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June 2021

Football analysis: hear it, read it, see it enough, and it starts to become true.

By Tony Attwood

At the start it is always the same.

First there are the deals and the regulations: in the case of football the requirements that the Premier League and others place on broadcasters, such as not showing any pitch invasion, not showing violence in the ground, limiting the questioning individual refs and never broadening this to suggest there is something wrong with refereeing as a whole…  these and others are the restrictions broadcasters agree to in return for their right to broadcast and the newspapers agree to as part of the deal allowing them to print the fixtures.  In both cases the media not only has to pay, it also has to sign the contract.

Second there is the media’s endless desire to get audiences on the cheap.  For them there is an overwhelming need to find stories that are easy and low cost to write or simple to discuss in the studio with their “panel of experts”.  (Please stop laughing at the use of the word “experts” – I’m trying to make a point here).

Stories that cost little and in essence can just be written without evidence.  Opinion pieces with no serious research.  Knock it out in 15 minutes, proof read it in two.

Together these two create the flow of articles and discussions in the press and on websites, TV and radio.  It creates a norm – a way of seeing football, and it takes an absolute outsider with not too much to lose to step beyond the bubble – the way of seeing the world that these precepts make – and starting asking the awkward “why?” question and start challenging the choices made to say “this is BIG NEWS” while “this is something we don’t talk about.”

We become used to this type of writing and broadcasting.  It is an approach that defines the way football is seen.  It gives the suggestion of discussion and debate and a searching for the truth, when in fact there is simply a consensus on what to say, with little attempt to go beyond the standard vision.

As a result the normal is defined and certain subjects just never discussed, either because TV and radio have agreed not to discuss them, or because discussing them is seen to be not what the football going public want to discuss.  But it’s a circular argument.  The media won’t talk about it or write about it because (they argue) people aren’t interested.  How do we know people are not interested?  Easy – if they were, we’d be talking about it.

And so certain questions never get considered.  Questions like, “why there are so few referees that the clubs keep getting the same referee over and over again, even though the rest of Europe has recognised this to be a danger (since the Italian corruption scandal) and has changed the process?”

What really happened in the case of the 13 year old boy who was left in limbo after signing for Liverpool, and why were the allegations made by the parents about deliberate falsification of papers sent for registration of the boy never thoroughly investigated?

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How come the FA can get in such a mess with the manager of the England Women’s team, and why has the investigation into historic child sex abuse in football seemingly just ground to a halt?

What was actually going on when Watford submitted a forged banking letter in Gino Pozzo’s takeover of club?  I mean, I know Watford were fined £4m for it, but what actually caused a PL club to forge a bank letter, and is a £4m fine and a warning enough?


Why despite the so obvious corruption within Fifa are countries still part of it, and not trying to reform it?  Has the infamous Fifa corruption model spread right across Europe?

Some questions are touched upon occasionally, such as why England traditionally does so poorly in competitions and the research showing this is down to coaching has not led to any pressure on the FA. Indeed even the revelation that the FA charges far more for its coaching courses than other countries doesn’t really make the news, and certainly doesn’t lead to major investigations into why this is so.

The whole process keeps going: it’s what we don’t see and hear in terms of football commentary and “analysis” that is the problem, for it suggests by and large everything is ok.  And it is not just big time questions that would require teams of investigative journalists to unravel.  It’s everywhere.  Go to an Arsenal match via Arsenal stadium and it is hard to move for ticket touts (which when you come to think of it is odd, given that the media is telling us all the time just how low the crowds are at Arsenal.)

If you want to see one most ludicrous example of the disconnect between reality and how the papers treat football, the Observer/Guardian newspapers run a weekly column called “Said and Done” which exposes some of the unrelenting corruption of Fifa each week.  And yet the insanity exposed here is never linked the question “why are English tax payers paying to keep the FA going so it can give money to this organisation?  Why is the FA not seeking out other organisations to break away, or at least do something about it?  Why is not one seriously talking about reform or revolution?”   They don’t even ask the questions- but each week they provide thee evidence why such questions should be asked.

If you want another, then the fact that 97% of all transfer rumours end up not being true, ought to be something that someone other than Untold is commenting on.  But rarely is that mentioned.  Instead the transfer rumour period now extends all year, and is there all the time throughout the media, setting the situation up so that most clubs can be criticised at the end of the window for not getting it right, and then a new set of targets are set up, so that the club can be criticised again for not achieving them.

In this way, the story is concocted that it is not the fantasists who make up the stories who are wrong in getting only 3% of their predictions right, it is the clubs for failing to complete the deals.

And that is where we are now.  It is the media that proclaims itself to be seeing reality as it is, even when everyday it isn’t.  Time wasting doesn’t happen, because it is not in the media.  Transfers didn’t happen not because they were total fantasies of a journalist with half a page to fill, but because the club screwed up.   Or more with more subtlety, Arsenal “only” had two players who scored in double figures (according to the Guardian) when in fact Arsenal were one of only five PL clubs who had two players who scored in double figures, the season before last.

All this can have dangerous consequences.  The belief is now established that changing the manager at Arsenal will improve the club’s fortunes because anyone would be better than Wenger.  Changing the team that does the transfers would improve the situation because anyone would be better than this bunch of clowns.  Changing the fitness department would improve the situation because we get the most injuries.  (Actually we are just doing that, so let’s hold on that one for a while – but even so we all know Arsenal has the most injuries because TalkSport and the Daily Express told us so).

And all this before we get to the fake pictures of a half empty stadium taken before a match, during a match in which Arsenal were not playing, or on a day when both the Piccadilly and Victoria Lines were out and substantial numbers of people were struggling to get to the ground.  Although each picture was proclaimed as proof that huge numbers of Arsenal supporters are alienated from the team and refusing to turn up.

It is not so much that we are being lied to, but that through a series of approaches adopted by the media we are being given a world of football that actually isn’t right.  Hear it, read it, see it enough, and it starts to become true.

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7 comments to Football analysis: hear it, read it, see it enough, and it starts to become true.

  • blacksheep

    the situation you rightly highlight in football journalism is being replicated throughout every other aspect of news media Tony.

    So called ‘fake news’ is a useful distraction from the fact that news has been manipulated for political (and I mean this more broadly than ‘party political’) purposes for at least a century. Now it has become more sophisticated and is being compounded by social media analytics which, for example, tried to tell us that the shooter in Las Vegas was either a democrat who hated Trump, a government plot to introduce gun control, or even a fake event involving hundreds of actors.

    The Russian government have been developing ways of spreading false rumours for decades and now the technology has made that more efficient. By creating a situation where we are not sure what to believe we tend to fall back on those outlets we trust (regardless of their veracity) and in turn create a ‘norm’ which says ‘they are all lies, I’ll believe what I like’ (which is often what ‘my mates think’).

    We at Untold can be just as guilty of this if we are not careful. Our research tends to reinforce our preconceptions of reality (e.g that referees are – allegedly – corrupt; that media is biased against Arsenal) so perhaps we need to start asking different questions?

  • Nitram

    The Mail on Sunday today is picking over the bones of Englands rather uninspiring World Cup qualification.

    Rather worryingly, the question they seem to be asking themselves at the end of half a dozen pages of faux intellectual waffle is not:

    ‘how come we are so shit’

    but rather, given the wonderful pool of talent we’ve had over the years:

    ‘How come we haven’t done so much better’

    It beggars belief.

    From the 3 main article writers we do not have one single mention of the FA’s complicity in any of it. Not one mention of our lack of coaches or playing fields.

    The one mention it received came from Guillem Balague who was, to me anyway, by far the most insightful, alluding to the fact our problems all begin in the early years.

    Amongst other things he says:

    “…..A boy of 16 is in fear of being told he is not good enough for the game. In search of success, scouts and clubs look for the stronger young players; the tallest. Intelligence in teenage footballers has not got the relevance it should have. So football has rejected some of the talent that would improve English football. Add to this the necessity to improve coaching. There is too much obsession about earning money from it, and not enough for the most important words in football, process and learning.”




    Sound familiar? I believe that entire paragraph could of came from Wenger himself.

    I did not see one of those words used once by the 3 journalist in question.

    Again my fiercest criticism is for Oliver Holt, simply because he is one of the most hypocritical journalists out there.

    Our media, him included, is a major part of the problem and they cant even see it.

    They refuse to tackle the issues that are at the route of our problems, such as the FA and the PGMOL.

    They deride skilful footballs. They applaud hackers and hoofers.

    But it’s this from Holt that really took the biscuit:

    “Look at the way the Media and fans have treated Raheem Sterling during his England career. Look at the way Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been treated. Do you think players enjoy that?”

    No I don’t Oliver. So why do you do it? You are part of the problem yet all you do is seek to point the finger of blame at everyone else.

    Rather than all the clap trap you’ve said today why not a page on why the FA is not fit for purpose?

    Why not ask the question as to why the PGMOL is allowed to operate under a system that is ripe for corruption.

    Why are none of our refs going to the World cup.

    Why is your industry hell bent on defending dangerous, head high, over the top and late challenges?

    Why is it your industry sees players such as Ozil and Wileshere as mere objects of derision whilst fawning over the Shawcrosses of this world?

    It’s you in the media that create this atmosphere of derision towards artistry and elegance in football in favour of brute force and destruction.

    A skilful footballer gets a broken leg and it’s his own fault.

    A thug breaks a leg and he’s a ‘good old British Bulldog’.

    It’s sad and pathetic and when you read the kind of drivel I’ve had the displeasure of reading in the Mail on Sunday today, from the likes of Holt, you despair anything will ever change.

  • Andrew Crawshaw

    Off topic I’m sorry but halftime in the Women’s game at Borehamwood against Bristol City and a strangely sloppy performance by Arsenal see them one nil down. A great strike from the left side by the City 17 year old striker. Hobbs saw a great strike tipped onto the crossbar but Honestly Bristol have been the more organised team and have managed to nullify Arsenal.

    As I type an excellent left hand strike from within the 18yard box gives Arsenal the equaliser.


  • Andrew Crawshaw

    Full time at Borehamwood and the final score is one all. A very poor performance from Arsenal. Some strange refereeing with two good penalty shouts for Arsenal turned down. Bristol will be delighted with the result. Arsenal bitterly disappointed. Both Chelsea and City won their games yesterday and have nine points, we are nor five points behind them which will be very difficult to reclaim. City have already beaten us so effectively we have to beat Chelsea both home and away and certainly City at home if we are to stand any chance of winning the league this year.

    Next Ladies game is a Continental Cup group game on Thursday against London Bees. Kick-off 19:30 at Borehamwood.

  • Polo

    That word ‘penny pincher’ again.

    ‘Then again, with a man like notorious penny pincher Henry Norris running things at Highbury, it’s not really surprising. He didn’t seem to like Spurs very much and even ensured their relegation from the First Division in 1919.’

  • Gord

    A theme of Untold Arsenal is that there are not enough coaches. Today in Marca, Chris Waddle blames the fact there are too many coaches.

    At least he doesn’t seem to say that England need more leg breakers.

  • Nitram


    This wouldn’t be the same Chris Waddle that perhaps should of had a lot MORE coaching in how to take a penalty, by any chance is it?

    What an idiot.