Context is nothing; how football reports are biased towards individual events

By Tony Attwood

To many people the art of commenting on football is the art of picking one or two incidents out of the tens of thousands that take place across 90 minutes and then draw conclusions from those.  Indeed one can always find a few events that will support a conclusion, not matter how weird that conclusion is.

Imagine a game has taken place, and that you have not seen it or previously read about it.  You are given a load of headlines and then you have to guess what the context was – that is to say not just the immediate event but the build up to the event over a period of weeks of months.

Here are some headlines to consider in order to get a view on what that game was about.

  1. Report: Graeme Souness questions Mesut Ozil’s lack of passion (Sports Mole)
  2. ‘Sell Him’, ‘Liability’ – These Fans Slam Arsenal Man For Display v Palace (Football-Talk)
  3. Arsenal fans slam Shkodran Mustafi for giving away a penalty (Sportskeeda)
  4. Not a good day for Arsenal and it hurts (Just Arsenal News) 
  5. Palace’s late equaliser gives Arsenal a reality check (i News)
  6. Arsenal player ratings: Mixed day for Xhaka, Mustafi struggles (talkSPORT)
  7. Defensive concerns for Arsenal? (Sky Sports)
  8. ‘Terrible today’ ‘Should have gone off’ – Most Arsenal fans slate key man after Palace shocker (The Transfer Tavern)
  9. Hodgson: Arsenal’s second goal should have been disallowed (The Independent)
  10. Ozil criticised for lack of courage and passion by Souness (Goal)
  11. Iwobi Shines In Arsenal’s Draw At Palace; Moses Benched In Chelsea Win Complete (Sports Nigeria)
  12. Arsenal player ratings: Mesut Ozil, Alex Iwobi poor in 2-2 draw away at Crystal Palace (Daily Star)
Now, imagining that you did not know what had gone on during the match you would have to choose which of the following descriptions relates to that headline
1.  Arsenal suffered yet another significant and serious defeat.
2.  There were two players called Iwobi on the pitch, one of whom played well and the other poorly.
3.  Arsenal are unbeaten in 12 consecutive matches in three different competitions.
4.  Ozil has not played a decent game in months
5.  There was no goal line technology in use in this match
6.  Just because Arsenal have won a couple of games we should not be expecting too much.

The reality is that only one of those six statements is true, and it is the one that you would be least likely to select from the six options given those headlines above.   The aim, it seems, is always to pick incidents from the game that suit the writer’s or publications negative perspective no matter what.

A similar situation relates to future transfers.  The usual sources are full of transfer rumours and transfer needs that Arsenal must fulfil for January, but they are disregarding key facts.   For example, at the moment these rules apply to any player being brought in from outside the European Union.   (This summary is based on details from the Daily Telegraph).
  • A player from a FIFA ranked top-10 nation only has to have played in 30 percent of games in the two years prior to application to be granted a work permit
  • A player from a 11-20 nation must have played in 45 percent of international games
  • That rises to 60 percent for the next 10 countries, and 75 percent for countries ranked 31-50
  • Leaving the European Union will mean players from 27 countries still in the union would need to meet these criteria to qualify for an automatic work permit, unless other regulations are made, (and there is no sign of any work being done on this).

Now transfer rumours would be a little more realistic if they took into account this set of rules rather than blaming Arsenal for not getting a player who is not British.   Indeed the transfer rumours that swirl around every day would be more realistic if they took into account the fact that assuming that the UK does leave the EU, without a deal that retains employment rights within it, the vast majority of players they talk about from overseas will simply not be able to come to the UK.

And since it appears to be felt by many in government that the key thing that many people voted for when offered the choice of leaving the EU was reducing the number of non-UK citizens in the country, that seems to be a problem.

My point is very simple.  Taking individual events and generalising from them usually leads to faulty conclusions.  Of course I would love to have seen us win yesterday, but a draw at Palace was not a disaster that means that Arsenal is now a rubbish team.

Anyone who watched the Unbeaten Season, or the two Cup and League Doubles before that will know that we drew games we should have won, and in the Double seasons we lost games we should have drawn.  It happens.  No team is excellent in every game.

Of course we all draw conclusions from one event and ignore others that don’t fit – that is a human characteristic, but we should also try and reign that in on occasion – at least just a bit – if we want a greater understanding of reality.

10 Replies to “Context is nothing; how football reports are biased towards individual events”

  1. Souness, wasn’t he a member of The Village People in the 80’s?
    He has this obsession with things he knows nothing about. He seems to “speak” as an Arsenal supporter, but we know he, Carragher, Redknapp Merson HATE Arsenal.

    I NEVER listen to pundits or commentators, choosing to watch the game and make my own mind up, thank you Mr Souness!

    I really wish Sky/BT etc would come up with the simple technology of being abls to shut commentary off but keep the crowd/background noise.

    I also wish they would instruct their Directors to concentrate on the game, not pan away to individuals, Managers, crowd and Owners when the game is going on.

    It’s pathetic!

  2. @ fengunner

    Of course Sky could give you the option of turning the commentators off but that wouldn’t suit their agenda. They need to make matches sound more exciting than they are; they need to make certain players sound better than they are; they seek to convince fans that certain decisions were (in)correct to suit their narrative; they are seemingly obliged to give referees an overall top rating; they wish to demean certain clubs and make them sound lucky or worse than they actually are.

    All TV stations seem to want to do this. I’ve actually suggested to the BBC for example that they allow fans to vote (via the red button) on how good commentators or pundits are performing. Obviously if fans were overall against them, the BBC could save some (of our) money by not employing them. They obviously don’t care what the fans think presumably because getting their message across is much more important.

    The nature of the beast.

  3. OT: Women Gunners

    This unbalanced league makes things interesting. Arsenal are 3 points ahead of second place Man$ity, having played one game less than Man$ity. With 11 more on goal difference. About 1/3 of the season played (I believe).

    Chel$ea won the league last year, is currently in 4th place with about half the points we have also having played one more game than us. The next four lower placed teams (Liverpool, Reading, Bristol City and State Aid) have all played one game less than Chel$ea, and are within 3 points of Chel$ea. Because of the difference in games played, one has to consider than Chel$ea is in a super-position of positions 4 through 8th at the moment.

    Of course, the medja get their say. The Guardian notes that Arsenal are now playing without Kim Little, who somehow managed to break her own leg a week or so ago.

    But, if we take headlines back to Oct 17, The Short Fuse offers us this:

    Kim Little has leg broken by vicious tackle by Chelsea’s Drew Spence

    So it seems that some in medja know that Kim Little didn’t break her own leg. Just like Aaron Ramsey didn’t break his own leg a few years ago.

  4. What excuses have Arsenal to give for their failing to extend their winning run to 12 wins on the trot yesterday, but instead were forced to a draw game by C Palace who halted them in their run?

    Mesut Ozil who didn’t play at Sporting CP last Thursday night to stay in physical fresh condition for the C Palace game was taken off for the likely fatigued Danny Welbeck to come in by Unai Emery after Arsenal had taken a 1-2 lead in the game in the 2nd half which might have caused cohesion in the Arsenal game playing to reduced to average. And consequently had Arsenal defending in the game put under serious pressure by C Palace who stepped their game up in search of the equalising goal which had led to Xhaka conceding a penalty to them. Was Emery at fault for substituting Ozil off who can bring a moment of magic in the game for Arsenal at any time in the match? Well, honestly I don’t know.

    Despite that us Gooners have been dealt a small blow by Arsenal for not extending their winning run to 12 games yesterday at C Palace, but we can take the consolation for not seeing Arsenal losing the match but suddenly switched from their winning run mode to unbeaten run mode now in it’s 12 games in all competitions . And I can see the Gunners extending this Arsenal unbeaten run from 12 to 13 games when they beat Blackpool in the League Cup on Wednesday night. And from there we’ll see what happens next.

  5. OT: Officiating

    In news out of Malaysia, they are apparently of a mind to form an independent refereeing organization to officiate games in the Malaysian Football League. Which I suppose is a wonderful goal.

    The article then continues with:

    According to him, local and foreign referees from Japan, England and some other countries would be part of the body.

    “Local and foreign referees will work together, plans are being made to have refereeing courses conducted by former English Premier League referees,” he said in the statement.

    Why on Earth would Malaysia want to get _HELP_ from England. The PGMO is the _LAST_ organization one should use as a template for officiating any sport.

  6. OT

    Driving home, listening to a stream of local public, and supporters outpourings of Loss and Grief, at the news of the demise of Mr Vichai Srivaddhanaprabhato . Personal accounts of the fan base meeting him in everyday kind of circumstances. Sounds like a huge loss to the game, of a role model for other Club Owners. Not much recent history for celebrating the Legacy of Club Owners is there.

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