How “The Athletic” touches on issues without realising what they are

by Tony Attwood

It is interesting to see The Athletic in a current article taking an interest in AFTV, and recognising (perhaps a little late in the day) that not everyone who claims to be an Arsenal supporter actually likes AFTV.   But I do find it a little frustrating that articles like this are presented as if it is they, the Athletic, are the finders of the new truth – rather than being another part of the mainstream media pumping out the mainstream message of “we tell you how it is because you are not bright enough to work it out yourself”.

And for me that is where The Athletic falls down.  Its attitude is exactly like that of most of the mainstream media – that it is the discoverer and purveyor of the truth.  Which wouldn’t matter if it were not for the fact that The Athletic presents itself as somehow new and radical.

We first talked about Arsenal Fans TV in an Untold article in July 2016 (after the Telegraph newspaper said that AFTV was the “lifeblood of football”).  My thought at the time in the Untold article was that “Conflict isn’t the lifeblood of anything, and it is an absolute tragedy that the Telegraph reporters believe it is.”

And I know many others are reporting on the way that away fans in particular have taken up the “get out of my club” chant.  But the one thing from the Athletic piece about AFTV, was news to me as the notion that AFTV people “required a steward and police escort to ensure their safety when exiting Selhurst Park.”   The use of tax payers’ money to protect AFTV – which is after all a commercial enterprise – I do find thoroughly distasteful.   And I can absolutely say hand on heart Untold Arsenal has never cost the taxpayer anything.  AFTV surely should be charged by the police for their work, just as the Met charges Arsenal for the use of additional officers near the stadium.

Anyway, The Athletic is now doing interviews with people from AFTV, putting their point of view in multi-paragraph quotes, but doing little to quote organisations that are against what AFTV stands for and what it does.

Yes we do get one or two snippets from anonymous fans, but there is nothing to compare with the accredited quotations that AFTV get which seems to make The Athletic a mouthpiece of AFTV.   We’re even told ‘AFTV markets itself as “The Unofficial Voice of Arsenal Fans around the world”,’ just like The Athletic brands itself “The new home of football writing” as if the million publications that were there before them were not engaged in “football writing,” or perhaps didn’t have a home.

And of course there are the digs, because The Athletic really does like digs.  Digs like “Nobody does crisis quite like Arsenal.”   Or as might be better said, “No club is attacked quite so regularly with quite so many made up stories in the media, as Arsenal.”

For in fact, the Athletic’s take on Arsenal is just the continuation of the notion that Arsenal have the biggest problems, the most injuries, the most inept management, the worst treatment regime, the most inept transfer negotiators etc etc anywhere in the country.  Probably in the world.

True, the Athletic has the honesty to admit that AFTV “has become home to certain personalities who do seem to thrive upon the team’s misery.”  But what they don’t report however is that this is what virtually all of the media does.  Including The Athletic.

For the reality is that AFTV is just a sanitised national version of Football.London with its 40 to 50 Arsenal “stories” a day almost each of which is preluded by a report of Arsenal’s misery, Arsenal’s problems, Arsenal’s ineptitude.  The Athletic just does it in more words.

And as for AFTV, the reality is that by going utterly over the top it draws attention to itself and ultimately becomes a mockery of itself, while FoLo is much more insidious because it looks, at a quick glance, to be more believable, and The Athletic, by using lots more words, looks to be more “in-depth”.

Where I really turn away from the Athletic is where it says, “The expressed aim of AFTV is something to be celebrated: a democratisation of media, a platform for fans to have a voice. As Lyle tells The Athletic: ‘The whole reason why I set up this thing was to give any ordinary fan a chance to have his say’.”

This is so inaccurate at every level it can’t have been written with sincerity, surely.  Untold Arsenal was set up to offer a platform for fans who see themselves, as I see myself, as a supporter of the players, the manager and the team, and providing a space to report Arsenal in a way that is not much reported elsewhere.  And there are thousands of other blogs – many pre-dating Untold which launched just over 12 years ago – which have other attitudes.  We were all having our say long before AFTV came along.

However – and this is really what made me want to write this article – finally we get to the nub of the matter with the sentence…

“Increasingly, the medium dictates the nature of the content.”

That little snippet from this article in The Athletic on AFTV takes us right back to Marshall McLuhan – the man who predicted the internet 30 years ahead of its invention and who came up with the phrase “the medium is the message”.   (He also created the phrase the “global village” in case you are interested).

Now I have no idea if James McNichollas who wrote the piece in The Athletic on AFTV actually knows his media history, but as a man writing about the media he ought to. And if he is going to suggest that the medium dictating the nature of the content is something to do with the current era, he damn well all to explain himself, since he is arguing against a very mainstream media theory – without putting the argument.  We’ve known since the 1960s that the medium used to report information, distorts the information and causes it to be put in particular ways.

But having shown such ignorance (or worse, perhaps knowing that the phrase comes from 1964 but hoping that none of his readers would notice) the writer then goes onto another planet altogether, suggesting  that it is “hypocritical to criticise the channel for excessive negativity and bringing the club into disrepute, and yet respond in kind.”

The notion that the best response to your opponents is always to be nice and quiet and calm and respectful, simply doesn’t hold up.   History repeatedly shows us that there is no universal panacea for anything – especially for extremism, which is in fact what AFTV is.

In fact this is a fundamental argument of Untold Arsenal – that the media presents information and opinion in particular ways which in part aim to nullify alternative visions by suggesting they are invalid, or improper or just plain mad.   And they do this in part because some of their stories (most obviously, transfer rumours) are themselves completely bonkers.

When the article says, “There is a sense that AFTV is the latest in a long line of lightning rods for a disenchanted support,” then yes that is obviously true. More injuries, worse transfers, more fouls committed… that is the media narrative of Arsenal.

But of course this is a ludicrous simplification.   What lies beneath all this is that almost all of what is broadcast and published about Arsenal is utterly untrue.   The transfer rumours (97% untrue), the “most injuries” and “longest recovery periods” under Wenger, (100% untrue), the notion that changing the manager could change the success of the team, the notion that Arsenal would only have £40m to spend last summer from AST… it is all fantasy.  The notion that spending more and more on new players will take the team up the league… totally untrue.

The fact is that the perception of Arsenal, just like the general perception of football, is a media created myth and AFTV is just one more part of the media.   And where the media always makes a total ass of itself is where it reports (as here) on… the media.

Beware: when the media talks about the media, you are not going to get reality.

23 Replies to “How “The Athletic” touches on issues without realising what they are”

  1. The Athletic IS a mainstream sports outlet merely using a modern business model. The media like to spout the “same old Arsenal” meme, but The Athletic is merely the same old soccer journos with the reigns loosened somewhat.

  2. Actually the Athletic is a breath of fresh air but what may rankle is that it dares to criticise the club sometimes and Untold Arsenal is not comfortable with anything that is perceived to be critical of the Arsenal establishment . James McNicholas like Amy Lawrence is a bona fide Gooner and keen to present a reasoned debate on how the club is doing , in a way that is balanced but reflects the thinking of Arsenal fans.
    Untold Arsenal represents a group of Arsenal fans who believe that the club is the victim of a conspiracy between, the football authorities, the referees , the media and for all I know M15 and the Freemasons .
    Arsenal is a huge club and as such is a broad church and the media should reflect concerns about things like the ownership , value for money , values and behaviour as well as playing style . Not everything in the Arsenal garden is rosy but I also dislike the banal, populist approach of AFTV which provides a platform for loudmouths and blowhards . But the Athletic is a positive addition to the coverage of sport in this country and its tailored approach ensures that people who know and care for our club get to cover it . But covering it doesn’t mean they never venture into areas where they might be critical

  3. I would like to take issue with the matter of the police escort for AFTV at Selhurst Park. Violence was once a scourge of the terraces but we moved on in painful circumstances. We have laws against harassment in society and these would also include football stadia when open to the public. If there was a chance of the confrontation escalating I feel it was right that a police escort was given if for nothing else then to keep physics assaults out of spectator areas. By all means disagree. We hear many things within our society we dislike, Farage can say some very bizarre things that many find upsetting but I would not call for assault and intimidation against him. Fan tv just as the internet itself is just a passing fashion. The violence of the 70’s and 80,s took 96 lives in this country as well as others abroad, lets not start suggesting that aggressive and intimidating behaviour is welcome in our football stadia under any circumstances. If the police do not have to deal with such matters do we all have to bring our own security to the games because someone 3 rows back does not share our opinions?

  4. @Henry Root,

    I will leave you to your opinion, and I imagine as a true football fan, you want the refereeing to be an affair that evens out, and you do not want Arsenal to be treated unfarily, am I right ?

    So I would like you to tell us your opinion about the fact that Arsenal are getting some selected referees over and over again over the course of a season. Do you feel this is a fair way of handling referees, of making sure every team in the PL has the same chances, and that this is the clear, normal, recommended way a refereeing organisation ought to work ?

    Fact is, NO media outlet is talking about this issue, when all over Europe this pretty much does not ever happen.

    How about the fact that VAR is totally unpredictable, that depending on the game it acts differently (and I am not talking about Arsenal games here). Not one outlet has written a report talking about VAR, its effects, how it is perceived, its shortcomings so far, the reasons it is not used as in the rest of Europe and/or not following FIFA guidelines. Is this not a subject worth writing about ? Is it too far out in terms of reasearch capabilites or budget of the press at large ? Why ?

    So, conspiracy or not, I feel this requires some explanations resp. justification, does it not ?

    Did we ever get one ? Do other media outlets report about it ?

    Does any outlet report on the massive increase in Sp*rs yellow cards this season ? No one did. Not even some technical explanation (they need to defend more, they are bad players who lost their mojo…) UA did. Funny that one, UA talking about an issue that seems to be plaguing our neighbours and for which no explanation has been given… So you list a series of subjects as being legitimate concerns for the media but this subject – odd refereeing – is off-line (again) ?

    What UA has repeatedly been reporting about is how refereeing in the PL is totally un-transparent – among other things. No other outlet dares to touch the subject, which is rather odd. And UA has ALWAYS been giving its opinion based on facts and statistics that are readily available and are actually being read and evaluated by the people writing for UA. You will not find totally misleading ‘Amy Lawrence’ type statements here – and yes it sure makes for less sexy headlines.

    So just labelling UA as an outlet for sorry bad loser Arsenal fans airing their grievances means that you have not been reading much of what is visible on UA. There are enough links on the website that give you access of blog entries by subject to enable you to inform yourself about what is being discussed.

    As for the Athelic, I’m back to : if it swims like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck… they have the same DNA as the rest, so not much in terms of reporting is to be expected.

    Ah by the way, would you place your bets about transfers based on the press at large when, as UA has shown, they have a less then 5 % success rate in predicting a transfer concerning Arsenal ? So yous till feel that such a failure to report the facts is worth calling the writers ‘reporters’ ? Ought they not be called ‘fantasy writers’ or, even liars – because they know they write things that are not true but label it us such.

  5. What chance have we got !!!!

    I just saw the Man Utd keeper get blatantly fouled on the lead up to what would of been Liverpools second goal had it not been ruled out by VAR.

    It wasn’t a bad foul. Van Dyke jumped for the ball but didn’t get it and went in to the keeper stopping him reaching the ball.

    Nothing dramatic. A foul, no more no less. Except following it Liverpool scored, making it seem more controversial.

    On revue the foul, as soft as it was, was correctly called.

    But this is the point, both Souness and Keane were apoplectic at how it could possibly be given as a foul.

    Maybe this is why Souness thought it was ok:

    Maybe this is why Keane thought it was ok:

    Pair of *****

  6. Walter, Tony and any ex or current referee.

    A post I have in moderation (due to having 2 links I think) challenges why both Graham Souness and Roy Keane think the 2nd Liverpool goal against Utd today that was disallowed, should of stood.

    A major part of their defence of the foul (?) was that Van Dyke never took his eye off the ball and didn’t mean it.

    My question is, is either of those excuses valid?

    Is there anything in the laws of the game that say it cannot be a foul on the basis that the player ‘never took his eye off the ball’ or ‘didn’t mean it’ because as far as I’m concerned that’s just rubbish.

    And if it is rubbish how are they allowed to sit there in the studio and just spout this *** unchallenged?

  7. OT: Burnley 2 1 Leicester.

    Fouls are 14:8 and cards are 2:1. Taylor is the twit for pGMO. At 30m, a Burnley player is down for a treatment and Sargent Tylor Schultz sees NOTHING. At 68m, Taylor gives Leicester a chance at a tying goal with a penalty, which Vardy misses. Supposedly Burnley picked up a yellow in the incident? The same Burnley player needs a treatment in extra time, and Sargent Schultz sees NOTHING.

    OT: Liverpool 2 0 ManUre

    Fouls are 8:10 and the cards are 1:3. Pawson is the twit for pGMO. At 87m, ManUre need a treatment and Sargent Pawson Schultz sees NOTHING. A substitution is required. Liverpool score in extra time (2-0), and the scorer gets a card (excessive celebration?).

  8. Thanks for more verbal/written context Nitram.

    At a first pass, I would say that the argument only counts if the player jumping for the ball has jumped high enough and accurately enough to actually have a chance of playing the ball. To jump to some other place and keep your eye on the ball means nothing; you won’t get to play the ball. You may be obstructing someone else however.

  9. Gord

    It’s this notion that ‘keeping your eye on the ball’, or having ‘no intent’ means it is not a foul that gets me.

    It’s tantamount to saying ‘I kept my eye on the road’ or ‘I didn’t intent to run him over’ as a defence for knocking someone over on the pavement.

    It’s irrelevant ! You left the road and knocked someone over. That is against the law.

    Ergo, you jumped into someone and prevented them reaching the ball. That is a foul.

    But then again you look at those videos and you see for yourself what regard those 2 have for the laws of the game.

  10. A player is allowed to “stand their ground”. They do not have to move, to avoid a moving player coming into “their area”.
    They are allowed to jump straight up (still occupying the same footprint on the ground).

    To “move” the footprint, is to (potentially) obstruct another player. But in most of these jumping instances, both players are moving and/or jumping in a way that their footprint on the ground moves.

    What typically ends up happening, is that multiple players are all guilty of obstruction; all at the (about) the same time. So, how should a referee determine what happens?

    He can give a drop ball. What referee gives a drop ball that close to the goal? Really, there should be a restart say 1 yard in from the touch line, along the 18m line.

    But it doesn’t matter in general, whether a player is tracking the ball or not. If his path has the purpose of obstructing an opponent, it should be obstruction.


    Football 365 has a 16 points about the Liverpool game. Only 1 point remotely touches on officiating. It says the VAR usage was not even close to meeting the obvious criteria.

    They say nothing about the screwy officiating.

  11. Nitram, I remember a few years ago when Nani (I think) got a red card for planting his foot in the chest of an opponent. He had his eyes on the ball and didn’t see him comming was the explenation of the pundits of why the red card was oh so wrong. No, the ref was right. He endangered the safety of his opponent and was reckless by raising his foot to chess height. So it doesn’t matter a foul is a foul. Mind you didn’t see the incident itself. I will not watch any PL match other than Arsenal. I rather watch wrestling…

  12. Funny to see how the ‘press’ is up in arms about the incidents, some pundits even criticizing the ref and VAR… I mean ought they not get punished by the PL for daring to criticize…
    Whenever wrong is done in an Arsenal game, however, no one mentions this case it all evens out I guess..

  13. Chris
    you’re making it up as you go. If we take the ‘penalty’ in the match against Sheffield U as ‘wrong is done’ then it was reported in the two print media outlets I read (Guardian & Mail) and the referees decision criticised in both instances. Also brought up on MOTD where Shearer & Wright also said it should have been given
    It was ‘mentioned’, but you choose to ignore it for effect.

  14. It’s funny how differing pundits/commenters views on one incident can be. I watched the game on the CBS (United States) stream & both the match commentators were agreed that Pepe leaned into his opponent to attempt to win a penalty, while again later on MOTD Shearer & Wright were convinced we had a legit penalty, as were all of the national newspapers that I read.
    It looked good enough to me, a definite solid touch, but Pepe needs to practice being less theatrical to be more convincing. He could have got two more points for us there.

  15. Walter

    I remember the incident well and the subsequent furore.

    As you say, whether he meant it or not was irrelevant. Raising your foot that high is inherently dangerous and if you subsequently kick an opponent in the chest you can expect to receive a red for endangering an opponent.

    Van Dyke jumped for the ball but didn’t get it. However he did end up jumping into the keeper which prevented him reaching the ball, that is a foul.

    In the same way if a player goes into a tackle but misses the ball and trips the opponent preventing him reaching the ball is a foul.

    Nothing dramatic, no fuss, no card, just a foul.

    But isn’t it funny, all this uproar over what was in fact a correct VAR call yet I doubt there’s a word being said about our Pepe penalty claim that was ignored, which was a joke.

    As I said elsewhere, depends who you are as to whether the media will totally ignore it or kick up a fuss.

  16. There are apparently a lot of comments here which for me is too naive. Only the truly oppressed will know the truth. Even young Gunners can be deceived by the media. I do subscribe to the Athletic and I do agree that their articles do frequently contain a bit of baseless facts, redundant arguments and unnecessary propaganda. In the world of language control, we as adults should be able to identify it. After all, tyranny’s greatest strength is its stealth.

  17. @Michael,

    So you recognize that their articles are mostly worthless, yet you pay for access to them ? I mean, you do it like people were watching Benny Hill back in the days ? Just to have fun ? My question means no disrespect here. Just trying to understand.

  18. @untold, which is it? In one breadth Tony tells us how the media have sworn an oath not to criticize the ref, in another breadth all the brainless pundits are criticizing the ref and var for chalking off Liverpool’s 2nd goal.. which is it?

  19. Neither Deb. My view is that there are regulations about what can and can’t be said and shown which the media generally follow. But the media do push at the edges sometimes to try and make it look like they are doing their job. Thus I have not heard much discussion on the media about why referees are not allowed to debate issues on the media or why they are given huge payouts upon retirement if they don’t speak out even then, but yes there is occasional debate on the accuracy of individual decisions – which obviously helps make it look like debate is possible. I have never heard a debate on why referees can get the same club to ref so many times, but yes occasionally the pundits can say the ref got it wrong.
    But if you go back to the Alan Green Radio 5 commentaries of maybe 10 years back you will hear an utterly different approach to criticising refereeing – so the question arises, have refs improved massively since then, or have the rules been changed?

  20. I am not quite sure why you think I would like that Deb. It is a story we have covered multiple times and the Guardian covered just a few times. But they don’t report what lies beneath.

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