How fake news took over football journalism – and it is about to get far worse

By Tony Attwood

Fake news needs someone to believe it, otherwise it is laughable and of course completely pointless.

In much of life the credibility level people impose on stories can be quite high – for many simply won’t believe the stories they hear because the everyday evidence and past experience suggests they are nonsense.

But where a fake looks more and more credible, and/or where there is a willingness for the audience to believe, then fake news gets a grip – and no one has yet worked out how to overcome it.

This week, the highly reputable magazine “New Scientist” reported that a recently released program is able to “turn few simple animated line drawings into realistic fake clips in high definition.  The software is open source, meaning it is available to anyone.”

I won’t bore you with the detail (you can read it in New Scientist, 1 September 2018), but basically it says that the new system makes it almost impossible to tell fake from real.  The result is known as deepfake and it is being used to create speeches that world leaders have never given, as well as pornography in which famous actors seemingly appear.  Fake child pornography has also appeared, and although watching it is still illegal, apparently those who claim that they specifically only got fake porn tend to get more lenient sentences.

As a result of this development, people who are aware of the spread of fake news either take the view that they now believe nothing, or else they tend to believe what they want to believe.

This was presumably the case with the Daily Express’ story a few years back that a child’s toy had been spotted on Mars.  There was no evidence, the whole notion was laughable, but I suspect some believed.  Otherwise why publish such things?

Football is of course miles behind much of the rest of the world in fake news, in that its fakery is often at the “child’s toy on Mars” level – it is quite unbelievable.

But faced with a lack of exciting news, journalists and bloggers have for years made up stories (Yaya Toure signing for Arsenal was just one of the most recent) which even if they are not actually physically impossible (he could have signed although he could not have played) they are just so unlikely that anyone taking half a second to think, would see them as nonsense.  And yet they flood the internet, and yes, seemingly some people do believe.

Given that people will believe, one can imagine what will happen when, in the near future, videos emerge of the Arsenal manager announcing the signing of some highly unlikely person.  Spotted at the airport becomes “look – the Arsenal manager says so”.  Someone wants to disrupt Arsenal – a video of Mr Wenger sitting alongside Mr Emery, the former giving the latter advice.  That should get the bloggers in a tizz for a couple of days, and ensure that nothing positive is written about Arsenal in the meanwhile.  And it can happen anyday now with the new open source software.

But who would bother to put out such videos?   Well how about

  • a) any blog or newspaper that is anxious to get higher ratings – the story would indeed be highly read I am sure.
  • b) anyone supporting another team who wants to discredit Arsenal
  • c) anyone wanting to push people onto the adverts on their website.

which takes in a fair number of people.

So what can be done?   Sadly the only way forward is the old two-prong attack

  • a) point out the unlikeliness of the reported event
  • b) build up historical data of how often this source has been wrong.

In some ways this is what we have been doing, as with the transfer files in which we recorded everyone who was apparently signing for Arsenal.  It turned out to be 116, or which 111 were totally wrong.

And this is the problem.  So prevalent has fake news become in football that it now swamps everything else.   Plus we are now seeing the arrival of “moments you missed” from matches without any way of us knowing if they are faked or true.  Certainly a lot of what the blogs say is not true, but is opinion or guesswork presented as the truth (the transfer window showed they were just like most sites in this regard).  Now it seems the same is true of the pictures.

But it isn’t just a case of what is factually incorrect or impossible, it is also the question of what is important, and the suggestion that there are implications.

For example when London Football (which is not the same as Football London) runs “Chances for English players: figures show Chelsea and Arsenal bottom” there is an implication that this matters as when they say, “The numbers speak for themselves – and back up England manager Gareth Southgate’s concerns over the lack of opportunities for homegrown players.”

The implication of “the numbers speak for themselves” is that everything here is self-evident, rather like the stories the circulated in Liverpool in the early 1920s about the number of black men there were in the city and the rise of the murder rate.  There was no proof of the link (obviously, there was none) but the link was assumed and the results were utterly and totally awful.

So here is the London Football story – Arsenal are somehow behaving badly by not giving opportunities to English players.  But all the evidence there is (and we actually did the original research which has now be adopted by other more reflective and sober publications that London Football), is that the amount of playing time in a player’s home country is irrelevant to the success of the country in international football.  The key factor – proven by clear statistics – is the number of coaches trained to the highest level per thousand players.  That is why countries with tiny populations such as Iceland can do quite well.

After all, did it matter to France and Belgium that so many of  their players played outside their home country?  No, it clearly helped them.

This is the fake news problem. It is either utterly untrue, or it takes us to misleading conclusions. Or both.   And football reportage is utterly awash with this type of fakery from top to bottom.

In short believe nothing.  Although actually, maybe you’d like to believe this article – or at least go and check the reference to the New Scientist piece.

From the Arsenal History Society

From Untold Arsenal



14 Replies to “How fake news took over football journalism – and it is about to get far worse”

  1. in other words, Untold Arsenal is always correct. Sanctimonious as always! keep up the good work!

  2. Krystian Bielik was named in the EFL League One team of the week. Judging by the numbers posted by Charlton Athletic supporters and the comments made, it seems that he is starting his loan period well. The only criticism is that he has to adjust to the speed of the games (faster than U23) as he has been caught in possession a couple of times. Some happy, non-fake news for the Gunners.

  3. For a website that probably has more articles than most others in which the writer admits he is probably wrong, that is quite an interesting statement. I wonder if you are not confusing us with someone else. Or indeed the definition of the word sanctimonious.


    He can see; the forms, the gaps, the lack of cohesion in midfield, epecially when Xhaka plays. The need for a 6, essentially Torreira. The issue with the high line, and slow central defenders, both defenders tendency to be attracted to the ball in attempting to defned. The space in behind both fullbacks, bcause the 4-3-3 which it is, despite the suggestion it is our former formation, exposes both Monreal and Bellerin, and allws access to the sluggish central defensive pairing.

    Thank heavens Monreal answered his critics with a fine start to the season, and Mustarfi managed to nod another one in, his numbers are low, too low for my liking, and Sokratis hasn’t contributed yet, he doesn’t have time, he was bought presumably for now, although I would have prefered 2 or 3 other candidates.

    So we have to risk both starting at CF, score 1 more than them, Klopps origina formula, that still slots Ozil in behind, and Ramsey and Goundouzi, flanking Torriera. That works, one of the 3 formats I gave as alternative to collapsing into a 44-1-1.

    but anyways, it’s again just a moment for you to consider, because some arent aganst us, they are genuinely
    bewilderd, and somewhat flabbergsdted by the simplicity of some of the fanbase.

    But I think this is a very good artile to analyse and my suppositions also have credibility. compare, contrast, hypothesise, theorize, criticise, composit, ask a question of the readership, spark debate.

    and lol!

    what I’m writing agaiin, unny there should be a replacement.

  5. Keeming….go to LeGrove, they enjoy sanctimonious twats like you! Nice Trumpian effort to camouflage the problem by blaming the messenger!

  6. Man$ity is involved in a project called SoccerMetrics. They have some data and code at Github.

    I needed a place to start, and they have some data from 2011/12.

    Anyway, there were 1200 odd bookable offences that season.

    Reckless challenge is by far the reason to give a card (948).

    There is a category ‘unknown’, which has 25 occurrences. Dissent (74) and off-ball infraction (89) are the only causes (other than reckless challenge) that are above ‘unknown’.

    In order of decreasing number, there were:
    Delaying restart(21)
    Serious foul play(19)
    Professional foul(12)
    Excessive celebration(12)
    Violent conduct(7)
    Persistent infringement(6)
    Dead-ball encroachment(2)
    Offensive/abusive language or gestures(1)

    I find that Unknown is so high. I think there is something seriously wrong if persistent infringement was only called 6 times.

    Discuss and debate , giving your learned opinions and honest facts only.

    -The EPL is not fixed .

    -The PIGMOB have the best referees in the world.

    -The pundits, experts , media and commentators of the EPL are just and measured in their opinions, and devoid of any bias.

    – The pundits, experts, media and commentators of the EPL are all crap.

    -English players are world class and are wanted by foreign clubs.
    Please do note that no English player in the EPL has ever won the FIFA Best Player of the year award.

    -English managers are world class and are in great demand overseas.
    Please do note that that no English manager has ever won the EPL.

    While you are at it , find out who was the last English manager to win the First Division title with their respective clubs .

    I’d guess that Bertie Mee was Arsenal’s last English manager to win it in 1971.

  8. What about Manchester Utd and City ?
    Or Liverpool ?
    Everton – Must be Howard Kendall in 1987.

    As for the Spuds , I’m guessing , Bill Nicholson,way,way, way back in 1961 ?

    Try it without Googling it !

  9. In that pile of data, is data on the 99 penalties taken that season.

    With their being 90 minutes in a game, and only 99 penalties to distribute, you don’t see penalties take in every minute. The longest string of minutes without any penalties is at the beginning of the game (1,2,3), and also (48,49,50) and (54,55,56). There is a reason for a lack of penalties at the beginning, probably not for the other 2. There are stretches of 2 successive empty periods, and isolated empty periods. The minutes with the most number of penalties is predictably including 90, and also 82 with 4.

    0 33
    1 29
    2 17
    3 9
    4 2
    Predictably the 45th minute has 3 penalties, because it is longer than 1 minute long. It could have easily been a 4. But, you see that the chance of having 2 penalties in a minute is about half of 1, and 3 is about half of 2. I will suggest 4 is about half of 3, and that 0 is about the same as 1.

    Just as reckless challenge was the overwhelming reason to hand out a card, 83 of the 99 penalties were given for reckless challenge. Handball resulted in 9 penalties, professional foul caused 4, and holding caused 2.

    There doesn’t seem to be any pattern to when the issuing of a penalty results in a goal being scored. Curiously all 4 penalties issued in the 90th minute resulted in goals. Two of the 3 penalties issued in the 45th minute were converted.

    The 73rd minute seen 3 saves. There was a single over the crossbar, in the 6th minute. The post was hit twice, once in the 45th minute and once in the 84th minute. The ball was hit wide of the post once in the 36th minute and once in the 57th minute.

  10. There are 380 games in an EPL season.

    First Half length (minutes)
    45 323
    46 27
    47 14
    48 8
    49 4
    50 2
    51 1

    Second Half length (minutes)
    45 225
    46 32
    47 32
    48 43
    49 24
    50 17
    51 3
    52 1
    53 1
    54 1
    The long games (greater than 50 minutes in second half) are:
    Everton — Wigan Athletic
    Wigan Athletic — Blackburn Rovers
    Arsenal — Manchester United
    Newcastle United — Sunderland
    Arsenal — Newcastle United
    Aston Villa — Tottenham Hotspur

    Referee appearances: Stuart Attwell(10), Jonathon Moss(11), Neil Swarbrick(11), Peter Walton(15), Anthony Taylor(18), Andre Marriner(21), Christopher Foy(21), Kevin Friend(21), Mark Halsey(21), Michael Oliver(21), Lee Probert(22), Lee Mason(24), Mark Clattenburg(24), Michael Jones(25), Martin Atkinson(27), Philip Dowd(28), Howard Webb(29), Michael Dean(30).

  11. The reason for either the first half or the second half to be extended is the same for both halves. But it is obvious that the two halves are treated completely differently. The first half sees a common pattern of a 2 minute extension being half as likely as a 1 minute extension, a 3 minutes is half a 2 minute extension, all the way down to a 6 minute extension.

    While there are substitutions in the first half, those typically only happen for injuries. They are not planned substitutions. Substitutions in the second half are often planned, and are often executed to waste time. Does that explain the curious distribution of time added on for stoppages in the second half?

  12. @ Minesy – 04/09/2018 at 10:02 am – You are right, Wilko was the last Englishman to win the first division title . He had won it with Leeds , but what I was referring to was the individual winning English managers of the respective clubs.
    So here is the list of the LAST English managers to win the First Division title for the the below mentioned clubs.

    1992 – Howard Wilkinson ( Leeds)
    1987 – Howard Kendall (Everton )
    1984 – Joe Fagan (Liverpool)
    1981 – Ron Saunders (Aston Villa)
    1978 – Brian Clough ( Nottingham Forrest)
    1972 – Brian Clough (Derby County )
    1971 – Bertie Mee (Arsenal)
    1968 – Joe mercer (Man. City )
    1962 – Alf Ramsey (Ipswich Town)
    1961 – Bill Nicholson (Spurs)
    1960 – Harry Potts (Burnley)
    1959 – Stan Cullis (Wolves)
    1955 – Ted Drake (Chelsea)
    1950 – Bob Jackson (Portsmouth)
    1927 – By committee (Newcastle Utd)
    1926 – Cecil Potter (Huddersfield Town)
    1920 – Fred Everiss (West Bromwich Albion )
    1914 – Robert Middleton (Blackburn Rovers)
    1911 – Ernest Mangnall ( Man Utd )
    1895 – Tom Watson (Sunderland)

    Hope I have not missed out any of the clubs.

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