By Tony Attwood
It’s quite possible that England has never had a football magazine like The Athletic before. It is serious, it is adult, there is a lot of it, you have to pay for it, and it is online. So you read it on your “device”.
Also the articles are long – more like the length of Untold Arsenal articles in fact, in the region of 600 to 1200 words. And given that the writers are educated people who tend to be able to construct grammatically correct sentences, it is clearly written for those who believe that football can be, and should be, discussed in an adult way. No Toppled Bollard and Sir Hardly Anyone in sight.
Amy Lawrence who used to work for the Guardian and who earned my ire (not that such a thing is of any significance) through her misuse of statistics, is there, and has a recent piece “Disciplined and terrier-like in midfield, Torreira has looked reborn under Arteta”.
Although not all the stories that are classified as Arsenal are in fact about the club or its players. The recent piece, “‘With any mistake, there’s a groan from the crowd. It’s like a punch to the guts if he misplaces a pass’ – life as the parent of a professional footballer” by Stuart James is classified as Arsenal because it contains some quotes from Alex Oxland Chamberlain’s dad, about his time at Southampton. It is interesting, but the link with the club we support is indeed tenuous.
The Athletic started in the USA where sport coverage in the papers was in decline; a resting place for journalists who had been made redundant. In the UK, where most “journalists” were already doing nothing but writing 30 word pieces patched into standard paragraphs about Arsenal being worried and Liverpool living the dream, they had to find a slightly different approach.
And it seems its new basis is that football journalism in England is poor quality and The Athletic is making it better by using the journalists whose work was being squeezed by FootballLondon (the Daily Mirror’s on line drainpipe) and the like with those 30 word articles.
Or as the New Statesman said, the promise was not to provide “the familiar mixture of rumours, myth-making, puffery and sporadic insight, only at far greater expense.”
But with such promise it was thus a little sad to see that its Arsenal story last November headlined: “Exclusive: Arsenal will not sack Emery and are ‘100%’ behind the manager. They believe club are on the right path” by David Ornstein. We were told, “fans are seemingly unified in the view that after 18 months as head coach, Emery should be sacked.” An exclusive indeed!
Unabashed he quickly followed up with “Ornstein on Monday: doubts over Aubameyang captaincy,” while Untolders were wanting to write “Doubts over Ornstein’s crystal ball”.
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But with Emery and Ornstein teetering on the edge, James McNicholas came in with “Arsenal fans are used to waiting for change. But allowing Emery to persist will be interpreted as passively accepting mediocrity” – clearly showing that the old newspaper adage that football fans might remember goal averages from 50 years ago, but can’t recall newspaper headlines from yesterday, was still holding sway.
However with this Arsenal coverage was not going as either the publishers or the readers had wanted, there was a changing of authors for each new attempt, as they offered us tales of the elite coaches forum, Jack Wilshere’s future, Thierry Henry’s new managerial job, and why Koscielny left Arsenal (by James McNicholas: “Too many matches following his recovery from injury left the Frenchman feeling overused, undervalued and determined to get away…” – I think we’d already guessed that).
And with that last article we really saw where we were: back to the standard format of Arsenal the incompetent, Arsenal the cheaters, Arsenal as portrayed in every single newspaper and by every broadcaster. As far as Arsenal was concerned The Athletic was giving us exactly the same as everyone else.
But they were getting desperate. So desperate the next “Arsenal” story was “Finding Martin Hansson, the Henry handball referee…” by Daniel Taylor who had noticed it was “Ten years after Thierry Henry’s handball gifted France a World Cup spot at Ireland’s expense…”
When that failed Amy Lawrence was recruited, and quickly gave us an interesting piece on Pires’ role at the club helping rehabilitation of injured players, but just in case we thought they were getting soft, next up we got “Modern football moves fast – but at Arsenal, life continues to stand still” followed by “As Arsenal’s chairman considers resigning, how bad does it have to get before Emery goes?” – in which the phrase “how bad does…” was repeated, just to make sure we got it.
When Emery was sacked, the Athletic claimed they had exclusively revealed that event – although in fact just 19 days before they had revealed he wasn’t going anywhere. And then we all knew: it really was the reporting of Arsenal as we have known it to be for years.
Even then they still didn’t really get to grips with their prognostication department as they saw Pochettino as “a credible option” for the new manager while meanwhile with a bit of highly unoriginal writing asked in their next article “At what point will Arsenal’s hierarchy share the blame for the Emery mess?” Ornstein then told us Arsenal were focussing on Rodgers as the new manager… And so it went on until all pretence of giving us an alternative vision of Arsenal was abandoned and The Athletic provided the headline coup de grace… “A decade of decline, but how far can Arsenal fall?”
A headline worthy of the Daily Express.
New writing? No, just the same. £9.99 a month for these pieces? Well, yes, but it might have been a little more honest if they had called their Arsenal articles: “The AAA with long words”.