The True Colours Of Some Football Journalists: Prejuduce, Ignorance And Unfounded Superiority.By Howard Hockin | 17 July 2020
It was when, within an hour of the ruling being made public, large swathes of the media began questioning whether Financial Fair Play was dead, that I knew the narrative for the week was not going to be what I had hoped. How ridiculously naive and romantic of me to expect otherwise. In a ruling that decides City have not broken financial fair play rules after being found not guilty for offences that weren’t to do with the crux of financial fair play rules anyway, why would this ruling signal the death of it? It wouldn’t, but it’s a nice little angle for fans and media to use in order to have yet another dig at City. City have destroyed a noble system designed to prevent clubs spending beyond their means and going bankrupt. The narrative is woven. And if the rules are changed in the coming months and years, due more likely to the effects of a global pandemic, then City will always be associated with its fall. Which perhaps is not entirely a bad thing.
Rival fans can bleat all they want, and it was a joy to see. The Liverpool PR machine went into overdrive, distracted briefly by the overwhelming need to proclaim to the world that 100 points didn’t matter, and never had, and they had never given it a moment’s thought, except for all those times that they made videos, spoke about, tweeted and wrote articles about it. Anyway, for fans as a whole, their ignorance of reality was clear for all to see. This was your clubs failing to put an upstart in its place, nothing more.
I don’t want the club to be celebrated now, that is not the point of my frustration and considerable anger. At best the ruling puts them back to zero, neither guilty nor angels. They are not absolved from guilt, just like the other English clubs and those from further afield that have also digressed in so many different ways in recent years. We don’t have to support the people who run Manchester City in order to support our club, nor are we responsible for them. It’s just power-grabs by billionaires all looking to push boundaries to get ahead of the competition. But City are not the lone bad guys here, that’s the point. It always felt like a club being ganged up on in the playground. Now City are hardly the puny weakling cowering in the corner waiting to have their packed lunch pilfered, but they are the muscular kid with no friends, outnumbered and also as it seemed at one point, out-manoeuvred. Turns out though they were playing the long-game all along.
But as I said, it was naive of me to expect decent coverage of an unexpected result – at least for the media who surely woke up on Monday morning with glee and a spring in their step, ready to stick the knife in on a club they despised. Hard luck guys. Maybe next time, eh?
I mean, imagine if City fans had disputed the CAS decision if they had upheld the ban. Imagine the response from rival fans and journalists at the temerity of anyone questioning the impartiality and professionalism of the renowned organisation. Just imagine. Now turn the decision on its head. It was quite telling that a raft of journalists failed or chose not to, understand a two-page declaration from CAS, whose main judgment was written in huge capital letters at the top of page one. For all the claims of paranoid City fans, and we can certainly be just that at times, many journalists showed their true colours on Monday. They proved that our doubts over their impartiality were grounded on fact, not fiction. Perception, not paranoia.
Journalist impartiality, taking the side of UEFA, an organisation that is rotten to the core and has showed a disgusting apathy in dealing with major issues such as racism, homophobia, club debt and a lot more besides. Journalists happy to be played and construct a full account of what happened using selectively leaked emails illegally obtained by a man now languishing in a prison cell. Pathetic weasels either backtracking, desperately searching for any element of guilt, many are strangely quiet today as I write these words. Cat got your tongue? You’re really soooooooo desperate for the Premier League to act now, aren’t you? And there’s no end of Spanish fascists, crooks or morally dubious individuals you’ll quite without comment to push that agenda.
Fans of clubs like Everton or West Ham and others should be celebrating almost as hard as City fans. The current system isn’t set up for their success. In fact, they’ll never succeed, even if they get their act together at board level and with better recruitment. Never truly succeed, on a sustained basis, with the giants of Europe. Because there is no level playing field, and there never has been. I mean, why was there a G14 after all? To look after the little clubs? It’s pathetic, and yet most football journalists seem to have quite the aversion to covering the real issues. I guess that would take some effort and investigative skills, rather than the age-old method of having a staunch view and getting quotes from three people who agree with you to pad out a 1000-word article. There’s never been a level playing field, but it would still be nice to have one.
How we receive news has changed. We get it from a thousand sources, instantly. And so journalism has moved away from investigating and even more into opinion. And there is some great opinion piece writing out there from football journalists. And inevitably, there is a huge, festering pile of dross, day on day. Give an infinite number of ex-footballers an infinite number of typewriters, and they’ll never produce the works of Shakespeare. And when that dross is distilled down into single tweets, its faults become even more apparent and carry more impact. Remember that time that the puffed-up self-importance of certain football journalists led to immense hubris and disbelief at Khaldoon doing an in-house interview rather than gracing them with his presence. Does he not know who they are?! Happy days. Their self-importance is staggering.
Ninety-nine per cent of football fans in this country woke up on Monday morning to see if City would be banned from European competition for an offence they couldn’t name. Probably something to do with failing FFP was the consensus, riding roughshod over rules and regulations. Some sort of comeuppance was required. They had no idea. Even after the ruling, as the first mailbox of the day on football365.com proved, they still had no idea. All we knew now was that the previously independent and highly respected CAS had been paid off, money talks, and the fine was an admission of some level of guilt for the unknown offences. And thus CAS was suddenly no longer impartial, especially to Spanish fascists. Its integrity was shot to pieces because it did not deliver the result most people craved.
I expect it from most fans of course, most of whom couldn’t spell judgment, let alone understand one, but I still held onto the noble belief of expecting more from some football journalists. And this is not a dig at the industry, but individuals, I should make clear. Claiming all football journalists are rubbish, prejudiced and have got it in for City is of course laughable nonsense. But when Ian McGarry couldn’t even read one page of a judgment before passing his own ill-conceived, ignorant thoughts on Twitter, then I lose hope. That’s where we’re at, folks. Though to be fair, I don’t actually expect more from Ian, truth be told.
Fact is, many journalists were geared up for City’s appeal to be rejected on Monday morning, and were actively looking forward to it just like rival fans. When the narrative changed, they displayed their true colours, because they were incapable of doing anything else but that. The angle that City had been found not guilty of any wrongdoing apart from not being very helpful during a kangaroo court was not an acceptable one for many to take. Too positive. More telling was that so many did not see this coming. I have 35 years of pessimism ingrained into me, but any journalist that had thoroughly examined the issues of the case should have seen this week’s events as a distinct possibility. And that’s the crux for me. The utter laziness of much journalism nowadays. Many can’t be arsed gathering basic facts before commenting or writing. They’d rather trust their existing assumptions and prejudices. They think they’re so morally and intellectually superior that they dismiss the impartial viewpoints of highly successful legal experts as it doesn’t suit their narrative, and they know more about the law anyway, after a couple of thirty-minute chats. And so a swathe of journalists who were adamant that City’s appeal could not succeed suddenly start reporting the weaknesses of UEFA’s case after City overturn the ban. Why should we trust a single word they ever utter?
I’ve never truly believed in the idea that City should be tough on journalists, whether they deserved it or not, which is entirely subjective as always. Banning orders tend to be demanded for the journalists that rarely go near the ground, and won’t improve coverage of the club, even if it is about making a point more than anything. Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer and all that, not that journalists are enemies, whatever you think of (some of) them. However, my mood has changed this week. Opinion pieces, however dubious they may be, are a part of life, and we can’t go throwing threats around because they have views we don’t agree with, or even if there is clear bias in their writing. I wouldn’t last long if so. But there are other elements of the coverage of City that have been beyond the pale. I hope the club are keeping a close eye, because a nicely-nicely approach with a bunch of journalists who clearly have a disdain for the club’s owner(s) and methods has not really produced any tangible results. I hope what has been said and written has been collated, and slander/libel is acted on. Some people have got too big for their boots, some think they can say anything without comeback. Some need to be reminded of their responsibilities.
Certain journalists should be reminded that if you comment on the actions of the club, or any club, with words such as “grubby”, “dishonest”, “clear and obvious deception” and more, you had better have some evidence to back it up, rather than be writing based on feelings because you don’t like wealth, big spending, or “oil money” or middle-eastern practices and moral codes. And if they have evidence, that’s fine. Wrongdoing, proven wrongdoing, should be criticised and written about, in a frank manner. As I said, this club is hardly a non-profit co-op pacifist vegan collective. It’s a global corporation that will push the boundaries of the rules and regulations along with every other major club in Europe and around the world, as various sanctions down the years have shown. But the gloves should be off now. And that includes when dealing with other clubs especially. It’s dirty out there, and if rival fans think City are the sole bad boys, they may be in for a shock. Or more likely, they choose not to know what their own club gets up to. It’s easier that way, cognitive dissonance in full flow.
I’ve little doubt City are constantly “taking action” behind the scenes. Most of what goes on at any organisation is not done in plain sight. But they could do more, should they choose to do so. Ultimately though, a global organisation cannot stifle opinion, nor should it, as doing so is placing the club on dangerous ground, but an organisation that brokers multi-million deals, has global bases and a value approaching half a billion pounds will not lose too much sleep over a dig from The Daily Star’s Chief Sport Correspondent. Impartial football journalism, at least for City is essentially dead, in the newspapers, this week has shown that. Many showed they did not have a full grasp on the situation, many more showed by their differing tone on podcasts compared to their written pieces that they simply cater to an audience rather than write what should be written. And something changed for me too, when I saw the output of Fleet Street’s finest, many of whom became shrinking violets this week having proclaimed City’s guilt in February with astonishing gusto. I used to care what they wrote, what they thought. I used to laugh at claims of having it in for my football club. Not any more. I now couldn’t care less. And such blithering ignorance should not go unchecked. Enough is enough. If you want people to buy a newspaper, earn some fucking trust. And get your fucking act together.
But for now, just fuck off.