By Tony Attwood
There seems to have arisen something of a discussion about what I have said in the past about specific topics like injuries, referees, the financing of football clubs, and the like. I’m not really sure it is a very important topic, but I do feel some of the things said don’t really reflect the views I hold or have held, so just for the record I thought I’d write a little piece on what I do believe concerning these topics.
Untold doesn’t have very clearly defined editorial guidelines (although there are guidelines on commenting, outlined on the Comments page, so this is about as close as it gets at the moment.
1: Financing football clubs.
As I think comes across fairly clearly in the “Henry Norris at the Arsenal” series I 100% support the approach that Norris had after he took over Arsenal’s debts, and saved the club, that the self-financing model of a club is by far the best. And indeed Norris gradually achieved this between 1910 and 1927 working on three clearly defined fronts to make Arsenal profitable rather than loss making. It was a phenomenal achievement.
I have written elsewhere that I think the model that Bertie Mee put forward (presumably at the wishes of the board, although I can’t prove that) of maintaining profitability by dramatically reducing the size of the club (cutting out the academy and reducing the size of the first team squad for example) was fundamentally wrong, and should have been resisted, even if to do it, the club needed outside investment at that point.
So although my ideal vision of a club is one that makes a profit (Manchester United, which set up its world wide marketing schemes in the late 1950s is a perfect example), I do think that sometimes investment from the owners is needed. Arsenal needed it from 1910 until 1919, and again when the lease on Highbury was bought by the club in 1925 and should have had it to extend the triumph of the Double season into later years. But as a general rule I think it is far better to be a club that lives on money that it earns.
However just as the Mee era required an adjustment (not least because of the Hill-Wood led board’s reversal of Henry Norris’ vision when they took over after 1927) the advent of the new Chelsea, followed by Manchester City and to a degree Liverpool, in which money pours in from outside the club, is not one that I like, and I would love to see it outlawed. I was very pleased that Arsenal did not move into this mode of operation in the Wenger years and that it was the skill of Mr Wenger which allowed Arsenal to live within its own earnings, while remaining in the top four and winning FA Cups while paying for the Stadium.
What frustrated me was that at the end of the Wenger years the simple cry was “Wenger Out”, meaning of course let us have another manager. But another manager would, logically have the same problem as Wenger – that because of the actions of Manchester City in forming a group of clubs acting in unity, while being funded by the sovereign wealth fund of a nation, a self-funding club would find it increasingly hard to win the league.
So what I was arguing was that the phrase should be not “Wenger out” but effectively “Money in” (although I didn’t use that phrase) in order to compete. I don’t like the model of football funded by a rich owner, and I do like the Norris model of multiple shareholders, particularly drawn from supporters with the shares sold at a price supporters could afford. But if Arsenal is to attempt to win the league other than through the Leicester model of pure chance, I can’t see how else it the club can challenge. Maybe Tottenham can actually win the league without investment from the owner – if so, much as I would hate that, I hope I would have enough moral fibre to say (perhaps in private if not on this site) well done. Fortuantely for me I don’t think I’ll have to face that issue.
Goodness knows how many times I have been accused of suggesting that all, most or some PL games are fixed with the aid of referees. Certainly I may have looked at a game and felt it looked like the referee was helping the opposition, but believing the whole league is fixed… no.
However I do argue that it is clear that the Premier League refereeing system is very odd, and it is very hard to understand why it is so odd, unless it is in order to help match fixing.
The oddness comes from several quarters. First PGMO who control referees is a hyper-secretive organisation, when it could be open, as the similar body is in most countries. (I did actually have conversations with PGMO about there being a PGMO website years back, but it came to nought).
Second it employs a very small number of referees, which mean that if any referee is biased he/she gets the chance to influence a ludicrously high number of matches. (our proposal has always be no referee should referee the same club more than twice in a season). Third it offers referees huge amounts of money in return for their silence after stopping work as a ref. Why do that if there is nothing to hide? Fourth the PGMO has repeatedly put out statistics without evidence or original data, and which simply look bizarre – this point reaching an insane level when a claim that the referee decisions in the PL were 98.5% accurate was followed by a later claim that the decision accuracy would go up by a further 2% once VAR was introduced. Finally VAR was not introduced at the same time as it reached the rest of Europe’s main leagues and no PL referees went to the Russian world cup which is odd if they are the best in the world.
We have also introduced video evidence and analysis of the 160 game analysis, which is still on this site, which shows the level of mistakes we have found in the first 160 games of the season, and the level of bias we found. The PGMO, if it was so sure of itself could do this – they have the resources – but they don’t.
Then we have the fact that match fixing on major scales has happened in the recent past in Europe, and the method we’ve described as Type III match fixing does make it hard to detect. To detect it we need openness.
Finally, on issues of referee errors beyond the occasional decision, the media are silent. I have been told by an insider that major media outlets now have to sign agreements not to criticise the refs beyond a certain point, just as TV is not allowed to show crowd unrest or pitch invastions, as part of their contract.
There are huge issues here to discuss, but few people are discussing them and there again I wonder why.
For years the story circulated that Arsenal got the most injuries, and that the cause was Mr Wenger’s training methods. We started publishing injury lists long before physioroom came along, and showed this wasn’t so. When we investigated detailed claims we found that players who were on loan and were injured while on loan were being included in Arsenal’s figures, while in one case a player was recorded as being injured for more than 52 weeks in a year. Untold makes mistakes – I openly admit that – but I think even we would pick up bizarre errors like that if they crept into our own figures.
As for the issue of training methods one coach of modest repute backed up ex-Arsenal player Robson who led the attack on Wenger. But the key point here was that the media constantly repeated the allegations and never examined the evidence or did their own research. Which is why we started to do our research. Right up to 2016 Robson was a welcome guest on TalkSport where he would reiterate his claims without evidence and without challenge.
Everything we have seen shows that Arsenal can often have a moderately above average number of injuries on average, but Arsenal are rarely the club with the most players injured or the most injury days in a year. Yet the story of Wenger creating injuries continued until he left the club.
Untold has been repeatedly critical of the way other blogs, plus newspapers and their websites, run transfer news, and for several summers we have listed every transfer rumour we can find, and then totalled up how many were right. Mostly the answer is 3%.
Worse, many transfers can never happen – either because Arsenal don’t have the right combination of home grown and non-HG spaces in the squad, or because as in January 2019 there is no money avaiable. The writers and publihers of these pieces clearly know they are lying and misleading readers but they continue to do it all the time.
I don’t think we’ve ever changed our stance on trying to expose this behaviour by the media – but it goes further because it leads to the understanding that the media knows quite clearly that many of the rumours not only will not happen but cannot happen. In short it is cynical lying to supporters.
Of course the media like to claim that they are just reporting what other “outlets” are reporting, but we’ve often found that these are two-way games. Media A says that it is getting the story from Media B, and Media B claims it is getting the story from Media A.
There are more fundamental positions that Untold has taken up over the years, and I hope to add some more when I have more time. I hope this clarifies things, and my apologies if I have not always expressed myself clearly across the years.