With the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil upon us, the multi-platform coverage of it is going to be greater than ever before. ALEX LEONARD examines whether the media’s rise to omnipotent control positive for the modern game?
Opening an article about the football media and the news it churns out is easier said than done you know, Reader. Why? Well, where on earth do you start? Look around: even as you’re sat, beer in hand and swearing obscenely at the screen in front of you (or, in these modern times, writing detailed tactical analysis in your notepad) watching a game of football, or indulging in your interest of it in most other ways, you’re likely consuming some form of news, reporting or information – even if you’re an avid fan of collecting Panini stickers. You’re reading a form of football news and information right now, are you not?
As a football fan and a consumer of this rather large media niche, it can be tricky to escape from the non-stop, 24/7, in-your-face-and-going-nowhere nature of football in today’s crowded world. It is by far the most popular sport of our lifetime, and it will not be overtaken in this respect for many a year while we continue to fling money at it. Therefore, Reader, the likelihood is that you’re subject to a mass amount of blabbering and sports trash (some of it’s worth reading, naturally) going on and on and on in a loop: radio coverage, dedicated sports news channels, books, magazines, advertisements, dedicated blogs or websites and finally, everybody’s favourite abusive social network, Twitter. It can get pretty damn excessive.
Consequently, Reader, the reason it’s awkward to pinpoint an area in which to start an article like this is because contemporary football journalism and media coverage seems to be everywhere. Being a fan of the sport constantly immersed in its modern culture is exhausting; as exhausting as what a ten hour-long Match of the Day special presented solely by Alan Shearer would be like. Believe it or not, however, there’s a reason for this.
It’s fair to say that the whole experience of being a football fan has been changed forever (whether it is for better or for worse) because of the Internet, and more specifically, Twitter. Watching a football match on the television is no longer simply that alone; now, you may well feel obliged to tweet about significant moments, or converse with fellow fans or even write your own match report for everybody to read. The funny thing is, Reader, I’d hazard a guess that you were very much part of that culture. After all, how is The Football Pink’s magazine and website promoted? You guessed it: through our mutual friend, Twitter.
Therefore, with Twitter’s world domination in full swing and accompanied by the blogs, websites, podcasts, magazines and videos that are shared on it, the way that football is covered and reported both casually and professionally has been changed forever. No longer is the radio phone-in the only option to have a blazing rant about how, for example, England have just let the whole nation down, the good-for-nothing, overpaid bunch of [practice inserting your own insult here – you’re probably going to need it]. Interaction with the world is now at your iFingertips; however, whether this has a positive impact upon football news is debatable to say the least.
Interestingly, what gets a huge amount of coverage and hits on the Internet is seemingly ‘non-news’, or, rather, a tabloid-style way of reporting: transfer rumours, ‘bust-ups’, and articles that appear to be written for the sake of winding a set of fans up are likely to be the most shared on social networking. Naturally, this mirrors the ‘real world’, with The Sun being (unfortunately) Britain’s best-selling newspaper, spouting twaddle and making up rumours like many other tabloids; for, this style gathers the most attention, whether it be praise or criticism. As they say, bad publicity is better than no publicity, and many of us are guilty of falling into that trap. All this style of writing needs is for its audience to think, “what if it may be true?” to succeed. After all, how do you know that every single word I have written is true, Reader? The answer is simple: you don’t. However, the likelihood is that you feel inclined to at least believe the majority of it, which is perhaps why the general public will believe and ponder rumours again and again and again.
While we’re on the topic of how a gullible audience is the key for rumours to succeed, take the following as an interesting example. Earlier this year, it emerged that a 17-year old Arsenal fan had brilliantly fooled Twitter, pretending to be a football journalist by the name of Samuel Rhodes. Gaining over 20,000 followers, the teenager conjured up rumours and stories in his living room that had deceived users hanging onto every word. However, as trustworthy as some sources may be, there is always a little, subliminal feeling that it’s worth being rather sceptical when reading some football-related information in the online world that you and I live in.
Once you move past the made-up news and rumour ‘mill’, the ‘celebrity’-esque stories subsequently follow. A prime example of such an obsessive style of reporting is from when Chelsea and Galatasaray prepared to face each other in this season’s Champions League: the limelight, inevitably, turned to Didier Drogba. I don’t know about you, but I found this to be one of those eye-rolling moments that football and only football could generate. Drogba did indeed make his “emotional return” to Chelsea, however by the time the match took place, said return had been wrung dry (unlike my eyes, which were wet with tears of boredom from this particular topic). As brilliant as Drogba was for Chelsea, the coverage of his whereabouts and emotions became a bit too much in the end.
Similarly, in the post-Beckham world of celebrity-like footballers that we indulge in, Mikel Arteta announced that the “pressure” he feels from the sport means that he struggles to enjoy being a multi-millionaire/footballer. What particularly made me double-take was this: in the London Evening Standard’s online version of this story, the main image they used as anchorage for their audience wasn’t Arteta kicking a ball around, nor was it him even looking remotely sad: it was a paparazzi-style photograph of him and his wife at the Eurovision Song Contest as if someone had asked them to pose for a spoof of a typical ‘Brangelina’ photograph. It’s just plain strange I tell you, Reader, and enforces that our obsession with propelling footballers into super-human status rather than just accepting them as talented people is spinning out of control, adding to the rather claustrophobic atmosphere within football that the media creates.
Our culture is one which already features just as many celebrity magazines and there are actual celebrities, and many a person will sit there, tutting at how Kerry Katona has been wearing the wrong colour tights, or how Katie Price was spotted in public looking hideously like a real human and not an edited glamour model, how very dare she! Additionally, the other, similar, worse magazines – the ones which essentially persuade their readers to study fellow humans who have problems of some form like they are in a paper zoo, and every page is a new enclosure for people to goggle and point at – are out there, and they do not come in peace. This second nature that the modern public (not all of it – but a large portion of it, hence why the tabloids are the best sellers) has adopted is in serious danger of bleeding profusely into football, invading like an army consisting of thousands of Take a Break-wielding reality ‘stars’, and coming to invade your privacy. You can run, but you can’t hide: they will find you, and they will latch onto the world of football. Soon, you’ll be tutting over how high Frank Lampard’s pulled his socks and how Steven Gerrard’s new haircut distracted the national team from the World Cup. Be afraid, Reader, be very afraid.
Miniscule stories such as this have wormed their way into the onslaught of football coverage that seems to be created for Twitter. Take this recent ‘story’ from the Daily Mail: “Ryan Giggs and Robin van Persie are all smiles on the training ground… and here’s how the striker looked under David Moyes”. The article’s foremost images are of van Persie smiling with Ryan Giggs, and one of the Dutchman looking confused and upset whist having an apparent “heated discussion” with David Moyes. This is, quite simply, football trash news at its best. Two juxtaposing images have been aligned on the same page to make David Moyes look even more of a fool. The likelihood is that there was nothing negative in particular even occurring between the player and his ex-manager. However, little tricks like this can deceive us into judging or presuming what the producers of these articles want us to think, and even though the media prevailed in having Moyes sacked, still they persevere to craft a terrible image for the poor man. This illustrates pure and simple media distaste; and, unfortunately, it couldn’t have been more successful.
From the instant it was revealed David Moyes would succeed Sir Alex Ferguson as Manchester United manager, there was an expected eruption of 24-hour, relentless coverage as Moyes hopped from “yacht” to “cruise liner”; it was intriguing to sit back, observe and take in all of the uncertainty (and a little obliged confidence) surrounding his appointment. Looking back on The Guardian’s blog archive, there are minimal articles that agree with Ferguson’s decision to appoint his fellow Scotsman. The parallels were drawn, naturally: both men are from working-class Glasgow and both men are able to build squads particularly well over time. The logic of the appointment was not questioned. However, the quality of David Moyes as a manager certainly was. Journalist Daniel Taylor asked whether he was“really” the “right man”, like a parent would question a child’s ability to get itself dressed. The snowball effect began with articles such as these, and never ever did it stop.
I hold no doubt that you are familiar with the demise of David Moyes; it was like a fairytale transformation in reverse, as he turned from Ferguson’s unexpected prince into a wide-eyed, overwhelmed frog that the media exiled from the magical kingdom of Old Trafford (which is twinned with Disneyland, obviously). Moyes was an unconventional choice for the United manager, especially in the modern era. The fact that he had won no trophies as Everton boss naturally led to scepticism; suitably then, as United’s form declined, the manager’s reputation did too. This leads me onto something I call ‘the Ed Miliband effect’, Reader: if you are to take a look at the photographs of the Labour leader used by a range of newspapers, he is frequently made to look rather – well – silly.
Appearing with a bewildered expression or being photographed at a moment that certainly does not capture his good side, these pictures can easily speak the opinion of whomever is posting them – plus, the Huffington Post even ran an article titled: “Ed Miliband Is Not Weird Say Labour Front-Bench Ministers”. In my opinion at least, this is rather similar to what happened to David Moyes. Countless pictures emerged of him in the managerial area, looking deflated by his players’ dismal performances, or assuming the head-in-hands position. Meanwhile, Twitter opted for the Gollum comparisons. Similar to Miliband, some pictures simply made him look idiotic, or as confused as if he’d been a park ranger in the isolated Scottish moorlands with no interest whatsoever in football until his now-infamous appointment. Ed Miliband, implies the media, doesn’t fit the bill for Prime Minister – just as David Moyes was never going to be represented in the correct manner as Manchester United manager right from the start. He just wasn’t the popular choice, and he paid the price for it.
As this mentally exhausting – yet brilliant – season draws to a close, journalists and hardcore Twitter users everywhere will be casting their gaze in the direction of a certain South American country as the England squad fly there via a business class airline (while reporters sneak into their hand luggage), hoping and inevitably failing to return with the golden token of success. The potential attention of Brazil 2014, Reader, is gearing up to be the Pompeii of media eruptions, smothering everything in its path with an ash cloud of trashy stories, a lava stream of pointless rumours and a loud blast of ‘funny’ videos culminating in a crater left by the usual controversy and/or impending exit through penalties.
England are seemingly rather skilled at being wrapped up in controversy of a form at World Cups, whether it involve stamping upon the midriff of Portuguese players or scoring-but-actually-not-scoring a brilliant goal, only to be subsequently outclassed. Only time will tell whether or not the national team are capable of having a squabble-free tournament and refrain from igniting the media into frenzy-mode in which no-one is safe. Following the heavy defeat by the Germans at the 2010 World Cup, the media hounds were released with the aim of savaging almost everyone involved in that particular match. The Guardian opted for initially pointing the finger at Fabio Capello as well as the officials (“Capello’s ponderous 4-4-2 made players lumber”, they wrote, condescendingly followed by: “the Uruguayan referee did not notice Frank Lampard’s drive bounce a foot or more over the line”.), while The Mirror, to be fair, did not let the England players off at all, or attempt to blame the loss on the missing goal. “They were not robbed. They were rubbish”, read their match report, rather truthfully. The Huffington Post, on the other hand, dodged the fact that England and Fabio Capello made an utter hash of attempting to overturn Germany to the extent that they sounded like a teenager trying to rescue his classmate from an impending detention: “ask anyone –there’s little question that Frank Lampard put a shot in the net late in the first half that would have tied the score”.
First and foremost, however, we shall have to experience the usual hype we are all familiar with, which, in no particular order, includes the following: the ‘official’ England song being overplayed by the majority of radio stations and teenagers with mobile phones, Gary Lineker’s face emblazoned on every related product of the BBC, dusty car flags erected by parents who cave into pressure from their children, a brand new range of extortionate replica gear becoming the priority of many (despite the previous kit only being released suspiciously soon before this occurs) and the now-standard collection of figures, stickers and tacky memorabilia being purchased in mass quantities, only to be sold for buttons at car-boot sales in five years’ time. Every football fan of any age must feel some form of child-like excitement. Pull-out World Cup planners, guides and wall charts are free in nearly every publication in existence and the television schedule is printed excessively for you and I too undergo the arduous task of deciding whether to opt for the BBC’s coverage or ITV’s. It’s all part of the irresistible modern build up, and it’s genuinely all rather exciting, isn’t it, Reader?
However – and this is a rather anti-climactic ‘however’ – this year’s version of these events are likely to come to an end at one point or another, as you and I so are used to. Tragically, this is when the sombre coverage of the England squad returning to the country, heavy hearted, appears to worm its way through the coverage of the latter stages of the World Cup. Roy Hodgson will likely mumble several words of regret, there may be much scowling at the floor from squad members and a sea of £90 replica shirts could potentially clog up landfill sites forever. The newspapers will perhaps shift the blame onto a referee or the alternative to vuvuzelas or the shabby condition of the nation’s grassroots football compared to that of Spain while Twitter finds something or someone to abuse. God forbid that England lose on penalties.
Alternatively, just imagine if England won the World Cup. I don’t think the country would be able to cope after all of these years of “ah, but what if..?” that have been endured by an expectant nation since 1966. With this in the forefront of most people’s minds, could this year finally be England’s year? Is there a possibility that that we are all on the verge of witnessing something majestic and superior from The Three Lions? With the quality of Spain, Brazil and several other countries, I believe that the answer to both of those questions is a big, fat, Brazilian ‘no’. However, I had to shoehorn it in there for good measure, just like many other articles pondering over similar thoughts, didn’t I, Reader? Don’t be disheartened in any way, though. Be optimistic that England are generous enough to spare a thought for other countries and let them win the tournament instead.
Right then, Reader, I hope you’re more prepared than you ever have been before. I hope you’re already positioned on your couch, surrounded by your television, tablet, smartphone and alcoholic beverage or notepad, anticipating not only the World Cup, but the future of the football media as it continues to expand and grow as a vast, influential and collective organisation.
Just imagine: if only we lived in the days when footballers lived in the slightly posh estate on the other side of town, were paid three shillings per year and broke their toes on wet leather spheres for the pure enjoyment of it, while the term ‘twitter’ simply meant the noises birds made. The Internet would be a million light-years away, and pink, post-match Saturday sports papers would be rife. All would seem peaceful, tranquil and relaxed in comparison to today’s world.
But hell, Reader, it’d be incredibly boring, wouldn’t it?