How the League ensured that the media can only talk about football in a certain way

By Tony Attwood

In the classic approach, football is an event that is controlled by the club manager who influences the players.  The players play, we have a result.  It is all down to the manager and the players on each side.

But it is self-evident that the crowd at the matches has an effect.  The crowd has an effect by simply being there (it is a valuable source of income) or not being there (nothing more dispiriting than playing in an empty stadium).

The crowd also has an impact by its attitude – whether it cheers or jeers, or whether it is silent.

And then there is the media.  Initially the newspapers, then radio and TV, then the blogs.  They started out as reporters, talking about what had happened.  That notion vanished a long time ago.  Now they select, in advance, an attitude and an approach to each club and their reports are based around that established attitude.

What they say affects the way supporters see football in general and their team in particular.

In the 1970s the bulk of football on TV was in the form of edited highlights shown either on the saturday evening or the sunday afternoon, and during this time several newspapers started to complain that the TV companies were giving a wholly false idea of the way that the game was being played by skillful editing.

They did this because it became apparent to anyone who looked at both the TV presentation on “Match of the Day” and “The Big Match” and the Sunday newspapers, there was a growing disparity.

This came about because TV stations obviously wanted an audience, and they were not going to get an audience by proclaiming that matches were boring, negative, defensive etc.  But for most matches the TV stations in Britain only showed recorded highlights so they were able to edit what was shown, to suit their message – that this was an attractive and intriuging game, even though it ended goalless, or just 1-0.

It was the Observer newspaper in April 1974 that broke with tradition and claimed that evening TV was turning humdrum games into supposedly exciting affairs through skilful editing and hyped commentary in order to keep the TV audiences up and make the viewers tune in week after week.

Football authorities were outraged by this newspaper reaction and expressed their concern, even suggesting that press passes might be revoked if the media spread such tales.   Indeed some clubs did remove  the press passes from some journalists and banned them from the ground, but of course the newspaper still had the chance to make their case and publicise the actions of the club.

But eventually, and to their eternal shame, the newspapers backed off.

From Arsenal’s point of view, a turning point came on 2 December 1978 as Arsenal faced Liverpool and 51,902 people turned up at Highbury.  Arsenal won 1-0.

After the game, Bob Paisley, manager of supposedly superior Liverpool, a club that at that time was the absolute darlings of the TV stations, launched a tirade against the referee for having the temerity of booking Souness for fighting.   In this tirade Paisley ignored the fact that the referee also booked Brady, O’Leary and Young but as TV showed it was Souness who started the fight and should have gone off after Thompson went down faking injury having tackled Stapleton.

What then happened was unexpected for several papers questioned why TV had edited out a number of the more rumbustious tackles from Liverpool.  Arsenal in particular were unhappy not just with their visitors tactics, but also the impression given by TV that Arsenal were the perpetrators of the violence, rather than responding to it.

This was interesting because Liverpool were the darlings of the media – the team shown more than any other, and the team praised more than any other.  To suggest even in one game that they were masters of all the black arts, and were getting away with them in front of the referee, undermined the whole basis of the presentation of Match of the Day at the time.

Quite what happened behind the scenes after that is not clear, but if you study the reporting of games by the papers you will see that the topic is dropped, as is any suggestion that referees were being lopsided in the way they dealt with players of different clubs, or that football was suffering from the violent tactics of Liverpool.  The media in fact, shut up.

It was that moment that changed the reporting of football with the introduction of things that could be said and could not.   At that moment the media unified into an approach, and stuck to it.

This is not to suggest that there was some kind of conspiracy going on although it does seem that the League suggested to some papers that their press passes would be revoked if they didn’t follow the party line which suggested that by and large games were entertaining, that violence was very rare, that referees were always neutral and accurate, and that there was no hidden agenda – such as editing games for TV to make them look more attractive than they were.

Of course the advent of live games made matters a little harder to control, except that TV soon found that they could influence the viewers view of the game simply by what the commentators said and of course some skillful use of different camera positions.

So referee errors in Premier League matches are discussed occasinally only as minor affairs, and anyone who suggests there is something amiss is offered a tin hat.  The question of why some referees oversee so many games, when all logic suggests that having more referees would reduce any chance of corruption is never mentioned.

And thus here we are.

16 Replies to “How the League ensured that the media can only talk about football in a certain way”

  1. It was interesting to see MoTD spending a lot of time concentrating on a late “handball” by Sead but not even commenting on the ridiculous sending off of Maitland Miles or even showing the injury he incurred or how he received it.

  2. It’s not only the mass media. I just read Arseblog. In the largely negative reporting of the match he mentions that the red card was soft and pokes fun at Moss’s physique. But he doesn’t mention the evidence of something more sinister which is that, as Seismic pointed out yesterday, according to the BBC stats, Arsenal received 7 yellows for 13 fouls. Villa received 1 yellow for 15 fouls.

    If even Arsenal supporter blogs – with the honourable exception of Untold of course – don’t talk about it, we are in big trouble.

  3. Good point from Pat which I noticed as I searched through what was being written after yesterday’s to and fro match. Did anyone else notice that we were 26 goals down at half time? Or perhaps that we were not even on the pitch as reports seem to suggest. Following all the Untold work with its examination of media reporting on Arsenal this fitted the narrative completely. No suggestion Villa’s first was against the run of play. No mention of a very even contest between the teams. I felt Ainsley Maitland- Niles a little unlucky to be sent off but there was absolutely no consideration of the incident at all. I am not sure the officials were correctly placed to be able to determine whether any contact was made and am inclined to question if they reacted to consequences rather than what they saw. Oh how harsh on poor, poor Villa who, as not included in match reports, were unable to get a foot on the ball for large parts of the second half. No mention that Villa were made to look like they only had ten men. Sadly we had a continuation of narrative rather than any of these scribblers reporting on the football we were watching .

  4. @ Pat

    I’m putting some effort into collating stats on fouls, cards, tackles etc this season. I was going to wait until a quarter of the way through before posting anything………….but as you’ve brought the subject up!!

    So far this year, only one team has committed fewer fouls than Arsenal, yet Arsenal have received the most cards by far. They have in fact received some 27% more cards than the team with the second highest number…..which is going some!! We have received 77% more than the average. Based on the average number of fouls we’ve committed, we should have received just 7.8 cards. On that basis, we’ve actually received almost 2.5 times the number of cards we should based on averages.

    Brighton, Burnley, Leicester and Liverpool have all individually committed more fouls than Arsenal, yet in total they have received 18 cards to our 19.

    Arsenal received a card for every 2.9 fouls compared to a league average of a card every 7.0 fouls. Leicester seem to have been treated the most leniently with a card for every 15.5 fouls.

    In five of our six games this season we have committed fewer fouls than our opponents yet we have only recived fewer cards than our opponents once. As opposed to the card we receive every 2.9 fouls, our opponents however averaged 6.6 fouls for every card when playing against us.

    I know Tony has a theory that it may (or should) be to do with the number of tackles made but only two teams have committed fewer tackles than us. We, however, receive a card for every 4.6 tacklesas opposed to an average of a card for every 12.0 tackles across the 20 teams. Incidentally, or coincidentally, Leicester have made the most tackles of any club this season so far and received a card for every 34.3 tackles. (Yes 34.3!!!)

    Before anybody says, I know every card isn’t necessarily realted to either a tackle or a foul (just ask Leno!!) but if everything is as fair as Mike Riley tells us, that should, as they say, even itself out over a season. Watch this space.

  5. The AMN sending off was extremely irritating. Both of his fouls were borderline. On the first, he lost position as his winger cut in front of him. You can clearly see that he was trying to avoid the players legs as he moved to the other side. There is contact and out comes the yellow card. On the second, he came in hard, no doubt, but he got the ball and it was his trailing leg that the Aston Villa player tripped over. I suppose you could say his studs were up but I am not sure how you are supposed to keep them down when you have just kicked the ball. But regardless, they were pointed away from the player.

  6. It’s exactly the cheating without cheating scenario I have mentioned on here so many times which fits with the term ‘tilting’ that gets used on here by so many to describe the dubious antics of the men in black.

    If I can explain.

    It is just about possible to say that every card we received yesterday was justified, so on that basis it’s hard to say Moss cheated.

    But there is no doubt that nearly all were 50/50 calls.

    So the question is, is it cheating when 90% of 50/50 calls go against one team and in favour of the other ?

    I contest it is, and what’s more when it happens week in, week out, with just about every referee in the PL, you have to come to the conclusion that something very odd is going on.

    It’s even odder that so many of our own fans fail to acknowledge it’s happening right under their noses.

  7. @ Nitram

    Equally, how many times do we count loudly at the EMs to make it clear to refs how much time is being wasted ny opposition gk’s? Four GK’s have received cards this season but only one has received two……….yep Leno. That’s two in six games, when 75% of goalkeepers have received none at all. At that rate Leno will serve a ban for timewasting when I can’t recall the last time I saw one opposing GK booked for timewasting at the EM’s. I completely agree with booking GK’s for timewasting once they have been warned for it, I was rather hoping the rule would be applied to all of them though!

  8. Great point Mikey.

    These anomalous decisions are not restricted to the PL either.

    Do you remember when RVP got a second yellow for taking a shot moments after the whistle in a CL game ?

    Never seen it happen before or since.

  9. I can’t actually recall who it was against (age and too many holiday beers I’m afraid) but quite possibly.

  10. @Mikey do you think that when a team receives treatment like you have described they become very wary of tackling as they are going to get a yellow for almost every tackle they make? This surely is “tilting” the pitch so to speak

    As Nitram says in a later post this cheating without cheating scenario. I am fed up with the inconsistency in calling yellow cards.

    I do know that Leno can count himself targeted with two yellow cards for time wasting I have only seen this being applied in maybe 1 in 50 cases of time wasting. To get two in such a short space of time really does seem statistically improbable.

  11. @ Les

    I absolutely think that. Man U lived off that tilt for years. They knew 5hey could hit the opposition so much harder without punishment yet the opposition. This meant the opposition would hold back. But also the opposition knew that it was odds on they would get book3d for a 50/50 challenge. Evidence: check out what should have been our 50th game undefeated.

  12. Excellent, Tony! Thanks for the reminder of that Liverpool match from ’78 and, at least, some of the reasons for the cozy relationship between the media, the league and the abjectly pathetic PGMO. You have to do it as no one else will.

    Mikey, thanks for your work proving that what we observe as supporters vis-a-vis the refereeing bias against AFC is not a figment of our fevered, claret tinted imagination. when your findings are complete I suggest you send it to the FA, EPL, and all media outlets to see if any of them have the stones to publish. We already know the response. Props for your hard work and support of the Club.

  13. There were a few articles published today about the AVilla game. It is amazing that someone would spend time finding excuses for why Arsenal goals shouldn’t count, and not look to see if AVilla had similar circumstances. The end result, is that the medja wants people to think that Arsenal wrongly won that game, even though the field was tilted against us all game long.

  14. Gord


    That is why I think our fans are wrong when they suggest we should just ignore the negativity on the basis it’s simply ‘click bait’ and as such it doesn’t really matter, but I think that is missing it’s real function.

    The true function of this endless negativity is, as you suggest in this case, to give the impression that “Arsenal wrongly won the game”.

    God forbid they would ever want to give the impression that Arsenal actually won, DESPITE the dubious interventions of the man in black.

    And the result of this endless drip feeding of ‘Arsenal getting away with it’ is to foster an atmosphere in which stitching us up is ok because we was owed one.

    In our next match we are now set up perfectly for a:

    ‘Yes, that probably was a soft penalty but look what they got away with against Villa’

    kind of scenario.

    Ergo, Arsenal had it coming.

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