By Tony Attwood
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Compared to some areas of society in the UK football is left pretty much alone by journalists when it comes to investigating potential scandals and I have often wondered why.
First, it could be because there are so few scandals in UK football. In other words, it would be argued that all the scandals there are, are reported fulsomely, but there are so few, it can seem like they don’t really get covered.
Second it could be because there is a cosy deal between the media and football organisations, in which in return for not mentioning certain issues, access to matches, interviews and the like is awarded.
Certainly in the industry in which I worked for much of my life, it was made clear to me that unless certain publicity material of my company was withdrawn, then all co-operation with a national government-funded body would be withdrawn. That would have seriously hampered our business, so we had to give in. That was corrupt, but it happened, and as I understood it, was quite normal. It didn’t get reported since we were a small company and our type of work wasn’t newsworthy in the way football is. Does that happen all the time in football?
Or third maybe it is because publishers and broadcasters feel that football fans simply don’t want to know about scandals; they just want to know who their club is being in the next transfer window and similar sorts of rumours.
My own view is that most likely all three factors are operating when we consider how broadcasters and publishers decide what is and what is not football news. But it is interesting how little interest there is in potential and fully-realised football scandals, and how seemingly little research goes on in uncovering such events. Especially when compared with what happens in the rest of the news we get in the UK.
For certainly the UK is not a place that escapes scandals away from football. In 2018 alone the UK saw the Windrush scandal, in which members of the Windrush generation were wrongly detained, deported, or threatened with deportation. We also had the Jeremy Hunt property scandal – in which Hunt breached anti-money laundering legislation by failing to declare his 50 per cent interest in a property firm and was able to buy multiple luxury apartments with a discount from Conservative donor Nicholas James Roach. We had the links between Cambridge Analytica and donors to the Conservative Party, and we had Andrew Griffiths, MP and a minister sending 2,000 texts, many of a violent and sexual nature, to two constituents in little over three weeks. And all this before Labour MP Fiona Onasanya was convicted of perverting the course of justice for lying to police. And those are just the main stories from one year. If we included the smaller stories – like the late night bust-up in the home of Boris Johnson last year I’d need another 20,000 words to do this introductory article justice.
So I can’t see any reason to assume football in England is uniquely able to avoid corruption and scandals when the rest of our society is packed with them. Yet in reporting terms, that is how it seems to be. And so it seems to me investigations should be undertaken and pressure applied by anyone who sees what seem to be matters that are a little out of skew. After all if we don’t ask questions, we will probably never get the answers. And fine, if we ask about certain things within which there turns out to be nothing wrong, then I still think that is a price worth paying.
Thus when people write into Untold and say, “you haven’t proven anything” in relation to some issue I feel they are missing the point. Because Untold is operating in an environment wherein even when there are big issues floating around, the media doesn’t ever seem particularly interested.
Thus where I get worried is where no one is asking any questions at all. After all it is not as if football has a completely clean past.
Just to do a quick resume, in terms of football scandals we’ve often mentioned the 2006 Calciopoli affair – in which match-fixing took place on a huge scale involving clubs, referees and broadcasters.
To move to more up to date matters in 2015 it was the Fifa corruption case, and in 2016 the English football sexual abuse scandals, in 2017 the Rangers tax fraud case and in 2018 Der Spiegel started to reveal in the inner workings of Man City, PSG and Monaco. We’ve also had the revelations about football agents, and tales of doping Russian and Spanish players. Not all might be true – but again lots of investigation is the price we pay for finding some of the really big issues going on under the surface. (If you want a snap shot moment, try our article “Corruption News: 43 footballers, 8 agents, 12 clubs, Barcelona and Tony Pulis”). It is just one of many.
So scandals and corruption and illegality exist aplenty in football and yet there seems to me a certain resistance to the notion that when we see something that looks odd which should go digging. Rather we have readers writing in saying “you haven’t proven anything” – when in fact all we are trying to do is say, “this does look rather odd”.
The series continues…
- Are Arsenal really making progress, or are we starting to slip back?
- Luton 3 Arsenal 4: maybe it is time to say positive things
- Luton v Arsenal – the referee, the team, Saka and Cliff Bastin
- Luton Town – how do they play the game. The tackles, fouls and cards.
- Luton Town v Arsenal: Grim football, fewest goals, lowest possession rate