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?
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.
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