By Tony Attwood
Although when I started Untold I don’t think the phrase “Fake News” existed – fake news was certainly out there big time. In fact I think there is an argument to say that football reporting in the media has been focused primarily on fake news all the time.
Transfer reporting is of course primarily fake news, but we’ve had much more than that. Such as the”fact” that England doesn’t win full international competitions because we have too many foreigners in the English league. That one was run and run in the media and copied in the bloggettas on the simple basis that if one can say it enough it becomes true (or at least everyone believes it).
Eventually the research revealed that the one factor linked to success or otherwise was the number of top qualified coaches per thousand registered players. Up near the top of the list was Iceland (a few years before their arrival on the international stage) and of course the Netherlands. That article was eventually reprinted (without acknowledgement and with a few twists and turns) in the Daily Telegraph and the story has been run in various formats ever since. Maybe the message is getting through – we’ll see if the League uses Brexit to ban foreign players from the League. Then we will have just British players, which according to the fake news writers, will make us the strongest team in the world.
Just as we were in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, before all the foreigners arrived.
But elsewhere the rise of fake news has taken us backwards. Indeed football reporting is the one place you can read stuff more bonkers than the President of the United States saying “I think I am actually humble. I think I’m much more humble than you would understand.” An incessant drip drip of false little stories, all of which add together to turn football upside down.
I thought of this when a correspondent wrote in and talked about Arsenal having the most expensive seats in the League (or maybe in the world, I forget which) and I pointed out that was not true, and he came back and talked about season ticket holders having special deals for league cup games.
It was an incredibly trivial point, but it was just made up as it went along, Or the person who wrote about Arsenal spending more money than Liverpool – again no evidence. I suspect most readers know that Arsenal spent a lot less than Liverpool last summer but when you hear this sort of thing over and over it can be believed.
It goes on all the time – Arsenal have wasted more youth talent than anyone, Arsenal have fewer youth players come through than anyone else in the Premier League, this is Arsenal’s worst season, this is Arsenal’s worst run…
Speaking of which, do have a look at the PL2 league table, and indeed go onto Arsenal.com to have a look at the video of Arsenal 4 Man U 0. Some lovely goals and great to see Le Jeff back in flowing form.
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But back to fake news. A lot of it is trivial but it builds up and builds up so that the trivial falsifications become the accepted truth. Just think back to the success two men and Talk Sprout had with the “Arsenal have the most injuries” tale – people really did not only believe that to be true, they also believed this untruth was down to the training methods of the manager.
What is interesting is that during the period that this propaganda was put out we had to do our own research (thanks to one Untold supporter’s tireless work) and publish it week by week. Those propagating the myth still came back with new figures to prove they were right – you might remember the set of data that included not only Arsenal players injured on loan as injured on Arsenal’s list, but also managed to have one player out for something like 70 weeks in a year. It would have been hilarious if a) people were not believing it and b) we didn’t have to spend hours unravelling their story to set it right.
The fact is that these allegations have no evidence, or partial evidence. It only takes five minutes to check what the worst start to an Arsenal season was, but no, the accusers are not going to do that… when they want to do the “this is Arsenal’s worst start” they just say it.
Of course it has been going on for a long time as Arsenal’s history reveals: a Tottenham fan who had written a number of Tottenham histories wrote an Arsenal history which set up the story about Arsenal bribing their way into the 1st Division in 1919. Read all the information from the era (we’ve published it all on the Arsenal History Site including copies of contemporary articles in leading journals, which have previously never been re-published) and you’ll see it was all total invention. There was no conspiracy, there was no bribery.
Then there was Leslie Knighton, a manager Sir Henry Norris appointed, who turned out to be no good, and who 20 odd years after he was sacked, and after Sir Henry had passed on, was paid to write a series of articles in a Sunday paper about Sir Henry, and invented a load of garbage which portrayed him as a monster. Knighton won nothing and nearly got Arsenal relegated back to the second division but set himself up as the man who could have won the league if only Norris hadn’t stopped him spending money. At the same time George Allison (who won the league twice and the FA Cup once with Arsenal) published his autobiography, which spoke very positively about Sir Henry, who he knew from 1910 to Sir Henry’s passing. His work was ignored – the Knighton inventions are still reported as fact today, even though we’ve proven that tale after tale was untrue.
Let me give just one example. Knighton wrote that he was so restricted in terms of transfers he was reduced to playing the brother in law of the club’s doctor. It turns out that the brother in law of the doctor had in fact represented the League and won the Scottish League with Rangers. He was so good Chapman got him back from retirement and persuaded him to continue playing for Arsenal.
So it goes, and from Untold’s point of view so it has gone. I’ve had enough of a whole approach based on fake news, so from now on “facts” which look wrong to me or which I am certain are wrong, which are presented without evidence mean the post doesn’t appear. I’ve had 10 years of patiently pointing out that the “fact” is not right, and all that has done is encourage some people to put forward more such facts that they have just made up.
Anyway, enough of that rant. Don’t forget to watch the under 23s take Man U apart.