Beyond the media; how to take back football from those who tell us how to think.

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.


17 Replies to “Beyond the media; how to take back football from those who tell us how to think.”

  1. It is difficult to adjust to the pseudo modernist flow of nonsense whilst trying to find the relevant theme behind the constant need for self renewal.
    It is encouraging to find sites like untold who still attempt to have a solid base in reality. In many of my researching activities I am confronted with articles and so-called reports, at the end of which, I am asking, where are the sources? Where is the data? What is the content once the idle speculation is removed? To have a clear indication that at least a group of individuals exists that understand working in the parameters of the real is what attracts me to this site. I am sure the debates amongst fans would be considerably more complex if more people took the untold style of approach to the presentation of information. Keep up the work

  2. Re point number 5:

    “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?”

    Because us Brits never cheat do we? In fact, as we all know, we are perfect.

    -We don’t dive or feign injury. We are never ‘reckless’, just ‘hard’.

    -We don’t use performance enhancing drugs, well never intentionally anyway.

    -We never miss drug testing, well never intentionally anyway.

    -Our Clubs are not racist or sexist in any way what so ever, at least not knowingly.

    -Our clubs would never tolerate child abuse within there ranks, or supress the knowledge of such behaviour, at least not knowingly.

    -Our clubs would never get involved in child trafficking, at least not intentionally.

    -Our clubs would never stoop so low as to ‘tap up’ anther clubs players.

    -Our managers would never take back handers, make dodgy deals with shady agents in shady bars, or use there dog to fill in tax returns, at least not intentionally your honour.

    -Our players would never shag there team mates wife, piss in the street, or pay for a granny nosh, at least not with the lights on.

    So given these impeccable standards to which we hold our footballing elite, how could anyone suggest for one second, that there is anything even slightly amiss with the PGMOL or indeed our referees ?

    Get a grip Tony.

  3. Maybe UA ought to run the equivalent of the list of bogus transferts but for bogus information ? And have a contest : ‘the fakest information’ with a weekly contest, a monthly prize and a yearly grand prize. Advertise the thing and get the revenue flowing… !! ;=)))

    Just having a good laugh reading that Alexis is willing to take a paycut to be transfered to City…
    Now bear with me a while… i mean this is just

    So Arsenal don’t want to let him go (that seems to be the official version as far as I know).
    So this guy who is intelligent is supposedly telling them : well to make it easier for Arsenal to decide to sell me I’m ready to be less expensive to the competitors of Arsenal where I want to play, so please please for chrissake, will you let me go ?!?!

    Then again apparently quite a lot of people are certain the EU has a common border with Syria and that the NHS will get 350 millions a week, so….

  4. Came across this in one of the online news.

    ‘Liverpool have not won the English league title for 27 years – one year longer than United’s agonising drought between 1967 and ’93.’

    Perspective I guess.

  5. Hmmm, it’s a pity to see most of the mainstream media not reporting Arsenal football club news & stories, making AFC base publications, do AFC editorials and AFC football analysis objectively but subjectively. However, AFC and it’s numerous supporters around the world should not be deterred but be encouraged and inspired in their believes that AFC will unrelentingly be moving on it’s plan and quest to win the Premier League title again next season and reach the promised land later by winning the Champions League in the upper next season.

    But it is said that heaven helps those who helps themselves. Therefore, AFC MUST help it’self very very well in this current summer transfer market before prosperity will help it to win the Charity Shield, the League Cup, the FA Cup, the Premier League title and the Europa League Cup next season. A fifthruple win? Yes! Why not? Isn’t it ment to be won? But only the club that helps it’self very very well in the transfer market could win it.

    And that club that will win it in next campaign should be Arsenal FC. But it will first has to sign a top grade versatile attacking midfielder in the grade of Thomas Lemar, and a top class holding midfielder (a 2nd DM) of the caliber kind of William Carvalho in addition to Kolasinac and Lacazette it has already signed this summer. And keeps this summer, all members of it’s 25 man list of last season but, Gibbs, Debuchy, Jenkinson and Perez should all be done away with for some good cash at the market. But should any of it’s 25 man list member of last season try to hold AFC to a regular starting role random this summer, such a ransom holder player should be disposed off at the market for a handy cash of money if he refuses to back down.

    Furthermore, AFC should not succumb to any pressure from any quarter to sell it’s Alexis Sanchez to it. Even if the pressure to be sold includes that of Alexis himself, AFC should still not succumb to it but try to reach amicable financial compromise with him that will make him happy at AFC. But on no any account for whatsoever reasons should AFC sell it’s centreback – Calum Chambers this summer. For, doing that will be detriment to CB options and cover in the AFC defense-line in next season’s campaign.

  6. When i was young, someone(grown up) told me that the further you can see allows you to make opinions that those who have not yet seen that far can make.

    Growing up, i used to think that they were people doing proper research and that the truth would be revealed by them. On top of that, many “research” is already manipulated to reflect the false version of life, and much more is being changed as i type.

    As i dug deeper and deeper into world history, the more i found out that it is not true. Hence the many who have given their lives to let us know that something was wrong, they are some true heroes.

    Notice how all the media “heroes” are criminals?

    Football is just another part, a small part of the “1984” saga that is being implemented right before our eyes.

    I can envisage sanctioned televised “wars” between rival football fans. Think i’m crazy?

  7. @Nitram, I believe it’s at Sky HQ.

    And I have constantly been told by so called media that Arsenal is in a massive ‘crisis’ for failing to win the Premier League since 2004.

  8. Chris
    I have seen this ‘take a pay cut’ nonsense on several sites but struggle as I may I cannot make any sense of it.
    Can someone explain the logic behind it please.

  9. @MickHazel

    don’t waste your time, you won’t find any sense…it is just plains stupidity
    Either the stupidity of the writer, or the contempt he has for the ‘stupid’ readers who he is sure will just believe all.

    Optionnaly, it may just show that the robots creating the fake news are not well versed enough in economics….


    Thanks for the link, as you say, it just proves the bias. And no one has come screaming that he sold a crown jewel to a direct competitor. And they will keep on selling – wait till Kane goes – but you’ll never read a story that says they cannot keep a good player.

  10. @Polo,

    remember a few weeks ago as Conte texted Costa that he (Costa) is redundant making him lose millions in value in a few words ? Did we hear an outcry, criticism ? Well, maybe in a muted way and the issue is over, and will not appear in some collection of Costa’s worst decisions.

    Then just consider this collection of garbage…

    Had AW once said : we want to sell him he’d have destroyed by the Kommentariat. But guess Conte can walk on water and so can Pochettino, Guardiola and Klopp.

  11. Thing is, not (m)any speak the truth in public and expecially in those forced pre and post interviews demanded by TV.

    It is called “keeping your cards close to your chest”, yet we all yearn for truth to be spoken. What a la la!

    I hardly(never) watch them anyway and only when a comment appears about one then i may watch it.

    If AW was to come out and say:

    Look, Alexis does not want to stay because he is getting on and wants to play CL next season.
    We have told him we are not going to sell to a PL rival.
    He says he want to go to City.
    We said no.

    And that is where we are at right now.

    We will update you as things develop further.

    People will still find something to complain about, it is the nature of things that there will always be a contra opinion to every thing one does, so one may as well speak the truth.

  12. I really enjoy football phone-ins that make me laugh and get angry by turns. The game is simply more commercial now and the financial stakes are higher. Cannot find a problem with The Guardian which is the best online read full stop. The only football analysis that matters is what you see with your own eyes. That football remains a shifting pantomime makes that analysis equally skewed. Looking forward to next season’s phone-ins.

  13. This article totally misses the point.

    Football journalism is for the most part, worthless. It always has been and always will be a combination of gossip, hearsay, random opinion, speculation and cliche.
    With the arrival of the internet and the explosion of new digital media, there’s just a lot more of it around.

    Your theory that all football journalism should be based on iron clad fact is unreasonable, wishful thinking I’m afraid. When it comes to the inner workings of football clubs and especially transfers, most journalists don’t have many facts at their disposal, so they have fill the pages with something.

    The thing is this; fans like it . They like the rumours and they like the banter, argument, axe grinding etc. I like it and so should you.

    Don’t be a killjoy.

    Now, what’s the latest on Alexis?

  14. stefan melzak

    All that would be okay if it didn’t affect the real world.

    Yes, it is worthless gossip, but it is worthless gossip that worms it’s way, insidiously into peoples thoughts to such a degree that it becomes the truth.

    It’s worthless gossip such as Wenger dithers, doesn’t do tactics, is tight, etc.etc. that has become to many, perhaps less enlightened than your good self, the truth.

    It’s worthless gossip such as Arsenal are a soft touch that ‘don’t like it up em’ that allows our players to be assaulted on a football field without any chance of punishment.

    There’s more, more much of this ‘worthless gossip’ as you call it, that has become an alternative truth about Arsenal, and more often that not, it’s an alternative truth that is used to unsettle our players, enrage our fans, displace our manager and negatively affect our club in general.

    So I agree, if it was all harmless fun it would be something to laugh at, but it isn’t really is it?

    If you don’t think this constant media assault on Arsene Wenger in particular and Arsenal football club in general has an extremely detrimental effect on Arsenal, in the ‘real world’ then I think you are deluding yourself.

  15. Stefan melzak, it depends how old you are and where you are.
    Although there has always been some level of gossip and rumour in the UK media, it was to a much lesser degree before the rise of the internet.
    Once something was printed and on the news stalls they couldn’t delete/hide it like they can now, so they printed much less pure BS.
    On top of that, the commercial side of the game was much less, so the clubs would have much less issue banning a ‘journalist’ or even a specific paper from their press conferences and from their ground. Unfortunately the clubs now need the media because they need to give their commercial partners exposure, so it’s a much bigger deal banning a media group like Liverpoo! have with the Sun (and the whole of the city agreed with that one).

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