By Tony Attwood
Context, logic, breadth of analysis, overview and detail, evidence… the sort of things I learned when studying science and the scientific method, and then later psychology. I wasn’t a particularly brilliant student, and certainly not a brilliant scientist, but I think I got the thread. You know things by gathering evidence, making hypotheses, and then testing them out. From that you get a theory.
I know I bang on about it over and over, bore people stupid, give up, start again, and nothing much changes. Day after day we get the comments that “You clearly think that” (from people who have no access to the inner workings of my brain thankfully) or as we have yesterday, the accusation that I had no interest in what the media had to say (which really made me laugh – which is not what I should be doing with the sort of heavy cold I have at the moment. I started me coughing and I took five minutes to recover).
To me it seems that day to day football journalists and pundits just say any old thing they like, and then demand to be taken seriously, and it is the second part of this that particularly frustrates me. These people give personal opinions, some of which can be seen to be true, some of which are palpably untrue, and almost all of which is just opinion which can’t be proven or disproved. That’s fine, if that’s what they want to do but they should never then expect to be taken seriously as analysts.
In the latest furore Ian Wright (who I am told by people who have met him and spent time with him is a thoroughly likeable and decent chap) wrote “Why am I seeing so much blame being attached to MOTD pundits about Arsenal not getting credit for 33 shots and 70 odd % possession! What are we supposed to say about 5 players rushing to close down Pogba, leaving Valencia free? Just asking. Maybe the refs fault.”
That last sentence, as you might know if you are a regular reader of correspondence on Untold, is a phrase adopted consistently by those who oppose Untold’s view, but who lack the wit or wisdom to construct viable logical arguments against our position. It’s a throwaway line of the type that script writers who are running out of time in writing TV dramas throw in, in a desperate attempt to fill up another two seconds. “So it’s all my fault is it?” she screams at him, and he says, “No, what I am saying is…” and she says “Just shut up for once will you?”
(I know that is sexist writing the he and she that way around but that’s how these writers – mostly male – do it).
Reducing a complex debate to a phrase never helps clarify anything, especially when the phrase is deliberately a misrepresentation of the proponent’s position. It serves only to heighten tension.
Ian Wright did have the sense and decency to apologise, heightening once again the notion that he is actually a reasonable bloke who just gets carried away – which of course is how he makes his money as a broadcaster. “As a player I wore my heart on my sleeve & that hasn’t changed as an ex-player. I apologise unreservedly for my unfair comments which I made in anger after receiving an untold amount of stick.”
Shearer was far less able to cope however, writing, “This is my last word on #ARSMNU. It’s pretty simple. 33 shots & 1 goal is a terrible return. Your forwards were not good enough. Conceded 3 goals at home. Your defence & keeper had a very bad day. Still you’re saying how great @Arsenal were. Do me a favour man! No bias. Fact.”
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But the reality remains that reducing complex issues to a handful of words never brings light to a discussion. What’s more, it is generally impossible to work outwards from a single example and get a viable theory. Three facts and a number of opinions are not very illuminating Mr Shearer, although your inability to see that this is what you have offered, is quite illuminating.
However although it is not part of the scientific analysis, the fact that the phrase “Maybe the ref’s fault” and variations upon that has become such a major part of the “argument” against analysing refereeing in depth, is just one more tiny suggestion that we are on the right track. In my experience people only resort to silly little phrases like that when they are totally lacking in evidence and the other side is getting close to the truth.
What perhaps is the most interesting element in all this is that Shearer reacted so strongly. It suggests (nothing more – it just suggests) a man isolated in a bubble, removed from the everyday world of his audience. And that is not how it should be for a man preaching his version of reality.
I am encouraged by the emotional reaction of broadcasters against analyses of football at all levels. Not just the silly “Maybe the ref’s fault,” but also Shearer’s reaction and recently Jeff Spelling screaming abuse at the notion of expected goals, rather than engage in any form of logical analysis. It suggests to me that logic and analysis is leading us closer to an uncomfortable truth concerning what is going on in football, because in my experience that is when we start seeing more hyperbole and emotion from the other side.
Logic and reasoned analysis always ultimately leads to the truth, and those who oppose it (the flat earthers, the believers in dragons and the lack) always end up becoming more and more frantic in the pursuit of their beliefs.