By Tony Attwood
The name “Untold Arsenal” was chosen over 10 years ago to represent two ideas: to cover Arsenal in a positive manner which supported the club, and to cover the Arsenal stories that the mainstream football media and the blogs that imitate them would not cover.
One of those story lines has been the approach of the mainstream media itself and most of the blogs – blogs which see that way the mainstream media tackle football not as a dire warning but as a blueprint on how to do it.
I’ve tried to argue that the media influences how people think about football in two ways: by selecting certain stories and excluding others on the one hand, and by giving each story a specific interpretation which emphasises the dominant point of view of the paper.
To give an example, mainstream media rarely mention the constantly evolving corruption stories relating to Fifa’s awarding of broadcasting contracts, or the placing of people with dubious backgrounds in high ranking positions. Nor do they ever cover the way refereeing is set up in the PL, and see the lack of English refs in the world cup as an oddity, not something that is symptomic of a deeper malaise.
So because of my interest in the media I’ve followed, in the past year or so, the evolution of Football London (FL for short) – an extraordinary venture publishing around 40 Arsenal stories a day, every day, with a similar or even greater number on London’s other PL clubs. (Chelsea is currently running at 70 stories a day. And just to be clear that is not one of my infamous mistakes, really it is up to 70 a day!)
So, I have been pondering, how do they do it, and what influence might such a massive bombardment of the media by one company be having?
A typical FL article runs to about 450 words, but when you strip out all the adverts for other articles that comes down to about 300 words of which the first 220 are generalised background (in the case of Arsenal reminding us that the club has a new manager and Mr Wenger left after 22 years) and about 80 words at the end to deal with the story.
Which means the average story is shorter than that last paragraph.
Thus under the heading “Thibaut Courtois drops huge hint about his summer plans ahead of Belgium vs England” on their Chelsea section the actual story is this
“Revealing plans for a return to England after the tournament concludes can be taken as a sign that Courtois won’t be going anywhere this summer.
“His contract at Stamford Bridge expires at the end of next season and has been linked with a summer move to Real Madrid.
“Although, the La Liga giants have been tipped to sign AS Roma stopper Alisson instead which means Courtois could be staying put for the 2018/2019 campaign at the very least.”
In my view, such an approach reduces football and issues around football to trivia. However the sheer size of the output of FL means that they dominate the listings and thus their attitude that football can be reduced to trivia is probably having a significant impact.
Having been reading FL for a while now I have got a clear impression as to their bias, but I thought I would try and do a snapshot to see if my view holds up.
If we take Chelsea it is hard to argue at the moment that everything is going swimmingly. Yes they won the FA Cup and for that are to be thoroughly commended. But in the transfer window they are still showing one player released and no purchases. Their manager’s position is uncertain, and their owner doesn’t have a visa to do business in the UK having withdrawn his application for such a permit on 1 June. Their marquee project, the new stadium, has been put on hold or abandoned (depending on what paper you read).
And yet FL reflects none of these points but instead runs headlines such as “Why Chelsea have the advantage over Arsenal, Man United & Barcelona in pursuit of World Cup star.”
Not to mention “Thibaut Courtois drops huge hint about his summer plans ahead of Belgium vs England clash”
And “Chelsea wonderkid starts pre-season early as he looks to impress Maurizio Sarri”.
On the other hand FL’s Arsenal coverage includes, “Fresh Twist in summer transfer saga of Sevilla midfielder of Ever Banega and Arsenal” which tells us that “According to the Independent, the La Liga side will do everything in their power to hold on to midfielder Banega and insist he is not for sale.”
They did a lot on Xhaka’s supposed political demonstration with “Arsenal duo escape bans for controversial celebration,” and of course the constant knocking of this week’s fall guy, as with
“Mesut Ozil predicted to be on Germany bench again.”
But while Chelsea have the wonderful youngsters, Arsenal it seems only have “forgotten men” as with “Forgotten Arsenal man returns to pre-season training” and the headline “Bentley, Aliadiere, Pennant – The Arsenal wonderkids who failed to live up to the hype” – conveniently forgetting that the hype was created by the media that now blame Arsenal.