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The 8 key questions that football journalists simply won’t ever ask


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By Tony Attwood

One of the many odd consequences of the way in which football journalism works in England is that a number of quite important football stories are simply never reported, or if reported are then left and never followed up.

Among the key stories that football journalists from TV, radio, newspapers and websites seem quite keen not to look at, but which seem to me to be important, are those noted below.

Three issues arise in each case.  One is the issue raised by the question, the second is the question of why the media does not cover this story and the third is the question of why there are a number of such stories.  If there was just one such story we might think that there was something odd hidden in that story that stopped it being covered.   But this many issues?  Having them not covered at all (or at least very much)makes football journalism in England look very odd.   Who is deciding not to cover these stories?

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1: Does the home grown rule help England?

There is no evidence that ensuring that Premier League clubs have a set number of players who qualify for England in their squad actually helps England do well.  Many countries that do better than England in international football (often despite having much smaller populations) don’t have such rules.  Yet I can’t recall any media questioning of the validity of this rule.  Why is that?

2: Why is the PGMO so secretive?

With no public presence to speak of, the PGMO, which runs refereeing in the Premier League, is one of the most secretive organisations in the UK.   While in other countries referees can be interviewed on TV after matches, in England referees are hidden away completely from the media, and even required to sign non-disclosure agreements which cover not just their time in the job, but the rest of their lives!

Organisations that are secretive are normally secretive for a reason, so what is the reason?

3: Why are there so few referees in the Premier League?

We know that referees can be corrupted because we have seen it happen in European leagues.  We know that Uefa has said match fixing is now out of control (although that was not reported in the English media).  And it is obvious that one of the best ways to stop corruption is to have enough referees so that no referee handles more than two matches by any one team per season.

Yet the Premier League not only has far fewer referees than it needs to meet this ideal, it lets the same referees take control of matches involving the same clubs over and over and over again.

Of course this doesn’t prove anything is wrong, but it does suggest that if something did go wrong, as has happened in Italy for example, an important check and balance on the corruption would be missing.

But above all, what is the benefit of having so few referees?   It seems there is none that is clear, so either there is none (in which case why not have more referees for anti-corruption reasons) or there must be a reason which is hidden.  What is that reason?

4: Why does the tackles / fouls / yellow card data look so strange?

This is the latest addition to our list.   We’ve now published the data showing the tackles, fouls and yellow card information for all PL teams up to the last round of matches, and it does look very weird indeed.

Of course strange looking data does not prove anything is wrong, but in every other walk of life it would mean an investigation.  Yet although the data has been available and could have been put together by any journalist, none has ever published it, until we did. And so we ask…

5: Why does it take a blog run by a few fans to reveal this sort of thing?

Why is the media which is so investigative when it comes to other areas of life, so reluctant to get involved in investigating the strange data that surrounds football?  Is some organisation leaning on them not to investigate?  Do they think it is too complicated for us poor, ordinary people to grasp?  Or are football journalists just so lazy they can’t be arsed and just leave it to us?

6: Why we are losing football pitches all the time?

To be fair this story does get occasional coverage – it is the fact that in a football mad country with the richest football league in the world, we are losing public playing fields on which amateur adult teams, and children’s teams can play.    The Guardian Data used the Freedom of Information Act to show that over 700 council football pitches have been lost since 2010.

And that research was a couple of years ago.  It has got worse since then.  If we want people to be fit and stay healthy, and if we want to encourage youngsters to play, we need football pitches.  But try to find media interest in this and… well, other than the Guardian running it once, it is hard to find.

7 comments to The 8 key questions that football journalists simply won’t ever ask

  • PS: After posting this article I went to have a look at what was in my email in box and there was a post from The Athletic about Liverpool FC. It contains this sentence

    “By the end of the season, Liverpool were FA Cup winners for the first time and the Liver Birds did not fly away. Had it not been for a dodgy referee in Milan, they might have knocked out Inter in the European Cup semi-final as well.”

    Several points arise: a) would they say that about Arsenal? b) would they say that about a referee in a game played in the PL?

    In relation to my little piece above, the second point is particularly interesting. There is a long term ability in the media to criticise referees who are FOREIGN which seems to get lost when the referee is ENGLISH. Why is that?

  • Chris

    Maybe the journalists were kicked out like some were at 10 Downing Street the other day, yet no one rebelled, so now they just serve as PR mouthpieces to the PL like Fox does to the sitting US president ?

    Alternative point of view could be that football is considered so ‘lowly’ by the ‘press’ that they choose people with lesser capabilities to analyse and research and better capabilities at parotting what clubs and the PL say ?

    Finally, maybe these journalists do not exist and have been replaced by AI memes who are trying to prove AI can be as stupid as humans….

    Either way the reader is f…

  • Gord

    Can we add something to the questions?

    For a while now, we’ve been seeing “reports” that PGMO officials are correct some ridiculous amount of the time. The number I think I seen this morning was 94%.

    There are different kinds of decisions. If a player is offside, the linesperson signals an offside and the referees whistles to stop play; that is a decision (and as worded, a correct decision).

    If the linesperson does not indicate an offside, or the referee over-rules the indication of offside by the linesperson; those are also decisions.

    In games, we have seen tackles which result in a broken bone for the person on the receiving end of a tackle receive:
    _1. red card
    _2. yellow card
    _3. talking to
    _4. foul/free kick
    _5. nothing
    All of those decisions are correct? Or is it a case of:
    _1. Arsenal player receives tackle and has bone broken – so no action is the correct decision?

  • Mandy Dodd

    If the Football can influence the media, as seems to be the case, begs the question as to who else is controlling/ influencing the media

  • Mandy Dodd

    Haven’t seen the game, but sounds like Tottenham helped by sympathetic VAR this eve, again….not in Liverpool’s league yet though

  • Kenward Garg

    @Mandy Dodd

    You are correct and well spotted i.e. Tottenham and Livarpool the beneficiaries of PL and PGMOL corruption and match-fixing.

  • omgarsenal

    I just followed a thread on Twitter about Basingstoke’s football pitch being torn up for a housing development DESPITE a 70 year contractual agreement that expires in 2057! The current owners maintain that they have nothing to do with the destruiction of the pitch but they are the ones who want to develop the grounds for housing. The local municipality have refused their demand to develop the land for housing and haven’t given council permission…..an incredible story!