How discussions about refereeing are deliberately stifled by the media

By Tony Attwood

This article continues from Are the referees and the media really out to get Arsenal, or am I just imagining it?


I concluded that earlier piece by making the point that news is invariably selected by news outlets to fit an existing agenda.   Which raises the question, is there a conscious agenda in the media always to show Arsenal in a bad light?  And if there is why does that agenda exist, and where come from?

And indeed if not, why do quite a few Arsenal fans think there is such an agenda?  Is it that Arsenal fans are paranoid or is this something that affects all fans when they think about their club?

Leading on from that we might ask, if there is such an agenda does it have an effect on the way Arsenal play?  Does it actually work and make referees treat Arsenal in a different way from the way other teams are treated?  Does it make players less likely to want to transfer to Arsenal?  And when Arsenal get a new manager, does the behaviour of referees towards Arsenal come as a total shock to that manager?

Now we might pause for a moment and think back to the early days of Arsene Wenger at Arsenal.  Two events happened which we have covered here extensively in the past but which are worth recounting once more.

Arsene Wenger JHayes (cropped).jpg

One involved a rumour that circulated when Mr Wenger joined Arsenal, that he had been forced out of Japan because of his behaviour there.  A major news agency circulated a wholly false story about Mr Wenger’s departure from the Far East, and journalists gathered around the steps of Highbury trying to goad Mr Wenger into coming out to talk to them, and then mentioning the alleged scandal so that they could report it with all the innuendo that they normally put into salacious matters.

Of course Mr Wenger was too wily for that, and ultimately the news agency had to pay significant damages to Mr Wenger, but for years after, and to their eternal discredit, Manchester United continued to sell a CD of Man U football chants which contained references to the utterly false and foul allegations, for years to come.

The other rumour involved Mr Wenger being charged with violent or threatening behaviour against  Mr Taylor, the fourth official in a game against Sunderland.  Mr Wenger was given a 12 match ban.  He appealed, the original charge was thrown out and the ban was overturned which when one thinks of the size of the ban (I think it was the biggest ever given in the Premier League) is quite a reversal.  But Mr Wenger was still ordered to pay all the costs of both the cases on the grounds that he had accidentally touched the official, while intervening to separate Thierry Henry and Darren Williams of Sunderland who were involved in a bit of of tunnel pushing and shoving as they left the pitch. The FA accepted in the appeal that contact was “minimal”, and “not intended to be aggressive and not threatening or violent.”  But the manager still had to pay the costs of both hearings!

The finding of the appeal made it clear that Taylor had lied in the hearing in terms of what he claimed against Wenger and shortly after Taylor himself was charged with misconduct for insulting comments made to Notts County’s Sean Farrell during the game against Wigan on October 14.

These issues which followed the opening charge were hardly mentioned in the media – and it is perfectly reasonable to argue that from this point an attitude was developed within the media about how Mr Wenger, and by implication Arsenal, were to be treated.

They knew they had been defeated by Mr Wenger in their initial attacks on the club and on him, and again having seen Mr Wenger receive a record ban, and then overturn it, the ground was set for a long-running battle between the media and Mr Wenger, and by extension, the media and Arsenal.

The technique that has been used by the media in this on-going battle is known in psychology as gaslighting; the process of avoiding an argument by undermining the notion that a particular point of view has any merit and thus showing it cannot be meaningfully debated.  (The term “gaslighting” actually comes from a 1938 play, “Gas Light” in which a husband manipulates his wife to make her think she’s actually losing her sense of reality so he can commit her to a mental institution and steal her inheritance.)

So in the football case, an Arsenal fan says, “we are always badly treated by refs” and fans of other clubs laugh and say “same old Arsenal fans, always whinging.”  There’s no debate, no chance to explore the issues – the suggestion that Arsenal is singled out is simply laughed away with a sneer and Arsenal supporters are dismissed as a group that always complains.  The notion that the complaint might have merit is thus by-passed.

It is this issue of gaslighting as it relates to football that I want to explore here.  It is of course something that the media themselves won’t debate because it reflects badly on them as perpetrators of the activity, so it is down to those of us not bound by normal media rules and conventions to try and shed some light on it.

The prime issue to be debated is, in fact twofold.  One is, is there any reason to believe that refereeing in the Premier League is not of the highest order?  Then secondly the question is, if so, are Arsenal in particular suffering?

To consider such questions one simply goes through three stages: we explore the situation and its background to gather the evidence, then secondly we then examine the evidence we’ve got, and then finally we look for different explanations to explain the evidence we have found.

So, to start with the first part: explore the situation.  Here we are exploring the notion that there is something wrong or misleading with the way football is being run and/or the way football is being  commented upon in the media.

This is important, because the media has a lot of power to influence conversations.   So the issue at this first point is not, (to give an example) “are referees persistently biased against certain clubs or certain players?” but rather “what is stopping us debating this question sensibly?”

In fact such debates are easy to shut down before they start, simply by laughing at the suggestion that there is anything to debate, claiming perhaps that anyone who asks the question is of unsound mind, or perhaps saying that it is not a viable question because (for example) every supporter in every club thinks referees are against her or his team.

In other words, the debate never happens because the question is dismissed as an issue that is not worthy of debate.  President Trump was a master of this approach to debate as he would simply make up statements (often untrue) and then repeat them with ever greater claims. The media in England uses the same technique, as I’ll explore in the next episode.

6 Replies to “How discussions about refereeing are deliberately stifled by the media”

  1. If FA want the popularity of premier league to retain its appeal globally. FA must seriously work towards better refereeing decisions. It’s a travesty that football matches are swayed by utterly incompetent refereeing. The way VAR is being used is a joke.

  2. It is very pleasing to see the questions being raised on this site and indeed in written form for all who visit to see. Sadly I think it will be some time before our main stream stenographers acquire the skill set required to formulate these questions themselves. I am curious why the Prem fail to see the damage it is causing to their brand. A thread on the sleeve of Danny Ings arm, Martial’s dying swan, the non-penalties for both Wolves and Chelsea (yep I think the spuds were robbed) and those are just incidents from games during the week I had time to watch. Every match leads to a discussion about a refereeing “decision”. Are they trying to kill the Prem so they can join the great white hope of the European Super League?

  3. I disagree Laos as that was a definite penalty for Chelsea. Dier kicked the foot of the Chelsea player laying next to him.
    How about Luis non foul. Martinez shirt pull on Laca. Saka last man at Villa non red card. Etc etc.
    Don’t have time to study other teams errors but would be curious to know if we are the major losers in this refereeing scandal.

  4. @Tony, a little bit of advice. I believe when writing an article that is supposed to put right historical facts, you have to reference historical sources. Take for example when you did the article about the history of arsenal’s admission into the football league, quashing the myth that we bribed our way in at the expense of Tottenham, you quoted from newspapers of the day, and anyone who cared could go and check the facts for themselves.
    However in the case of this supposed encounter between Wenger and the press at his arrival, you seem to be the only one that knows the story, whenever you narrate it, there’s no reference to external sources, just to older articles that you wrote. Sometime ago a commenter asked you for a link to an external source for the story as he had surfed Google for hours and couldn’t find any story remotely resembling it. You instead directed him to other articles that you had written on the subject and I believe his conclusion was that, the story was entirely your fabrication.
    My advice is, the next time you plan to write on this subject quote some external sources, add a few links to those sources, especially those from 1996, that will give credence to the story

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