“City fans fury as Webb appointed for crunch Newcastle clash”
That headline from the Sun was interesting, as it was something of a new direction for the “paper” (I use the word loosely). Of course they did not come out with any statistics about Webb’s predeliction for one team rather than another, but they did actually highlight the sort of issue you rarely see in the news. And that was either a first, or at least fairly unusual.
The “paper” went on to say that, “The South Yorkshire official has a long-standing reputation with them for favouring arch-rivals Manchester United. Webb landed Mario Balotelli in bother by claiming he had not seen his stamp on Scott Parker in January and gave United two penalties as they came from 3-0 down to draw at Chelsea in February.”
Kevin Parker, secretary of the City supporters club, declared: “History tells us he has generally favoured United. City fans do feel that. We’ll just have to hope that isn’t reflected on Sunday as it’s such a huge day for Manchester.”
The general press view is that
a) refs do make errors but
b) it all balances out in the end and
c) it makes a good story if a manager has a “rant” [note “rant” is the obligatory word at this point in the story) but we, as sensible independent reporters, just report what they say. Not our fault if the managers get worked up and believe in conspiracies.
So the pretence that all is ok, and that it is just biased fans who blame refs, is kept up. Perhaps because the newspapers think this is what readers want, perhaps because they are behind the times and don’t realise how much a talking point referee corruption and bias is, and perhaps because it doesn’t fit with the image of the British that the papers put forward.
The image is simple: the British are honest, fair and gentlemanly. Trickery and corruption is what funny foreigners (who wear odd hats and speak with funny accents) do. Indeed you can still hear the old comments on BBC Radio 5 match commentaries such as “he’s lazy – typical of Spanish players…”
In fact in the current position that “everything is ok” and that problems are created by foreigners, ‘The Sun’ is actually breaking ranks in this story. ‘The Guardian’, for example, recently ran a piece in which complaints about refs by the manager of Liverpool were compared to the wild ravings of David Icke (a goalkeeper who became famous for his views on flying saucers). That story itself smacked of desperation – a last ditch attempt to pretend that the ref issue was not of importance. I doubt that many were convinced.
But the reality is that all is not as neat and smooth within football as the papers suggest – and the media has a long history of ignoring stories that don’t quite fit. There is, for example, the notion that supporters of a club come from around the area. A victory for Arsenal, for example, brings, we are told, happiness in north London. Which is true, yes, up to a point, but as this site shows every day, also brings happiness in Northamptonshire and Antwerp. As far as I can see a victory for Man Utd brings happiness in Cornwall and Kent.
Clubs go bust – again as we know – but if you were reading only British newspapers you would hardly have had any indication of what was happening to Rangers until everything really exploded. Even now the implications are only being discussed slightly because on very persistent blogger kept on and on talking about the tax case that caused the collapse of the club.
Indeed the fact that Rangers have a ban on player transfers for next season, and will lose most of their squad at the end of this season (because the players agreed to cut their salaries in return for agreed transfer arrangements this summer) is generally getting little coverage. The notion that Rangers could play in a lower league in Scotland from next August, with a team made up of EPL loanees next season hasn’t really been debated anywhere much in the press
My point is that slowly, very slowly, the real agenda in football is being taken over by the blogs. The newspapers and TV still have access to managers and ex-players but increasingly their comments are either too bland for words, or just game-playing with the media.
That cosy club-media-ex-player relationship has however slowly broken down, not because either side has got fed up with the other, but because the fans have just had enough and want something different.
That something different is given by the blogs, and although I am always very cautious about suggesting that bloggers do have an influence anywhere, I think maybe we are helping write a new agenda.
The story in the Sun might turn out to be a one-off, but I think that gradually some people in the media are understanding that it is they who are becoming marginalised, and that many of their stories are now increasingly irrelevant.
Published with permission from Untold Arsenal: Arsenal News. Supporting the Lord Wenger; coach of the decade.