It’s summer and therefore that time of year when most Goons with internet access will click onto their favourite news feeds hoping for some signs of a proactive transfer strategy, or even any transfers to have a strategy for, to add to our threadbare, anorexic and, let’s be brutally honest, sub standard squad.
On the face of it we are lucky, in this day and age, to have such an all-encompassing means of accessing many sources of information to inform us who will be in and out of our beloved Ashburton Grove. The only shame of it is that 90% of the “stories” we find will, or so it appears to me, recycle the same two or three rumours that tend to circulate about any given club at any particular time.
Note the use of the term “stories” both by me and by hacks whenever they refer to some of their work.
We all know the old adage that “hacks never let the facts get in the way of a good story” but why do they do that?
To my mind that’s answered by another less hoary axiom “a hacks job is not to tell the news but to sell papers”. If you connect that with the first rule of “hackery” then we can take all the rumours, gossip, conjecture, speculation we see generated about player transfers with the requisite amount of salt.
Of course there’ll be times when a player commits a highly visible, or audible, clanger and that would make a story unequivocally impossible to misinterpret; I’m thinking Adebayor’s fateful press conference last summer where the seeds of disaffection were sown amongst the Arsenal fans. We all heard about, and remembered, what he said then so when his performances dipped this year (admittedly after early signs of improvement) those remarks came back to haunt him and he lost our trust. Conversely Gareth Barry’s protestations about leaving Villa for a club playing Champions League football – he, of course, meant one not in Europe at all (thus allowing him to take the Arab petrodollar to plump up his pension pot). Tony Alexander Adams’ also might have thought twice about revealing our possible transfer targets, but I’ll forgive him an indiscretion like that on account of his being an Arsenal leg-end as well as a legend.
This brings me to my main point that we expect too much news and in order to satisfy our craving for it the media will attempt to feed it. This means that when all match related questions have been asked players are then interviewed about all manner of non-football related items on which they have no real knowledge and/or authority. This means most will come across as stupid (a la David Beckham), deluded (our dear manager at times), out of their trolley (the reincarnated Glen Hoddle) or plain pissed (as in ole 65% proof nose aka “Sir” Ferguson – that is if he’s not had a hissy fit with that interviewer/TV channel and is refusing to talk to them anyway).
In a way we, and I mean all participants in the media-population interface not just us Grovers, are to blame in that we want to hear about our team more and more so the number of stories generated increase – and we all know what happens to which way quality goes as quantity goes up.
Older Grovers will remember when we only had a few minutes at the end of the News at Nine with saucy old Frank Bough to tell us about the football news of the day – this is the other extreme and equally unsatisfactory.
If you were to click on Arse.com it will come as no surprise to find that at least half the items on the home page are tasters for ArseTV online, so much so that it is little better than a bill board enticing you to subscribe, an electronic flyer that’s rarely informative or timely.
Many of these tasters are for player interviews, which I believe are in response to non official stories out in the media that are less sanitised but in my opinion no more valid.
As an example, some may recall the Gallas interview where he said that he had no particular best friend in the dressing room – well the hacks interpreted that as “Gallas is Billy no mates”.
The same applies to the near constant Cesc to Barca stories.
I can imagine a hack from Marca (the sports rag which acts as a mouthpiece for General Franco’s team, aka R Madrid) coming up to our Catalan maestro after Barca’s uplifting victory against ManUre on Wednesday and an exchange ensuing thus:
Spanish hack: “Hey, great display that night eh Cesc?”
Cesc: “Yes, they played really well, they deserved to win”
Spanish hack: “The way Barca play their football now don’t you think any player would enjoy being part of that”
Cesc: “Yes, I suppose they would”
The next Marca headline:
“Cesc wants to play for Barca”!
The same applies to the quotes in the Mirror from Rico’s favourite player, Bendtner, which “proved” beyond all reasonable doubt how big headed and arrogant he was. The fact that the rag had to issue an apology to our occasionally untrousered Dane will have been lost in the minds of Goons who were supposed to have turned against him; I suspect a similar situation has occurred regarding how we are supposed to have turned on The Arsh for demanding a pay rise to compensate him for a higher rate of tax he finds alien.
We are, like it or not, in a situation where the media are not, or have ever been, sympathetic to us so the more our players say (however well meaning their intent), the more the assorted hacks will find ways to destabilise the ship that is AFC.
Why do they do it you may ask? Or, why do I think they do it?
I’ll take you back to a post war air disaster that wiped out an entire football club. I’m not talking about that lot from Salford just yet – this was the Torino side who were on the cusp of great things in Serie A at the time. However the loss of those players and club officials was such that the team never recovered and are even now firmly in the shadow of their more illustrious city rivals Juventus. (Torino will be playing in Serie B for the 2009/10 season as a result of relegation this year). There was not the groundswell of sentimental support flowing to Torino in comparison to the tsunami of new supporters and sympathy ManUre gained.
Now as Geoff so succinctly put it a while back, the real tragedy of Munich is that it started the transformation of an unremarkable northern outfit into a global franchise. They were nobodies then (and how I wish they still were, but I digress).
So where does the pro ManUre bias come in?
ManUre gained a lot of support based on the sentimentality of the death of the Busby Babes and around the time of sporting media taking off in the UK in a big way a majority of the hacks around at the time came from that generation of football followers. Since then there is a lingering legacy of favouring ManUre both from the media and the FA; this is a question to fully elaborate another time. Just one example off the top of my head is the differing attitude to French footballers. We all remember the infamous kung fu scissor kick of Cantona’s at Selhurst park, and equally we all remember the band of apologists who indulged that example of Rooney-type yobbery as being merely “Gallic flair”. The same media apologists would also call for Paddy to be sent back over the channel for any of his indiscretions. Funny that.
At the beginning of each Premier League season, virtually all hacks will plump for ManUre to be Champions on the basis that it is easy to go for an obvious choice and to actually rationally consider the challengers would involve actual thought and not following the herd, his is anathema to your typical hack. In order not to look like fools it is in their interest to undermine any challengers, by any which way, because if any alternative team to ManUre does usurp the special place in the hacks hearts the “honourable members of the Press” will be proved wrong.
A Case in point was Mark Lawrenson who stated on match of the day that if Arsenal won the league, in the 1997-98 season, he would eat his hat. We all know what happened that year yet all of Lawrenson’s hat collection remained uneaten.
That is the reason why we should have less interviews with players as the more they say the more their words can be twisted (and the more words there are to twist)to unsettle players, the club and their fans. Fans turning on their club is not only a “story” to be milked but it also means reduced competition to the favoured ones. Sky may have divested themselves of their share holding in ManUre plc pre-Glazer so I can no longer say there is a conflict of interest in their stranglehold on Premier League coverage but I feel old habits die hard, as anyone who has to endure Andy Gray’s hysterical match day worship of all things ManUre can attest to.If you only take one thing from my earnest ramblings whenever you read a headline finishing with “…rocks Arsenal to its foundations” or “Arsenal in turmoil” treat it with the necessary caution it deserves, remember the agenda the story comes with and the mindset of the spin-doctors delivering it.