by Tony Attwood
Reading the always interesting “A cultured left foot” blog this morning in relation to the decision by Kroenke to bring his big game hunting channel to the UK, I came across the sentence
“The reality is that while the MOTV incident brings football into disrepute, nothing will be done.”
And yes, I can sympathise with that view. But I don’t believe it is right.
I have no idea if anything can be done about stopping Kroneke and his TV station, but I am always cautious about the notion that “nothing will be done” and its variation “nothing can be done,” for multiple reasons. And not least among those is that having studied a fair bit of English history I am convinced that most of the changes for good we see in this country comes out of resistance.
Indeed there is also the fact that if we give up on resistance, just as if we give up on analysis and fact finding, we are simply letting the rich, the powerful and the idiots take over and do anything they like.
Now of course many will say “they can do what they like – look at Kroenke.” And there is something in this. But sometimes we can clip the wings of the rich and powerful if we feel like it. It might take time, and will lead to a lot of abuse along the way, but it is possible.
But most particularly I think we need to look at issues at this moment because the Kroenke debate brought in a comment that I have referred to before, suggesting that Untold had double standards for not criticising him and had double standards because we had always supported Usmanov. Both claims were palpably untrue, and yet were made in comments to this site. (I posted up the the first of this type that came in, but deleted the rest – on the grounds it was all too silly.)
People have always been able to say anything no matter how stupid and how false. Now however they are saying it all the time.
Of course the writer of “A cultured left foot” only said that nothing would be done about this Kroenke incident, and he may be right. But still, I would argue, if we don’t believe we can make change, while feeling that there are a lot of things wrong with football, then what is the point of writing, or indeed making any other form of comment?
I believe there is a reason, for I do believe that some change has been made and will continue to be made because of our campaigning.
Now I know this endless attachment to certain issues can annoy many people – one of the commonest notes we get from people complaining about Untold is of the “stop going on about” … and I always find that encouraging. Because when someone tries to suggest that we should stop raising a subject it generally seems to me that we are having an impact. After all, if the topic in question were completely irrelevant, no one would bother to complain. Complaints only arise when we hit a nerve.
Which raises the question: what have we managed to achieve in nearly ten years of raving on about various topics? This list is by no means exhaustive, but it is a starter.
1: Transfers – how insane is a commentary system in which over 100 players are said to be joining Arsenal through the some, and every member of the team is leaving. It is scribblers treating their readers with contempt and people with a list of players and a list of club suggesting they are in the know. Transfer rumours were probably the origin of fake news – and we can see how where that has led us. And yet I do see this summer a move, for although the newspapers have now set up their own bloggettas, they are gradually moving over to the much more honest approach which says “this is the player I think Arsenal should get”. Has our laughing at them had an effect?
2: PGMO – would anyone know who and what PGMO is without Untold? Maybe, but would they know about PGMO’s ultra secrecy and its adoption of a system of limiting referee numbers which the rest of Europe rejected after Italy’s match fixing scandal? Before we started I don’t recall seeing PGMO ever being mentioned, and refereeing was never mentioned other than regarding an individual ref in an individual match. And the great thing is that when PGMO tries to do PR it is so laughably awful at it.
3: The FA – although there is no real campaign against them in the media, at least there are articles about how out of date they are, how unrepresentative they are, and how inept they are. Few criticise the FA for handing £m over to Fifa, but I feel rumblings of discontent – and that is always how it starts.
4: Fifa / Uefa. When the authorities moved in and started arresting Fifa officials everyone jumped on the bandwagon suggesting they had been critical of the organisations all the time. If they were I must have missed it – but much more to the point this story was never linked to having our country aligned to Fifa and playing in its competitions. Worse, bidding to host its competitions. We’ve perhaps made a modicum of progress in getting the topic away from being a sniggering little column in the Observer, isolated from all other football commentary, into a topic linked to all football and government. But there’s still a long way to go. On the other hand we did break the story (before the event) that the Swiss had changed their laws thus allowing the arrests to happen, and I’m still pleased about that.
5: Media stories / media language. I made a lot of fuss about the “Arsenal had only two players who scored in double figures last season” piece because it was not only typical of the misleading statements made, but was written by one of our most eminent football journalists. It was the word “only” that did it for me – the truth was only five teams that season had two or more players scoring in double figures in the league, so Arsenal were in the elite. The statement was true but utterly misleading. This summer the same writer has written a preview of Arsenal for the new season which is much more measured, much more reasoned. Did we cause her to be more careful this time? Probably not, but maybe we acted as a gentle reminder of what one misused word can do.
6: Questioning TV. There have now been a few people looking at the way TV reports football with its cut aways that won’t show time-wasting, its refusal to engage in the fact that (to take one example) the Norwich ground was incredibly dangerous to players because of the placement of cameras, the use of failed managers (now called experts) as critics of current management teams. Maybe we helped that along a little. Certainly their audiences have collapsed.
7: Refereeing. Remember the announcements that 98.4% of all referee decisions were accurate and how the media swarmed over it saying that anyone who said otherwise was an idiot? And our review in depth and with video evidence of the first 160 games of this season, which showed what was really going on? Since then commentary about refereeing has changed, not least because each time a newspaper tries it, we pop up with statistics and evidence to show they are wrong.
I could go on and on (as I usually do). Transfers not working, the introduction of the name the “Tax payers stadium” to keep that subject alive (thank you Guardian writers for following us on this one), the issue of the transfers of children which is now still bubbling away (occasionally), the FA’s appalling way it is handling the child sex abuse in football situation, the reason why England does so badly at internationals (this is one where our analysis is now widely used by the media), the dangers of Brexit to football in England, the fact that we are not the club with the most injuries and how most injury statistics are extremely weird, the fact that Mr Wenger’s win percentage is the best of any manager Arsenal have ever had, even though he has managed many more matches than anyone else, the corruption of the transfer market…
OK you are screaming “enough!” now and I’ll stop. But the reason for writing Untold is not just because a few of us enjoy it – which we do. It is to change football. It will take a long time but change is possible. If we keep trying. And maybe we have, in just under 10 years, done one or two things that make it worth keeping on.
- The Big 7 clubs, how much they spent and what good is it doing?
- What the media won’t tell you about football 5: Fifa lends money to Switzerland
- What the media won’t tell you about football, part 4 – referee variations
- The final transfer rumours: 3 new names to make 66 players tipped for Arsenal
- What the media won’t tell you about football, part 3 – referee home bias