By Christophe Jost and Tony Attwood
A lot of writing and broadcasting about football obviously consists of personal opinion. When such commentary is done well it tends to be backed up by examples, comparisons and facts. When it is done poorly one of these three elements – the examples, the comparisons and the facts – is missing. However when two or indeed all three of these elements are missing, then it becomes tempting to feel that the article or commentary is written in order to mislead or confuse.
Of course in all this there is nothing wrong with giving opinions, providing that where there are no facts to back up the commentary, the opinion giver has the decency to admit this with the “of course this is just my opinion” comment.
Where the opinion is accompanied either by untrue or misleading statements – then we may conclude that the article is being written in order to mislead. And where this happens and the statement is given by a person held in some esteem by many listeners, viewers or readers, this really is worth calling out.
One of us (Tony) highlighted such an occasion some years back wherein the word “only” was used by an esteemed journalist to give the impression that Arsenal were doing badly (the infamous “only two goalscorers have reached double figures” comment) when in fact Arsenal were in a very small group of clubs that had got two players scoring in double figures by that stage of the season.
When setting the record straight in such a situation there is also nothing wrong, in our minds, it criticising the football media, especially where we feel that the media is, through its heavy emphasis on specific issues, deliberately misleading readers.
But above all, this type of reviewing of the media, is just the continuance of a long tradition. Thus when The Athletic appeared we felt it was an opportunity for a publisher to step aside from the commonplace practices of knocking certain players and clubs while being disinterested in the facts, and instead step forward with a new type of football journalism. However we found the magazine disappointing, being relatively up-market, but still fixed in the same opinion based groove as elsewhere.
Thus we found the magazine to be just the same as other publications, but with better packaging.
Clearly the piece we published on this topic was the opinion of the writer, with examples within the text to back up his opinion. And yet the piece brought forth some criticism – not criticism that the article contained false reporting, but rather with the implication that somehow it should not have been written.
Behind this interest that we both have in the media, is the awareness that while, in a newspaper such as the Guardian, (which as it happens, both of us feel contains articles that are well researched and written by journalists who are good at uncovering facts) much is insightful, surprisingly little has been done to bring the football section up to the standard of the research and analysis of the rest of the paper. So we point this out, and we wonder why.
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And yes we often mention Ms Lawrence’s infamous “only” article which said Arsenal only had three players who had scored in double figures, because it was so out of place in the Guardian. The paper would never suggest that Man United had only won the PL 13 times? Or that the new Tottenham Stadium only has 62,303 seats? Or that Brazil has only won 5 World Cups?
Or that Arsenal (yep…) have only won the PL 3 times and only won the FA Cup 13 times.
The point here is that any journalist really interested in football and wanting to get a story out has plenty of subjects at her or his disposal. And yet they seem to be consistently ignore.
For example which media outlet in the UK has reported on the fact that the PL was found ‘off-side’ in it’s handling of VAR? For it is now a known fact that the Premier League is NOT respecting world football rules in this regard. Have you seen a report on this in the Athletic? Or indeed any other outlet? How is this deviation possible or even ‘legal’ in terms of IFAB/FIFA?
And then there is the fact that Liverpool and Leicester have pretty much the same number of yellow cards per game as last year, yet Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea, and Manchester United (to take just these four) are on track to augment that number by at least 50%?
Or how come Southampton have suddenly far fewer cards (71 last season, 29 so far!!!)? Tottenham (at the moment of writing) were just one card away from the total number of cards they got in the whole of the 17/18 season. (source : www.premierleague.com)
Of course there are many other topics we could cover such as why a ref was fired from PGMOL for a private post he made, while the Prime Minister can publicly use far worse language with impunity? And why PGMOL has officially stated that referees not from northern England need to be re-trained? Why in the world has no one reacted to such a shocking statement?
Our point is not to answer these questions here, but to use them to try and clarify what we are doing: we are simply trying to highlight issues that seem not to be highlighted elsewhere and which we find important.
Now what really bemuses us is not that such raising of issues is met with counter-arguments, pointing out a factual error perhaps or some false logic. That is to be expected. Rather what surprises us is that our commentaries can be met by comments to the effect that we should not be these topics at all. That somehow we rather than arguing a valid case we are pursuing a vendetta or being unreasonable.
Our view on the other hand is that these points are important, and that very very few other outlets are making these points. So they need to be written, and hopefully discussed.
Are we “obsessed” by the media? Our view is not. Rather, we find it a valid topic of debate in itself, and we stay with the topic because few other people are pointing out that the media in the UK is omitting coverage of key issues, or giving misleading information when they do tackle these points. And we just wonder why. Is it by chance? Or is someone telling them to lay off certain issues? Or is there some other motive?
In short, why are the strange fouls and yellow cards figures in the PL not mainstream news? Why is the lack of London referees not mentioned, especially as London clubs overall have very different statistics in this regard from the rest of the league?
Indeed why is the shortage of referees not mentioned? Why is the refusal of referees to give interviews not discussed? Why is Uefa’s announcement that match fixing is out of control not debated? Why does the level of injuries and deaths, and the lack of human rights associated with the building of world cup stadia get so few mentions? Why was the use of VAR in the Premier League delayed by a season, and is now different from its use in most of the rest of Europe?
In short, in the competitive industry that football journalism is, why is so much of the media following the same well trodden path, day after day after day?
Indeed what we find strange is that when we highlight the unity of the media in terms of the way it selects certain football topics for debate while consistently ignoring others, some readers then criticise us for raising these issues.
What can possibly be amiss in pointing out that the media avoids key topics, and in other areas always takes the same attitude?