Football is not a level playing field, and that should be Arsenal’s starting point.

By Tony Attwood


According to journalists, broadcasters and bloggers, everything has to be simple in football.  We need a new defence (actually we don’t).  Nothing is wrong with refereeing (there is now huge evidence to the contrary).  Changing the manager helps (mostly it doesn’t – the average tenure of a PL manager is 2 years, 8 weeks and 3 days.

But the media successfully encourages fans, in a moment of crisis, to blame the manager, certain players, and the owners.  And always this is done with some utterly weird and underlying strange notion that these journalists, who have rarely worked successfully in club management, and who write in the most simplistic manner about football, can tell the club exactly what to do.    So fans do as they are told, and blame managers – and sometimes owners.   But the two most successful owners (at Chelsea and Man C) are more than just rich guys with a bit of a dodgy background. 

Which raises a moral question – would you set aside all thoughts of morality, and have a human rights denier running Arsenal, if that meant we’d win things?  

After that blame can trickle down.  Arsenal Supporters Trust blamed the club’s directors for moving money from the transfer funds into the directors personal accounts.  And so it goes, blame the board, blame the manager, blame individual players… that is what the media encourages us to do each day, and many football fans are compliant.  Keep it simple; blame someone close by.

Yet it makes no sense.  It is like me changing the furniture in my office because the book I’m writing is lacking a bit of something.  That’s not how it works.

But this is what the media has been so successful in doing – getting our attention away from the complex and instead focusing on the simplistic and often irrelevant.

And to illustrate this let me give you an example that might surprise you – Newcastle United and Mike Ashley.

Mike Ashley had a deal to sell his club to Saudi Arabia just as Manchester City was sold to a man centrally involved in running one of the most repressive states in the world.  Ashley was told he couldn’t because Saudi Arabia breaks copyright law.   The United Arab Emirates partially run by the owner of Man City rejects every notion of human rights that is central to our culture but that is not mentioned.  Instead upholding copyright law is now more important.  And I write this as a guy all of whose money is made because of copyright law.  Even I don’t think copyright law is above human rights.

As a response to Newcastle United’s deal the UK tax office (HMRC) started to take Newcastle’s finances apart.  Mike Ashley claimed “dark forces” were at work.  Oh how we sniggered!

Now having disrupted Newcastle for three years, including removing but not returning thousands of documents HMRC has just said, “we didn’t find anything amiss”.   They went for players, agents, investigated transfer fees, arrested the club’s MD in a dawn raid (he was never charged), removed every laptop and mobile phone they could find in the ground.  And found nothing amiss.  But the Newcastle deal with Saudi Arabia was rejected on copyright grounds.

Ashley is now suing the Premier League over the Saudi affair and has launched an anti-competition law action to get damages claiming that the League blocked the take over in a discriminatory way possibly at the demand of “certain of the Premier League member clubs in a manner that was detrimental to competition and consumers.”

So ask yourself, why is the fact that the League being sued in that way not the central headline news?  It is the claim that the management of football in England is corrupt – and we don’t talk about it.

Or if you don’t like that story, ask why the story keeps going round that the home/away bias has not changed this season when it fact it takes only three minutes to tot up the columns and see it has.   (The reason the authorities don’t like the analysis undertaken by part of  London University which has been referred to here so many times is that the key data that shows there is something seriously wrong with refereeing in the Premier League.  See links at the end).

As fans we are endlessly encouraged to see football as simple.  Get rid of the defence, sack player X, change the manager, don’t play out from the back, get rid of Xhaka (when the stats show beyond doubt that he has the best stats of any player in the team).  

But why is that happening?

In his first four seasons at Arsenal Herbert Chapman won nothing.  Arsenal came 2nd, 11th, 10th, and 9th in that order.  He then handed in his resignation.  The board turned him down.  The following season the club did even worse and came 14th, but Arsenal won the FA Cup.  The board told him to get on with it.  The next season was the start of a run of five league titles and two FA Cups in nine years.  Thank goodness we didn’t let Chapman go.

Yes we can keep changing managers and buying new players, but all the stats show that approach doesn’t normally work – which is why most managers only last a couple of years. 

No,  take a look at Newcastle, and then tell me that football is all open and above board.  Or tell me why copyright infringement is a mortal crime while enslavement and abolition of human rights isn’t?  No football is bent to suit the whims of politicians and the rich who with the support of lazy journalists tell us that one change (sack the manager, get rid of Xhaka, remove the defence, have a fan in boardroom or whatever) will solve are problems.   It’s a lie.

Football in England is rotten to the core (just go through this site looking at our reports on the misdemeanours of the FA).  The way around this is clever, original thinking.  It’s not just the right manager, it’s the right team working with him, and a board that we can support, that can hold its nerve in the light of some appalling corrupt practices going on. 

Here’s a final thought.  In August 2000 Arsenal played Sunderland.  It was suggested that after the game Mr Wenger had indulged in violent and threatening behaviour against  Mr Taylor, the fourth official.  Knowing it was fabrication, Mr Wenger didn’t take witnesses to the hearing and just gave his own testimony.  He was given a 12 match ban, and oh how the press loved it.   But Mr Wenger, appealed on 2 February 2001, and the charge was withdrawn.  What was PGMO up to in that first hearing?  You can read more on that here.

Dark forces at work in football?  Don’t snigger; just consider some of the evidence.  For Arsenal to fight them we need a strong solid team of directors and club management who know what they are up against.  A team who will ignore the media’s simplistic answers, just as we should.

It’s not changing the team and the manager.  It’s doing what Mr Wenger and Mike Ashley have done in their different ways.  We need people who see what’s going on, and can work out a plan to fight it or at least work around it.  It’s also what Jack Humble and his fellow working men did when Arsenal first went pro and then joined the league in 1893.  It’s what Henry Norris did when he paid off all Arsenal’s debts in 1910 and set up the new club which he then moved to Islington.  It’s what Herbert Chapman did as he evolved a totally new style of football which took him five years to get right.  It’s what Arsene Wenger did when it picked the best players from Europe and brought them in to play with a centre forward who spent his time on the left wing.

We don’t need the simple solution the media propagate.  We need a radical plan that recognises the corruption all around us, and finds a way to beat it, both in terms of management and football.

Part 2 of this article is to be found at The simple solution to resolving Arsenal’s current difficulties.

The proof that something is seriously wrong with football refereeing and reporting


12 Replies to “Football is not a level playing field, and that should be Arsenal’s starting point.”

  1. Tony , a great informative read and how over the years the media made out that Mike Ashley was bad for Newcastle but not as bad as the PL .

  2. Never likely to happen, but I guess you know that . As bad as it might seem / be it’s a kind of level playing field . If fans aren’t moaning it ain’t football.

  3. I know from your previous articles that you’re generally against the managerial revolving door, but how bad does it need to get before it becomes clear that Arteta is out of his depth? Why he was given such as long contract, having zero managerial experience (and no-being assistant coach is not in any way the same thing), is incredible. We are now stuck with him for another two years of safety-first, over disciplinarian football that is stultifying our attack-minded players, and sidelining otherwise promising talents. The sad fact is, the state our finances are in, we can’t afford to sack little mister lego head without ESL money, so we’ll all just have to get used to the prospect of falling asleep whenever Arsenal play.

  4. We’re not stuck with Arteta Robin, as we can certainly sack him as we did Wenger and Emery. I’m not at all sure that would solve the problem, but we could do it. Will cost about £10m, maybe less. There is also the detail though… who would we get to replace him, and would that person be able to cope with the vagaries of the Arsenal situation?

  5. I think that Arteta needs at least another full year, perhaps two, to sort things out. Pep didn’t win instantly, even with all of Citeh’s wealth…neither did Klopp with the Scousers. For all the ‘genius’ of Pocchetino, he didn’t win ANYTHING with that lot up the road…nor did the ‘special one’.

    This upcoming year will be different, that’s for sure but the absence of European football will allow the team 5 full days of preparation for each league match…time to get on the right page and time to recover. A blind optimist, I may be, but I am looking forward to next year.

  6. You are discussing events that happened almost 100yrs ago. I don’t think conditions remain similar. Football has grown immensely. Influx of investor and TV revenue have radically changed the face of English football. This is a reality Arsenal have to live with.

    During early years of Wenger, Man U and Arsenal were the main teams domestically. Liverpool were not far behind. Now we have up to seven competitive teams in EPL, perhaps even more. Most of those teams have spent to attain their position and continually spend to retain their position.

    Few like Leicester haven’t spent as much but their scouting, recruitment and management has made up for this.

    Nothing makes Arsenal special and if they claim uniqueness, then their strategy isn’t working. They need to rethink it.

    But it’s not like arsenal hasn’t spent money. Arsenal’s wage bill has consistently been in top 5. Auba, Laca and Pepe are the most expensive front 3 in the league, at least on paper. Arsenal have spent money, just not gotten value for it. Either they’ve overpaid for players which points to recruitment issues or not gotten the most out of their players which is the work of management.

    Either way a lot has to improve especially in player recruitment and management. Situations where players run down their contracts to either leave for nothing or push the club to offer ridiculous wages shouldn’t be tolerated. And I don’t think signing retiree players on the cheap has helped much.

    Asking for patience and unquestioning support from fans is backing the wrong horse. With social media it’s much easier to manufacture and spread rage.

  7. Nobody gets into the semis of a European wide competition without knowing the basics of playing football. Villa Real were as organised and competent as one of the Italian squads from international tournaments. They knew what they had to do and they did it. Good luck to them. They fully earnt their place in the final.

    What we have to do is work out reality. All the chickens are back home. The delusions bred and sustained by entitlement have been shot to pieces. Finishing fourth does not mean you finish at number one. Finishing ninth does not mean you finish at number four.

    Getting from nine to four to one is a hard job. We cannot argue with the stats.

  8. Jack

    “During early years of Wenger, Man U and Arsenal were the main teams domestically. Liverpool were not far behind. Now we have up to seven competitive teams in EPL, perhaps even more”.

    It depends what you mean by ‘competitive’. If you mean finishing in the top 4 then that means Arsenal were competitive all the way through the austerity years and yet were endlessly ridiculed despite doing so on a zero net spend.

    If you mean by ‘competitive’ actually winning things then your suggestion that there is now 7 ‘competitive’ teams, perhaps more, is simply not true.

    The 16 years pre Abromovic the top division was dominated by 2 teams.

    Man Utd and Arsenal with the very occasional interloper.

    The 12 years post Abramovic the top table has been dominated by 3 teams.

    Man Utd, Chelsea and Man City with the occasional interloper.

    Sorry but I don’t see any seismic shift in the nature of the top table, just the players. Basically Chelsea and Man City’s Billions have ousted Arsenal. I certainly don’t see 6 or 7 competitive teams.

    Then we have the FA Cup.

    The 16 pre Abramovic years again we see 2 teams dominate, Arsenal and Man Utd with 5 each. We then have Liverpool and Chelsea with 2 apiece and Spurs and Everton with 1 apiece.

    So again just 2 clubs dominate with 4 clubs sharing the rest.

    Then we have the 16 years post Abramovic where we saw Arsenal and Chelsea dominate with 5 each. Then we have Man City with 2 with Liverpool, Man Utd Wigan and Portsmouth all with 1 each.

    Yet again just 2 clubs dominate, this time with 5 clubs sharing the rest.

    So again I don’t see any seismic shift in the nature of the FA Cup winners, just the players, only this time Chelsea’s millions have ousted Man Utd. Again I certainly don’t see 6 or 7 competitive teams.

    Then finally the League cup.

    16 years Pre Abromovic we had 10 different winners with Liverpool, Notts Forest and Leicester City each winning 2 and the rest all winning 1 each.

    16 years post Abramovic it’s been dominated, yet again by the ‘Billionaire’ clubs, with Man city winning 6, Man Utd 4 and Chelsea 3, with the other 4 won by Liverpool, Spurs, Birmingham and Swansea with 1 each respectively.

    So if anything the League cup has actually got less and less competitive with Man City completely dominating in recent years. Again I fail to see your 6 or 7 competitive teams.

    Over the last 16 years that’s 48 domestic cups to play for and between them the 3 mega rich, mega high spenders have won 35 of them. That’s almost 7%.

    How is that 6 or 7 competitive teams? How is that even competitive full stop ?

    Then out of the remaining 13 trophies available Arsenal and Liverpool, arguably the 4th and 5th biggest clubs, have won a meagre 8 trophies between them.

    The fact is 3 teams dominate the domestic football scene, Man City, Chelsea and Man Utd and it’s no coincidence they have been the biggest net spenders over the last 16 years.

    And it’s no coincidence the 2 teams chasing them up are the 4th and 5th biggest spenders, but it has to be said Arsenal have only recently re joined that little club and as such are still playing catch up, and Liverpool, whilst spending enormous amounts of money have at least kept their net spend down on the back of a couple of big sales.

    Yes of course there is the occasional miracle such as Leicester City’s league title, Wigan and Portsmouth’s FA cup triumphs, as well as Birmingham, Swansea’s and Spurs League cup victories. But this notion that the English domestic scene is now more competitive is not I’m afraid supported by any evidence what so ever.

    It’s still all about the money. People can deny it as much as they want but it’s a fact. In the end, the more you spend the more you win.


    There’s a lot of statistics there and If I’ve made any errors I apologise in advance.

  9. When I say competitive teams I mean City, Chelsea, Man U, Liverpool, Arsenal, Leicester and Tottenham.

    Then we have teams such as Everton, West ham, Aston Villa, Wolverhampton. Though these are occasional.

    When Wenger began it was Arsenal, Man U and Liverpool.

    Chelsea Joined them. Then City. Liverpool slid down but Tottenham and Leicester gained traction. Liverpool came back strongly under Klopp.

    20yrs ago commercial success of Arsenal and Man U put them ahead. Then private investors joined in. When the league was a tussle between City, Chelsea and Manchester, TV money rolled in which strengthened everyone else. Standards have generally improved. I don’t know if you disagree with that.

  10. Jack

    I see the point you are trying to make but I’m sorry I don’t agree for the reasons I explained at length above.

    But it’s all about opinions so we’ll just have to agree to disagree I suppose. Have a nice weekend.

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