Fake news and alternative facts about Wenger’s shove

Welcome to the age of fake news and alternative facts. Or maybe not “welcome” because as football fans we’ve been dealing with fake news and alternative facts forever. We even know their sources, their styles, which papers traffic in fake news, and which reporters are more and less “fake” or “alternative” with their reporting.

I’m not suggesting that the media are all bad or that we should degrade our hard-working members of the press. But I am saying that fake news is nothing new for football fans. It permeates almost everything we read.

For example, today’s big story is about Arsene Wenger. As we all know, Wenger was sent to the stands after reacting to a penalty late in the Arsenal win over Burnley. Anthony Taylor shuttled Wenger down the tunnel and Wenger reacted with a “get your hands off me” shove. The FA have charged Wenger with both counts and Wenger has admitted that what he said was “something that you hear every day in football” and that he regrets everything (including the shove).

That should be the story.

However, according to the Sun, Wenger called Anthony Taylor a “fucking cheat” and now we get our alternative facts and fake news. Why? Because it ups the level of the controversy. Making something banal, Wenger getting angry at an official, into a much more – maybe even criminal – offence.

This accusation isn’t being carried by the respectable paper. The Guardian’s reporting on the topic is straightforward and not really that controversial: Wenger’s charges are pretty serious, but Dominic Fifield expects a one match ban, comparing Wenger’s outburst to that of Jose Mourinho, a manager who routinely claims that the officials are conspiring against him, and who was both fined and banned for a tirade against… Jon Moss.

That’s a good bit of reporting right there. Fifield tells us facts, verifiable facts, shows comparisons and contrasts and gives us a reasonable conclusion. But it’s not very controversial is it?

It’s certainly not, as Arseblog pointed out this morning, at the level of the chief sports writer of The Times calling for Wenger to be banned for 10 matches and forced to officiate little league games.

If you want a look at the level that fake news and unsubstantiated accusations have become the coin of the journalistic landscape look no further than the chief sports writer for the Times and his first reply on that tweet. He repeats the claim that Wenger called Moss a cheat. Utterly irresponsible from a reporter. And what’s awful about this reporting is that when journalists from respectable papers start trading in fake news, some people use that to discredit ALL journalists. Then we find ourselves in the situation of not knowing reality from alternate reality. Which news is real? What did Wenger actually say? Who should we believe?

Apart from fake news, the other thing that is lacking in the sports media is actual investigative journalism. Could that pillock from the Times spend 10 minutes of his day doing some investigating? Naw. He’s got clever ideas to toss around.

Investigative journalism doesn’t have to take the form of breaking stories about corruption at the highest level of the sport. Though, how the sports press missed the corruption at FIFA story for so long is a mystery. But even low level investigation seems to be missing.

For example, how many times have managers been charged in the Premier League after a confrontation with a referee? Which referees are most likely to draw a charge? We already know that Moss has previous with both Wenger and Mourinho, are there other examples?

Or how about a piece on the level of officiating in the Premier League? How many calls are they actually getting right and how many wrong? How would we design a study like that? How far back would we go? I know that Untold Arsenal does something like this. I know that there have been several bloggers who tried to take this issue on. But why hasn’t some journalist taken the time to look into the officiating?

I suppose it’s too much work. Maybe I’ll have to do it. Since the guardians of the free world are too busy preening on twitter about how much they want “justice” to be done because an old man cursed at an official and told another official to get his hands off of him.

Oh the horror.



  1. And now they have you writing an article about it and so now all your readers know about it too. This is a bit like the Neil Ashton nicking a living comment; nobody knew Neil Ashton before he said that. All publicity is good publicity, amirite? Definitely won’t be putting the above mentioned honorables out of the the job by raising the visibility of their trashy reporting.

    Yes, it annoys me too but what can we do? They write stuff that they know will be consumed. All we can do is choose not to consume it.

    1. No one over here seemed to know Neil Ashton. In England he’s been a fixture on TV and in the press for years. He won the Sports News Reporter SJA award in 2010. Four years before his “nicking a living” comment.

      All publicity is not good publicity. Shaming a reporter for using unverified claims is bad publicity.

      Also, it’s important to correct people in this time of rampant factless journalism.

      And finally, the point of my article is that Sports “news” isn’t actually journalism. At its best it is, but typically it’s just taking down a few facts. At its worst it’s like what Matt Law published today: a 1000 word screed about Arsenal and Arsene Wenger cloaked in a news report about the police questioning Granit Xhaka for racial abuse.

      1. I agree with your last paragraph wholeheartedly, and go back to my initial question: then why consume it?

        1. Some journalists put a ton of work into being objective and using facts or their own data mining to back up their claims. You are one such; hence, here I am. There are a few others; fivethirtyeight.com is my favorite. In general I’ve found that US based journalism and broadcasting is much better than the UK. Sure there is the ulcer that is Fox Sports who subject us to Terry Bradshaw’s lunatic ravings about a sport he’s half forgotten how to play, but there is also the consistently focused and polished analysis from Rodney Harrison on CBS. Yeah, Phil Sims hardly makes any sense most of the time, but Chris Collingsworth and Jon Gruden are generally well worth a listen. By contrast, I can’t think of a single high profile TV pundit/journalist in UK journalism to whom I would subject my ears willingly. Phil Neville was promising for a while but mostly they’re still stuck in the antiquity of English football, upholding ideals and tactics that nobody cares about and nobody plays anymore. Then there is the nauseating obsession with finances and the transfer market which has generated a cottage industry of fake news all on its own. Yeah US sports gets into a frenzy about free agents too but I don’t recall nearly the number of shady “links” and unverified newsmongers making their way into mainstream coverage. Pretty much when something happens, Adam Schefter reports it and that’s it. The US media doesn’t barrage coaches about the “transfer market” week after week and time after time just because they can.

          I love football much more than the NFL. It’s a safer, more sustainable sport and more enjoyable more often. But the broadcasting and journalism around it are just awful.

        2. I’m a naturally curious person. It’s a pitfall of being a writer. Shit gets sent to me or I’m reading something else (like Arseblog) and it’s there in my face. So, I can’t just let things lie, I have to go look it up and when I do I usually find that it’s dumb.

        3. “In general I’ve found that US based journalism and broadcasting is much better than the UK.”

          I am happy that you went on to qualify that as sports journalism, because in general, British broadcasting and journalism are streets ahead of that of the United States, where an overly deferential press has allowed the rise of Donald Trump. That included letting him get away with spouting outright lies like the letter he said that he received from the NFL, concerned about Monday Night Football clashing with one of the debates.

          I promise you that the British press would not have allowed Sean Spicer to leave his White House briefing on Monday unscathed, after uttering at least three verifiable lies the previous Saturday. Find a clip of Jonathan Karl’s supine questioning of Spicer on Monday, and then do some random googling on BBC interviews or Jeremy Paxman.

          As for sport, while there are some really good mike men in US sport, I disagree over the broad claim. Generally I find American sports commentary in particular drony and a bit formulaic. The template is pro broadcaster and analyst with varying degrees of awfulness. American football is the worst, accompanied as it is by overmuscled men who should have better tailors. Besides, I like Gary Neville, who is incisive and doesn’t fly the United flag, unlike lot of ex-pros. Can’t stand Michael Owen, or jamie Carragher who should come with a translator.

          You’re smart and thoughtful man. If I knew you in person, I’d slowly introduce you to cricket.

          For what it’s worth, ex-journo here, btw, who worked in both markets but is not from either.

          1. Thanks for the reply, good stuff from someone with a history in the business.

            It’s hard to fathom why the BBC pays Alan Shearer and his ilk to “analyse” football. It’s 90% an atrocious stream of the blindingly obvious while proper football man posturing with the occasional half baked hair-raising conjecture (uttered with absolute surety) thrown in there. It’s a small wonder their audience hasn’t run away screaming. Robbie Savage is employed to give his thoughts on the sport and you can bet Joey Barton will be hired to do the same as soon as he finally retires. It’s a ghastly world we live in.

            I completely agree with your point on political journalism but I’m of a mind to do one of those headfirst dives into a volcano that David Squires mentioned in his cartoon today when I think about that stuff over on this side.


  2. Tim,

    I’m one of the people at Untold who is involved in the referee reports. If you are serious at doing a piece on refereeing and their mistakes, please contact me. I’ll need to check with my colleagues but am confident that we will be happy to share data.

    This season we have done an analysis of the refereeing of all Pl matches up to Week 15 and found on average that referees are making 2 wrong Important Decision (second yellow cards, red cards, penalties and goals) per game. penalty decisions are about 2/3 correct but the standard of disciplinary cards is woeful. The referees seem incapable of issuing second yellow cards (or more probably have been instructed not to do so). The inconsistency of red card offences is also quite amazing.

    Xhaka’s two red cards at the hands of Mr Moss are typical – he has been punished on both occasions the maximum allowed in the rules of football despite players from other teams regularly committing similar but worse challenges and receiving either no card or at worst a yellow. It is these double standards that enrage many Arsenal supporters and lead us to question the probity of referees.

    1. Thanks for doing all that research! If you haven’t already done so, it might be interesting to see a table showing the breakdown of these incorrect Important Decisions by team. Also, by looking at the number of draws and games decided by one goal, and some evaluation of how ID mistakes translate into goals (maybe only possible for penalties and goal decisions?), estimate how often these refereeing errors change the outcome of games, and the potential points swing/season…

    2. Lol, I was about to write Untold says ‘hello’ and then they actually did.

      I wonder how long before their referee ratings are coopted by the mainstream press, much in the way their insight about the lack of fully qualified (uefa a or b badge holding) coaches at the youth level was coopted by the guardian without ao much as a hat tip.

      If i had to guess, i think their ‘football news is fake news’ meme which they’ve been going on about for weeks now, will be picked up first.

      But we’ll see.

      Anyway, I was agog that the foul on Ozil which was by the last man during a break on goal and sent him asa over teakettle, only got yellow. The shove on Mustafi not drawing a penalty was not quite as outrageous, but still more real than the penalty we gave up (coq clearly made contact but obviously sought to minimize it and the Burnley guy immediately put out his arms for a belly flop.) Not to mention the elbow to Moustafi’s face or the kick to Alexis’ achilles not drawing cards.

      I wouldnt be a surprised if Wenger lost his temper. Remember match fixing is not unheard of in big leagues, including serie a and ligue une. Wenger was a victim of it.

  3. In my opinion the main troubles with Pl refereeing are

    1 – There are too few of them – when initially set up the PGMO were supposed to provide 24 referees for the PL, they currently have a roster of 17 but four of them Roger East, Stuart Attwell, Paul Tierney and Graham Scott have 23 games between them, Anthony Taylor and Michael Oliver have 19 each. There are only 13 referees used regularly and four who cover some games between the mid and lower placed teams.
    2 – Their allocation to games is far from random – Chelsea have only seen 10 of the 17 available referees this season and have had Anthony Taylor, Martin Atkinson, Andre Marriner and Jonathan Moss three times each. Liverpool have had Michael Oliver on 5 occasions this year and Man City have had Andre Marriner 4 times.
    3- Most of the referees are simply too old to keep up with play
    4 – Video referees are urgently needed to provide direction to the match officials. TV viewers already have access to this information and can see the mess that the Men in Black are making on a game by game basis. Such assistance must be open though, replays should be shown on the stadium screen so that the crowd can see that justice is being done.

    1. I agree with all of these ideas. The size of the ref pool is not something I gave much thought to and an interesting point. Thanks!

  4. Jayke

    If you check out the weekly referee reviews on Untold Arsenal, I think we cover the points you are looking for. The last one we did was for Matchweek 15 (I’m sorry that we are a few weeks behind but they do take a lot of effort). We published it on 20 Jan. Titled ” Referee Appointments and Results Matchweek #15 complete with video evidence”

    1. Aren’t you the bloke who claimed Arsenal were cheated out of 31 (repeat 31) points by the referees last season?
      How many points so far this season?

        1. Effing right I do. 102 points? A Premiership record playing the way we did after Xmas?

          1. Andrew Crawshaw’s logic is: a penalty not awarded in a game we draw or lose is 2/3 points lost. A red card or penalty wrongly awarded against is points lost. We probably if the truth be told had ten points unfairly lost last season, enough to win the PL even, but 31? C’mon!
            I see he’s not doing that calculation so far this season. Not surprising considering the way he was ridiculed on Untold, and they believe almost anything they’re told.

    2. Yeah, that just about covers it all, Andrew. Great site, many thanks for the info, a lot of effort indeed.

  5. Unless it’s pure bull, these journos are confident about the cheat claim as a result of someone leaking information to them. They’ve seen some report or other. Match report or something else.

    I saw this from a Twitter exchange Martin Lipton had with some of our fans yesterday. He defended it, when questioned about ethics of someone leaking such things, as being standard for journalists-‘ job is to receive and disseminate information’, something like that- but didn’t respond when asked what the motivation of the leaker would be.

    His parting shot, comically for a man employed by Rupert Murdoch’s Sun, was that he would leave us in our Trump-something world.

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