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The campaign against expertise: how the media is manipulating football to its own ends

by Sir Hardly Anyone

The central theme of the football journalist is simple to spot: he (or occasionally she) knows.

The correspondent can identify the major issues, and can talk about them knowingly.  He knows a non-issue when it slaps him around the face like a wet kipper, and he doesn’t mention it.

Because of this he needs none of this namby-pamby evidence nonsense that people writing about other topics such as coronavirus or the state of the economy might indulge in, for he knows.  He knows that transfers are what makes a football team, so he talks about them.    He knows referees are right, and the way the refereeing system in England is run is very obviously so very good, so he doesn’t talk about them.  He knows that Liverpool are the greatest team the world has ever seen, and the fact that they have just lost four of the last six matches, and that they have in recent times been knocked out of the FA Cup, Champions League and League Cup is a trivial point of detail so he doesn’t ask why.

He also knows that the fans “on the terraces” (although we don’t have terraces in the Big Grounds) are lacking in knowledge, so any attempt to explain things to them is really pointless.  So again, best to avoid the question “why?”

As for the way football is run, be it a question of facilities for fans, decisions over transfers, or the cost of admission; well these are as nought to the correspondent.  Nought because he knows nothing about them.  Just like statistics.

The journalist will be loyal and sycophantic towards the manager, leaving anything negative that needs to be said to the freelance “expert summariser” who is neither an expert nor a summariser, but because he is not on a contract doesn’t have to be returned to next week with annoying questions about what he recently said and why he got it so wrong.

So anyone can be an expert summariser, even a convicted fraudster.

There is also what in a different context has been called the anti-intellectual impatience about the reporter. He takes the position that numbers confuse him, that numbers can be used to prove anything, and that numbers are mostly pointless because the evidence of the eyes is all that is needed.

Anyone who can understand numbers, like foreigners with their funny accents, is mocked.  Then when a club goes bust as was predicted by those who understand a few numbers beyond one, two and three, the focus can be on the misery of the fans, and the phrase “how was this allowed to happen?”  The answer “because the journalists didn’t bother to focus on it” and “because someone like a convicted fraudster is employed as a summariser” doesn’t get mentioned.

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Indeed the whole football commentary thing is as if when Michael Gove said, “People in this country have had enough of experts,” the phrase was taken as a siren call to the football journalist, rather than a desperate warning of what happens when real analysis is ignored.

Thus the football media becomes (as the Guardian called Donald Trump recently) “a font of misinformation and confusion.”

The problems within football are exacerbated because according to the media they don’t exist. The fact that the media predicts transfers all summer and gets 97% of them wrong is met with … well with nothing.  No one questions it.  The fact that Tottenham have just lost five of the last six (and drawn the other one) can’t be talked about because it can’t be comprehended.  That Mr Levy, he gets it right.  Builds a stadium, gets it done, makes money, wins things…  It’s Arsenal that screws things up… everyone knows that.

The judgement of the football journalist and his editor is that football supporters shouldn’t need to worry about details of how the game works either at the financial or even footballing level.  Evidence is the last thing that is wanted.  Besides if the football journalist doesn’t understand all this stuff, how is the poor little supporter going to cope?

And yes it is fine to have a convicted fraudster who evolved a really nasty football club which had the aim of physically hurting as many of the opposition players as possible, as an expert summariser in a commentary on a match, is perfectly ok and should not be questioned.

Yep, there really is something fundamentally wrong with the way football is reported, and it affects the way most people think about football.  It affects the questions we ask, and our willingness to accept what the journalists say.

1 comment to The campaign against expertise: how the media is manipulating football to its own ends

  • Les Williams

    You mean like last night on BT sprout where M Owen could only say that Liverpool are “the best team there has ever been” when the truth is in Europe they have only beaten Genk and Salzburg in their champions league games. Still don’t let facts get in the way of biased claptrap.

    As somebody said in an earlier post it was nice to see a ref that didn’t tilt the pitch.