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Decent football journalism? Maybe it’s time for fans to take the lead

I’ll admit it, I’m a bitter man. Like most who write on this site, or have a blog anywhere on the world wide web, I would love to write for a living. To be paid for putting words onto a page, for expressing an opinion. That’s not to say I think I deserve this role, or that I have an astonishing talent that is going to waste (though as it happens…). But feeling like this can make you very cynical. I see the drivel served up by very, very highly paid journalists and columnists (I’m looking at you Richard Littlejohn), and think, “I could do better than that”. And the fact is I could. My mum could. My best friend could. My work colleague who has never fully understood the role of apostrophes could.

But the fact is that those who do write and comment on our most popular sport are so poor, so knee-jerk, opinionated and biased, that it makes my blood boil, in a metaphorical sense.

There have been so many excellent blogs on the terrible standard of TV punditry at this year’s World Cup that I cannot add anything more to the debate. From Alan Shearer’s BAFTA winning expose of apartheid in South Africa to Alan Hansen chiding Lee Dixon for knowing who one of the Slovakia players was, it was an appalling rolling example of how viewers are treated as idiots with very low expectations.

But in print, we consumers fared little better. Having shaken off the nightmares from seeing Terry Venables dance, Chris Kamara and Ian Wright wearing eye shadow and Peter Crouch dancing in Pringle adverts, I turned to the newspapers for some sanity. And failed.

Of course, I knew I would. The summer started with the Triesman affair and a newspaper trying to undermine England’s World Cup campaign before it had even begun. It was ever thus –sex scandals, fake sheikhs, it’s all fair game. In the public interest, innit?

All journalists were up in arms at Triesman’s faux pas, desperately trying to funnel all attention to what he had said and divert away from how we had found out what he had said, because at the back of all their minds was this little thought going round and round saying “we’re all shits really aren’t we?”.

Still look on the bright side – with England not hosting it, they will all get a nice little jolly somewhere nice and warm. Good work at the Mail, though they were probably more concerned about a World Cup in England meaning a huge influx of all those nasty foreigners. We’d probably had to have cancelled Christmas or something so as not to offend them.

The Sun did what it does best – urging the nation to get behind the England team, before doing its level best to undermine, criticise and ridicule them, spending a week mocking Green, with a series of hilarious comments and captions.

Many of these people are nothing more than buffoons allowed to write down their thoughts and be paid for it. It’s so bad, I think I’d rather hear the opinions of the men in the Betfair front room – they look like a right barrel of laughs.

Take Shaun Custis for example. In the Sun he called for David Beckham to replace Fabio Capello as England coach.

Custis, made the case for the former skipper to take over, with arguments ranging from ‘He looked good in that suit’, to ‘he’s quite famous’ right through to ‘the players like him’. Custis is the chief football writer. Of the biggest selling newspaper in the UK. And he advocates making David Beckham the next England manager. And there in a nutshell is the quality of sports journalism in this country.

Custis writes: ‘He was sat on the England bench, jacket off, chin resting on his up-turned hand, brow furrowed, locked in concentration…As the camera panned in it was easy to forget that this was actually NOT the England manager…Beckham has been learning fast and though he has always said he wasn’t interested in management, looks to have got the taste for it at this World Cup.’

So looking the part whilst sat on a bench now seems the criteria for one of the leading jobs in world football. I’d best get some practice in.

Inevitably, Custis cites the example of Diego Maradona, who’s Argentina side are one of the favourites to lift the World Cup.

‘When the decision was made to appoint one of the world’s greatest ever players, Diego Maradona, as Argentina boss it was met with howls of derision back in his homeland and around the world…

‘But in the finals in South Africa, Argentina are playing with freedom, enjoying their football and Maradona has fostered a bond between himself and his players which appears unbreakable.’

And here Custis shows his utter ignorance of anything outside premiership football (if not all football). Maradona’s qualifying campaign, which I followed with the glee of a young boy late on Christmas Eve, was an utter fiasco. Maradona seemed to try everything he possibly could to derail the campaign, before the team limped over the line. And we all know what happened in the finals – utterly outplayed by the first decent side they came up against.

But back to Beckham…

‘His very presence commands instant respect. He knows what makes English footballers tick and what works for them.’

‘…on the surface he would seem a high-risk successor.’ I think the phrase I’m looking for is “no s**t, Sherlock.”

Then the Sun put forward Sam Allardyce as the next England manager. I’ll repeat that – the Sun put forward Sam Allardyce as the next England manager.

As sure as night follows day, there were calls that the next manager must be English. Harry Redknapp wasted no time making himself available, like the media-friendly whore that he is.

Tony Cascarino suggested that Alan Shearer should become the next manager. Yes, that’s correct; Tony Cascarino suggested that Alan Shearer should be the next manager. Stan Collymore argued that all premiership teams in future should have at least 5 attacking players in the starting lineup BY LAW.
Inevitably there were calls for a winter break to be introduced, as England’s poor lambs were tired. No one seemed able to explain why the non-English premiership players such as Tevez, Kuyt and De Jong seemed to be so full of energy.

Of course by now the recriminations had long begun. Hypocritical journalists went back on what they had said pre-tournament and educated the world on how it had gone wrong and how it could be solved.

Apart from deliberate handball on the line, there’s little worse than hypocritical journalists. Especially if they are dodgy cockney wide-boys, and thus media darlings.

Oh and look, here’s Terry Venables slaughtering Fabio Capello after the defeat to Germany.

‘What a shambles. And while, like the rest of the nation, I was stunned by yesterday’s defeat in Bloemfontein, I must admit I was not altogether surprised because, in my view, it had been coming for months. Or, to be more precise, since Wednesday March 3rd.

‘That was the night we played Egypt at Wembley in the final friendly before Fabio Capello named his provisional World Cup squad. It was also the night I first began to have serious concerns about the Italian’s tactics.

‘Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Gareth Barry were overrun in midfield. And as they chased shadows, our central defensive pairing of John Terry and Matthew Upson were left woefully exposed. That sounds familiar doesn’t it? The writing was on the wall and remained so throughout our unimpressive build-up to the finals.’

Interesting. Presumably Terry was being sarcastic when giving his predictions for the tournament on June 7.

On who would win it: ‘That’s easy, England. Brazil and Spain might be favourites but I tip England to win every time. If we go into big tournaments believing we’re not going to win then we won’t. The whole nation has to be positive.’

On Capello’s selection: ‘Picking 23 players from the talent we have at our disposal is always a pig of a job. But Fabio looks to have selected the strongest squad he could have.’

On England’s strengths: ‘Our back four. I hoped they would all stay fit, but even now Rio Ferdinand is injured we have more than adequate cover in Upson, King, Carragher and co. We also have a world-class striker in Rooney.’

You were saying, Terry?

There was no sitting on the fence for Paul Merson:

In his ‘Who’s On The Plane’ column for Sky Sports.com, May 30:

‘Emile Heskey – IN – He hasn’t done anything in the Premier League all season, but he’s never let England down. Defenders don’t like playing against people like Heskey and Crouch. I would take him.’

From his ‘Team talk’ column for Sky Sports.com, June 4:

‘I would have taken Darren Bent ahead of Emile Heskey. If you’re not playing for your club team you shouldn’t play for England. It’s been that way for 100 years, so why is it changing now?

Away from the world cup, every article regarding transfer gossip – every single one – would end with “Manchester City are known to be interested”. Teams heroically “fought off interest from Manchester City”, whilst an array of world stars snubbed us despite the fact we had never enquired about them in the first place. But enough moaning, if it helped them get a better contract, I’m glad we could be of some assistance. We are now the go-to club to get agents better deals for their players. City had killed football yet again. Burt what was more illuminating than anything, was that little old City were controlling the upper end of the transfer market, as other clubs waited to react to our trading.

Hey, for a while it looked like the World Cup would have to be suspended for two weeks so that every player could negotiate with them.

The worst offence was still to come though. Something so terrible, I struggle to write about it. Something so disrespectful, so uncaring, so brutal in the disdain shown by the participants. Yes, that’s right, after England’s exit, some of the players were seen not only chatting, and relaxing, but even, and it pains me to say this – laughing.

A nation was shamed.

This is even worse than to be seen smiling when reminiscing at a funeral. The nation demands no England player is allowed to do anything remotely fun or even attempt a weak smile for at least 3 months. Hey, I don’t make the rules.

There was much spluttering over at The Sun, when they found out.

‘And with feet on tables, the group looked remarkably relaxed at their HQ…despite not even coming close to lifting the tournament’s glittering trophy.’

Relaxing! Imagine! The sheer cheek of it. Look at them SITTING DOWN in their fancy TRACKSUITS drinking their DRINKS! If you squint a bit and turn your head to one side, you might spot a couple of them LAUGHING and – this one is really disgusting – CHATTING.

A few days later, and the Sun had uncovered even more shocking, sickening behaviour.

‘England’s football flops jetted off on their hols yesterday – with a seething nation still wishing they were out in sunny South Africa.’

And look at this. Wayne Rooney has been SPENDING TIME WITH HIS CHILD! Surely the pleasure of seeing his gurgling offspring is one that should’ve been taken away from Wayne. Personally, I’d have banished him from child-caring duties for at least two years.

It gets worse .Frank Lampard was soon off to Sardinia with HIS GIRLFRIEND, where they both LAUGHED and SIPPED ROSE.

But most shocking of all Alex Curran, wife of Steven Gerrard…oh god, I feel sick…HAD HER HAIR DONE.

But as inevitable as a Pete Doherty court appearance, was the news that began to filter through – it was all Manchester City’s fault. In three pieces of 24-carat drivel, Brian Woolnough, Brian Reade and Des Kelly all associated the blame for England’s failures, and the bleak future they faced as being linked to moneybags City and their splashing the cash on fancy foreigners. The famed academy was given the last rites. And the true facts about why England have struggled for decades, why they struggled before foreigners invaded our shores, why they can’t pass to each other, the fact City employ many English players and are pursuing another, the fact our academy never provided much to the England team anyway, well all this was ignored for a cheap swipe. I spoke to Kelly, and other City fans spoke to Woolnough about their pieces. They denied they were just about City despite having our name all over them, having pictures of Garry Cook, and despite the fact they opened the pieces blaming just City. Woolnough admitted he chose City because they were “topical”, Kelly said only 7 of 32 transfers in Premier League has been English players, like this has any relevance to anything. Woolnough’s admission said everything about modern sports journalism – writing to get hits, a response, and a reaction. Forget the quality, feel the quantity. And there’s no one better to write about at the moment than City, and thus the world’s ills are laid at their feet.

And this is what we are presented with by way of sports coverage. Winston Smith had it easy – we get an endless stream of drivel, pumped straight into our brains. There is no escape, and soon you’re booing all English footballers, blaming Manchester City for killing football, blaming everything else on immigrants and setting up Facebook pages declaring what a legend Raoul Moat is, because you believe everything you read in the newspapers.

There is another option though. It’s tough, but the quality journalism is out there, and with a couple of exceptions (Samuel and Conn for example), it’s away from the newspapers and written by normal people like you. People who can analyse failures, can see where the problems lie, can see where the solutions may be, can see beyond rhetoric, the bias of journalists trying to keep in the good books of managers they want stories off, and the PR of the clubs themselves. Good luck. You’re going to need it.

Written By Howard Hockin

Article title: Decent football journalism? Maybe it’s time for fans to take the lead

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