By Tony Attwood
“Can you do an article on how the media benefits from being Anti Arsenal, as opposed to any other club? Is there an anti-Arsenal secret society embedded in the media?” asked Dublin Gooner. So I will try and answer this in one article.
But please note, this is a very quick summary. There’s a lot more on this throughout the Arsenal History Society blog – although writing this makes me think I ought to write a much more complete history of the anti-Arsenal approach of the media. When I have time!
The central tenants of the media when it comes to football are
1: There must be a constant stream of news about the top teams. If a reader comes onto a newspaper website looking for news about one of the top teams, and there is nothing, then she or he will give up and look elsewhere each day.
2: It is easier to find ceaseless news stories that knock a team than it is to find positive stories. This is just the nature of criticism – one finds out what is wrong and suggests how to put it right. Saying something is wonderful can only be said once. But there are 100 ways to say what needs to be improved – which means saying what is wrong.
This is not just true in football, it is true in all sports and the arts. Arsenal beat Tottenham 5-0 and we can rave over the goals, the tactics, the players, but once done, that’s it. Next week it might be a 1-0, which is not so exciting so the negativity begins again. So there are always more negative stories than positive.
3. On broadcast media it is much easier to criticise than praise. Saying a pass or shot or save was brilliant is ok, but it doesn’t go much further than that. But talking about misplaced passes, missed chances, lack of defensive cover can go on and on. After all the average league game has around 2.3 goals in it, so having described the two or three goals, what else is there to do? The answer, talk about all the mistakes, all the pressing that didn’t lead to goals, all the misplaced passes…
In short it is the nature of the game, as a low-scoring sport, that much of the time, goals are not scored – which is a failure of sorts. So when the pundits and commentators describe the game they are talking about the failure mostly.
4. Historical perspective is not liked. We live in a culture of now, now, now. Most people don’t really know that much about their club’s history, so that’s not considered.
5. Which leaves us with negativity – the goals missed (which greatly outnumber the goals scored) and other negatives.
So football coverage tends to the negative, but the question is why do they pick on Arsenal?
Historically this goes back to Arsenal’s sudden rise to fame in 1931 winning the League for the first time with a record number of points, having missed relegation but just three points the season before. What’s more Arsenal were the first team from the south to win the league, and up to that point the view in the papers was that footballers in the south were incapable of winning the league, because of the distractions of the soft southern lifestyle.
In fact if we look at the decade before Arsenal won we can see just how that expectation was maintained. During the 1920s the winners of the 1st Division were
- Burnley (for the 1st time)
- Liverpool (for the 3rd and 4th time)
- Huddersfield (for the 1st, 2nd and 3rd time)
- Newcastle United (for the 4th time)
- Everton (for the 3rd time)
- Sheffield Wednesday (for the 3rd and 4th time)
So what we have is a total dominance of the north, with the same clubs winning over and over. Arsenal winning in 1930 was an aberration. There were only four clubs from the south in the top division, Arsenal, Portsmouth, West Ham, Chelsea, and none of them had ever won the League. Football was primarily a northern and midlands thing – which of course was where it had started.
Then suddenly in the 1930s Arsenal won the League five times and the FA Cup twice – not just unprecedented success for a southern team, but unheard of success for any team. In one decade they had almost caught up with Aston Villa, at the time the record holders in terms of titles. And Arsenal had gained their five titles in just eight years!
With most football writers of the era coming from northern or midland backgrounds the prejudice against the soft southerners getting this sort of success was huge. Softie London Arsenal had to be cheating. No other explanation.
This carried on after the second world war when, over a quarter of a century after their promotion in 1919 Arsenal were, for the first time, accused of doing dubious deeds to get elected in 1919. So began the second big story – the softie southerners had only got their success by cheating. It was the only explanation.
Knocking southern softies became popular in the papers and Arsenal took the brunt being by far the most successful southern team, and since then it has just become part of lazy football journalism.
Football journalists are basically just making things up, (transfers of which only 3% happen, nonsense tactics etc) and so Lucky Arsenal fitted the bill, and became the prime football news stories in the 1930s, and it has just carried on ever since.
Then when Mr Wenger came to the club, the most appalling rumours circulated about him. He saw off the journalists, famously standing on the steps at Highbury and taunting them to mention the story which they called “the rumours”. He saw them off, won a famous victory, and the media has never forgiven him, nor Arsenal since then. The media as one upped their desire to knock Arsenal – and since then it has just become habit. It is what they do.
If you have not read it you might also enjoy
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- Next season starting lineup and the new Financial Fair Play rules
- The huge bias of referees is proven. PGMO and media fight back.
- 93 players rumoured to be going to Arsenal. Are the journos getting lazy?
- The home and away scandal: ignorance, or cover up?