by Tony Attwood
The trick for most fake news creators is
a) To be able to write something that requires no research and so costs no money and takes very little time.
b) To be able to benefit personally or corporately from the fake news.
c) To ensure that the fake news is not linked to yourself personally so that you can come round and have another bash later on, quite possibly saying the exact opposite of before if that suits your purposes.
d) To deflect from any suggestion that the media is itself causing the news, rather than neutrally reporting it.
It was because stories about football transfers fit so perfectly into the a-b-c-d scenario above that they have become the dominant news story in football. Transfer rumours require no research, cost the TV station or web site nothing, are not associated with the individual writer, and don’t appeared to be caused by the media.
Hence fake transfer stories are always accredited either to “reports” or to another website or newspaper. Very few have a named interviewer talking to a named person about the alleged transfer – although some headlines suggest this is the case. Likewise stories about empty seats at the Emirates are immediately written as if they are a reflection of some deep malaise concerning the club, rather than what normally happens.
But in fact just as the transfer rumours are an invention of the media, so is the whole story about empty seats at the Emirates being a sign of some deep current problem at the club. It is a fantasy, because it offers no context.
We can see this if we look at the reasons for empty seats at a game including
a) I couldn’t be arsed to go because Arsenal are so bad these days
b) I didn’t go as a protest against Mr Wenger and the board
c) The price of tickets is too high
d) The weather was too bad
e) The day and/or time of the match changed and I couldn’t make it
f) I just didn’t feel like going, but if the club starts winning again, I’ll go.
g) I had other commitments that day (eg holiday, work, children…)
It was Walter’s piece on the difficulty of getting to matches when the time and/or date of the game changed that made me realise how clever this bit of fake news creation was. The TV companies demand the days and timings of games are changed to accommodate their whims – which can cause empty seats – and then upon spotting empty seats never mention themselves as one of the causes of the problem. Instead they pick on reasons a) or b) as the prime cause.
But there are two prime reasons to doubt this interpretation. One is they clearly do not do surveys that are balanced and neutral. The media does report the activities of vigorously anti-Wenger bodies such as Arsenal Supporters Trust, knowing that this will strengthen the case of arguments that it (whatever it is) is all Mr Wenger’s fault. But it never goes in for proper large scale analyses. That would be expensive, time consuming and give the “wrong” answers.
And yet it is obvious that when the club is doing comparatively poorly on the pitch, numbers go down. One only has to look at the crowds at Highbury before the capacity of the ground was reduced to see this. Highbury could hold up to 60,000 in those days, and for almost every game one could simply turn up on the day and gain admission. I didn’t have a season ticket in the 1970/1 double season, and did just that – turned up on the day, paid, and got in.
Besides the price was much, much lower. Taking into account inflation, the admission price for a place in the north bank or clock end in 1965 is the equivalent of about £4.50 today. And yet as we know the actual cost for the casual supporter is anything from £10 (league cup games) up to £65.50 (category A games).
Now we must ask, why has the cost risen by anything from 220% to nearly 1500% beyond the cost of inflation over these years? The answer is primarily because of players wages and spiralling transfer fees.
For example, in 1962 Arsenal bought Joe Baker from Torino for a club record £70,000. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang cost £55m. If prices had just gone up by the cost of inflation the club record transfer today would be around £1.1m, not £55m.
This price increase of entry fees and of transfer costs has been stimulated entirely by the media’s hype which has led to the increase cost of buying and paying players, and hence the cost of going to a game. But when the media comment on football, on the cost of going to football, on the cost of transfers or anything else, of course they are never going to blame the media hype they themselves create, for this.
And yet their insistence on making transfers, along with personal assessments of players, the key element in their reporting, and the TV stations’ willingness to pay ever more for the rights to broadcast games, has resulted in this inflation, which then at times results in declining attendances.
Why should 45,000 season ticket holders and 15,000 non-season ticket holders go to each Arsenal game now, when during the Double year of 1970/1 the average league attendance at Highbury was 47,748? Or when in the unbeaten season it was 38,079 (a much smaller stadium, but not every game sold out).
The fact is that there is not an infinite capacity of supporters to watch a team or an ability of many supporters to go to every game, especially when games are moved about so regularly. Indeed in all my years of being a season ticket holder I have never once managed to make every game.
This whole issue of suggesting something is wrong at Arsenal because there are empty seats is a perfect example of fake news, in that the implication is that there is something is wrong with Arsenal if there are empty seats. But the public interest in Arsenal has never been shown to be such that over 60,000 will attend each match, no matter how well the club is doing. Arsenal’s attendance figures have always gone up and down depending on how well the club is doing, and now additionally go up and down according to the media’s manipulation of when matches are played.
And remember, if we look at the 1970/71 attendances at Highbury, none of those league games was shown live on TV so there was every incentive to go to the games.
Football reporting – on every single issue – is not neutral, but manipulated by those who have a desire to protect their own interests. Never forget – it is in the interest of the media for you to believe that it is all Arsenal’s fault (whatever “it” is) when most of the time, it is the media wot done it.
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