By Tony Attwood
Untold Arsenal started ten years ago this month, and it started because I was annoyed not just about something I kept seeing on football pitches, but also because it was not being mentioned at all in the media.
But that was only half of it, because I didn’t just want to write about it, I also wanted to influence the media so that they would mention what I was seeing, and as a result of that, put pressure on the football authorities to do something about it.
So not very much: I wanted to break the censorship rules that seemed to prohibit mention of this topic and through that change football. Quite a modest desire: changing the world through writing about it.
The issue that persuaded me to start Untold Arsenal was rotational fouling, and I was reminded of this starting point of Untold just recently when I heard a pundit on Sky Sports during the Christmas period mention that he was watching a team engaged in rotational fouling. Indeed he used that exact phrase. You still don’t hear the phrase often, and it took a very long time to get mentioned at all, but it got mentioned in the end.
But so what? Rotational fouling is still not punished by referees. Or at least not very often. So has Untold Arsenal actually achieved my ambition of changing football? That’s what I want to write about over a few articles in the coming days, by way of having my own little celebration of ten years of the blog.
You only have to work with a newspaper or broadcaster for a day or two to realise that decision making as to what is and what is not news is part of daily life. Sometimes the choice is fairly obvious: 1400 cars destroyed in a rampaging car park fire in Liverpool last night is news. Whether every large car park in the UK is in similar danger because of design flaws is not quite a story yet. Why there were a number of cars with dogs left in them doesn’t seem to be a story at all. Judgements are made all the time.
In fact, as I have so often said, this is the trouble with the media. It chooses the stories, and then puts its own angle on the stories, and then comments upon the stories from that point of view. And in this process quite often much of the media works as one either because no one wants to step outside the norm, or more insidiously because there is a body on high, laying down a rule about what can and can’t be said.
So it was that I is what I set out to do in January 2008; to publish articles which raised issues other publications were not mentioning, in the hope that the way football is seen might change.
As for rotational fouling, I think it was one of those things that no one mentioned because no one else mentioned it…
In fact I first used the phrase “rotational fouling” on 15 April 2005, almost three years before Untold began, in relation to the Arsenal v Blackburn FA Cup semi-final, a match I was at and which I wrote up for a fanzine. I picked it up again on Untold in 2008 along with “rotational time wasting” and thereafter, and then the Arsespeak blog was kind enough to acknowledge ourselves as a source in an article “The father of dirty dirty football in the Premier League” in a piece on 1 March 2010 which said, s”The Diouf tackle shown above on Almunia could have been another ankle-breaker, and I feel a lot of sympathy for Diaby, Eduardo and Ramsey. Untold Arsenal has made much of the rotational fouling employed by Allardyce, and their record on Sunday shows what happens to teams who play against them.”
But what really made me feel I might be onto something was the fact that in 2010 the book “Soccer and Philosophy: Beautiful Thoughts on the Beautiful Game” by Ted Richards was published and it contained this comment on the notion of contemplating winning at any price. “If we did then we could endorse all kinds of underhanded tactics, such as rotational fouling of the opposition’s star player to avoid any particular member of your team getting carded…”
Then the following year I found “Calculated Violence – The Latest Trick In Anti-Football? which says, “Over the last few years we have seen quite a few new tricks evolved by the exponents of anti-football. Rotational fouling and rotational time-wasting are two of the most commonly seen ones.
There were others, and it would be boring to cite each one, but it got a bit more encouraging and interesting on 25 March 2016 when no less a newspaper than the Financial Times wrote, “Lessons for everyone from the rise of Leicester City”
It commented that the Leicester “players are not above gamesmanship and rotational fouling — taking it in turns to commit infractions so that no individual picks up yellow and red cards — and that is a system, too.”
So the phrase got accepted. Here’s Marton Keown in the Daily Mail on 6 July 2014 talking about Brazil v Colombia:
“Brazil’s win over Colombia was an ill-tempered affair and was notable for both teams trying to stop the other side’s No 10. Neymar and James Rodriguez were both targeted. You could see the teams almost using a ‘rotational fouling’ tactic. Players would put in a tackle on the star man and then let somebody …”
Of course in recent years we have seen the arrival of the bloggettas – the websites that are often run by newspapers, take information from anywhere, write little articles padded out with pictures and packed solid with pop up adverts. In this regard on 20 March 2015 the Daily Cannon wrote, “Expect Newcastle fouling amnesty against Arsenal” in an appraisal of referee Mike Jones who it says, “lets blatant pullbacks go, even when the player is hauled down by the neck, constantly gets in the way of the play, blocking off space and passes, allows rotational fouling to go unpunished and books Arsenal players for their first fouls.”
Of course none of this means that referees take any notice, but it suggested to me that it was worth carrying on. I’ll come back to this in a later advertisement.
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