By Tony Attwood
Untold is unremittingly critical of the way TV, radio, newspapers, websites and blogs report football. You’ll know that.
I’m personally very critical of the Guardian, because it gets much of the rest of its work on its blog and its printed editions right. And some of its football reporting is good too, in my view. But so much of the time its standards are abandoned when it comes to football, and instead it joins the rest.
And the rest is truly awful. Here are a few examples following on from Walter’s earlier article…
1: Football reporting has become about individual incidents not the overall development of a club and its players. From the 10 second You Tube to the invidious “Five things we learned from”, from the 30 second summary by an “expert” on Match of the Day, to the one minute match report on radio; it reduces everything to trivia and instant judgement.
2: Evidence has long since gone. Indeed it has become clear that a lot of people have no idea what evidence means in the classic sense. Thus when I ask for evidence I am told about “the evidence of my own eyes” or one incident, and the writer genuinely believes that is enough.
3: Theory is not a dirty word in football, it is not a word at all. And yet most of our understandings of the world have come from theory. Indeed social media which has so revolutionised our world this century is based on the theory of analogue and digital transmissions and the move to the former from the latter.
4: Everyone can have and express and opinion is the mantra of the century, and of course they can. It is part of living in a democracy. But opinion are not the same as facts based on analysis of evidence. Just because a fan thinks it is obvious that Arsenal need four more players does not make Wenger a lazy idiot for not buying them.
5: Issues are being avoided. The most obvious is this one very simple question: why is PGMO such a secret organisation? If you want to go further, why is it, alone in Europe, based on a model that was used when Italy became subject to the biggest match fixing scandal we have ever seen in European football?
6: No one likes the question why? Why? is a tricky question, but it also leads to exciting and revolutionary answers. Of course it can lead to silly answers – as in “Why don’t Arsenal win the league more often?” Answer: because Wenger is an idiot. But the point is, it is not the question that is silly, it is the answer. Why is always a good question.
So what is going on? Why has it ended up like this? And what can we do?
Some of the problems are problems related to football specifically. For example, I’ve suggested that because the rights to commentating on football are sold by the League to the media, the League can control to some degree how things work and what is said.
But some issues are to do with what is happening around us. We have moved into the world of post-truth politics, which in essence is a popular culture in which “debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion disconnected from the details of policy and by the repeated assertion of talking points to which factual rebuttals are ignored.”
That quote comes from Wikipedia and I’d go along with it. Orwell wrote about it in “1984” and now we have it. The truth is of minor importance. The Talking Point (so beloved of football journalists) is all.
In the era of postmodernism, in which I was brought up, we could mock the absurd ramblings and rantings of politicians and popular newspapers, and know that behind everything there were scientists and philosophers who from totally different perspectives were always working towards the truth. Now any statement of an individual becomes a talking point. Irony is no longer a weapon we can turn on idiot commentators who know nothing of facts. In fact if irony has any meaning today it is as the opposite of wrinkly.
Dr Alan Kirby in a famous article in 2006 invented the term pseudo-modernism, a world in which no one listens, no one analyses (in the traditional meaning of the word) and instead people send tweets, and phone 6-0-6.
Thus the listeners become the programme. As Alan Kirby said, it all becomes like an “Andy Warhol film: neurotic, youthful exhibitionists inertly bitching and talking aimlessly in rooms for hour after hour.” Everything becomes utterly banal.
So is there any hope? Well, yes, I think so, otherwise I wouldn’t spend time each day running Untold Arsenal. We do try in our own way to hold the media to account. We try to expose what PGMO is up to.
And just occasionally bits and pieces we research and write creep into the mainstream, such as the analysis that showed why England do so badly at international football (comparative to the size of the country and the level of interest). That analysis, undertaken across about three hours on a rainy Sunday, searching the internet with a calculator by my side, was the first such analysis, as far as I know, but its findings now turn up all over the place.
Although not all the findings. The fact that we have fewer coaches trained in the UK because of the ludicrously high cost of getting the “badges” compared with the rest of Europe is rarely mentioned, because to mention that is to criticise the FA, and that is not on.
Which brings up the issue of not making connections; part of the media’s determination to run away full speed from questions of “why?” Fifa continues because each country’s FA continues to fund it, and companies like Adidas, Coca-Cola, Hyundai, and Qatar Airways, fund it. It’s all very well the Observer newspaper patting itself on the back because it points out the horrors of Fifa each week in its Said and Done column, but the fact is that it then endlessly promotes without criticism the World Cup and the FA’s part in funding it using tax-payers money.
Arsenal’s injury crisis is another example – by challenging assertions that appear without data, and data that appears without any reference to how it was collected, we do a little something to try and cut the pseudo-modernism back a little, just as we try to do by laughing at the nonsense of the transfer rumour (a perfect bit of pseudo modernism if ever there was one).
So is that it? Is it hopeless? Is little Untold Arsenal blathering in the wind with no hope of getting anywhere?
I take a little comfort from our readership of course. But also I take comfort from other occasional events in life, and here I will pass on just one.
In Alan Kirby’s famous article, which is available on line if you want to go back to it, he mentions dance music and how it separated itself from pop and rock in the late 1970s and 1980s and how it tended “to the ephemeral, to the vacuous…” But what happened subsequently was that some of us with a passion for dance reclaimed dance music, set up our own clubs and rebuilt the whole genre for ourselves.
Dr Kirby concluded that “pseudo-modernism takes the world away, by creating a new weightless nowhere of silent autism. You click, you punch the keys, you are ‘involved’, engulfed, deciding. You are the text, there is no-one else, no ‘author’; there is nowhere else, no other time or place. You are free: you are the text: the text is superseded.” And yes that is right to a large degree.
But as I said, some of us took the dance clubs back as our own, with the music we wanted, and the dance styles (which actually required a fair amount of training and technique to learn how to do it) we wanted. And to a tiny degree, the existence of Untold and some other blogs that challenge the pseudo-modernism of “Wenger Out” (which as an analysis of a problem and a suggestion of a solution have as much depth as a droplet of rain in a desert), show that in the world of media dominated football, we can raise a voice of objection, of dissent and of analysis.
OK we are a tiny minority facing the monolith of the FA/League/Fifa/Media combining as one to tell us what the world looks like and how we should consume it. But we are still here. And you never know if we keep plugging away, strange things could happen.
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