Forgetting that he too will leave that Presidency one day. And do on to others what you want others to do to you could hunt him down.

    But is it that Le Prof had ran short of money after buying Xhaka and Mustafi for £70m that led him to bought Perez @£17m for Arsenal last summer instead of him to have signed Lacazette who he initially bidded for but only to later pick a quarrel with the Lyon’s officials for their making his bidding public. Anyway, we now have Lacazette this summer if he passed his medical at London Colney as terms and transfer fee have been agreed by Arsenal, Lyon and Lacazette. But it’s still remain one more top quality signing left for Le Prof to do to conclude his summer transfer plans. And that should be a top quality creative or deep lying signing. The signing could be in the form of a winger like Lemar preferably. Or Mahrez alternatively. I believe any of these duo can be converted to deep lying if need be.

  • para

    If the world is run by corrupt people, then it stands to reason that they will have their “hand” in all other affairs that generate massive moneys, football being one of them.

    A mindset that thinks it’s ok to invade other countries, bomb them to hell, take their resources, and then bring in companies run by “elitist people” to “rebuild”, all the while using the media to character assasinate the invaded countries, can not act any different when it comes to football.

    How could it?

    I have no illusions about the world we live in, none at all.

    Sad that football, which i loved so much has increasingly come under the power of the “parasites”.

    If not for Arsenal, i would probaably not watch any football again.

  • Adi

    As a former Lecturer in Media Studies and Communications I have to say you have echoed many of my long held gripes about the woeful level of the actual act of ‘reporting football news’ as opposed to the current diet of packaging and repackaging unquestioned/unchecked fictional thinking and outright lies ad infinitum . And what is it with the British press and Manure ?
    This heavily one sided unquestioned love by the sporting press of this country for all things man utd borders on the un-natural , given the emergence of non man utd teams having a much better level of success at winning cups and titles within the last five to ten years.

  • Adi, I agree, but it reflects the point that there are more Man U supporters across the UK (especially Cornwall it seems) than for any other club, and so the agenda of the media is affected by the number of supporters. To a degree this is the same as the fact that Labour gets more coverage than the Green Party, but even so, sits badly alongside the vision of the media as being made up of people who hold those in authority to account. When, for example, was the last time we heard anything about the massive number of child sex abuse cases in football?