Witch-hunts and over-simplified reporting is ruining football

Gareth Bale, Tottenham HotspurLast weekend, Gareth Bale received yet another yellow card for diving rather than being awarded a penalty, despite the fact replays clearly showed the Welsh winger had been fouled. Liverpool’s Luis Suarez has shared a similar fate recently, with the Anfield club being awarded just one penalty this season.

Now, I don’t for a second believe either footballers are completely innocent individuals – Gareth Bale has a tendency to theatrically fall over as if he’s been mowed down by a hail of bullets in Normandy, losing his balance like Bamby on ice, while Suarez has a darker side to his game that often goes unpunished.

But there is little doubt that the media had a role to play in Bale’s booking against Sunderland, as notions of him being a serial diver have constantly circulated throughout the press in recent weeks. I find it bizarre how even a Welshman can be readily accused of diving but still there is little column inches dedicated to the English culprits, despite the fact Ashley Young has built a career out of anticipating a slightly over-reaching toe or a stuck out knee to claim a penalty or free kick – often already on a collision course with the ground below him before contact is even made by the opposing defender.

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You can argue Bale brings it on himself, and there is no smoke without fire. He’s created his own reputation, and therefore allowed the media the opportunity to collectively criticise him.

But then again, you could look at the press, not just in regards to football but in many aspects of modern life, and realise they have almost full control over the information we receive and therefore the opinions we form. Even if we have an opinion that fundamentally disagrees, it is still the media’s agenda that our opinions are based upon.

For example, the England team are constantly described as underperforming or unlucky in defeat. But very rarely do the press mention that Wayne Rooney has done nothing in an England shirt since he was a teenager. Also, the simple hypothesis that the Three Lions are just not that good, in comparison to a number of the other national teams seems to wash over the heads of the columnists and paper hacks. It’s not a mere coincidence that we reach a level in every competition where it becomes narrowed down to the top teams in the tournament and we fail to make it to the next round.

Back to the diving incident – we are routinely told that players, managers and referees don’t read the papers, yet it is a well known fact that there is a copy of every tabloid and broadsheet available to read in every training ground canteen, and a referee may be a unique and quirky type of person but it is hard to believe they shut themselves off from the footballing world from Sunday morning to Friday night.

So yes, the role of the media alarms me, or rather the nature of the media. It leads to witch-hunts and the widespread of a single opinion about an issue. A recent article by Paul Hayward in the Daily Telegraph declared English football had become “toxic” and was “spinning out of control” following the rise in awareness of racism and the coin throwing incident involving Rio Ferdinand; another piece of journalistic sensationalisation that does more harm than good in resolving the issues at hand.

Secondly, the one dimensional “Hero/Villian” structure of almost every football story, including during regular match analysis, doesn’t really give us any solid information or evaluation of events, just a simplification to avoid overcomplicating an issue and provide us with conforming entertainment. When is the last time two pundits on Match of the Day fundamentally disagreed with each other? It’s hardly balanced reporting.

Anyone who’s ever written an essay will known that almost every one can be summed up with a conclusion stressing the importance of considering a number of factors. But when is the last time you read a newspaper story that had more than one line of argument. Previously, it was “Bale the diver”, and now it will be “Ref gets it wrong”. Yet it is rarely mentioned, at least by the newspapers, although TV pundits who have played the game often refer to it, that refereeing is an incredibly difficult job, and many decisions must be made in a split second at high-octane speed.

And similarly, little attention is paid to the fact that Gareth Bale runs so fast that it is impossible to tell whether he’s making a meal of it or one small clip of the heels really did send him flying into the advertising boards. Furthermore, no one has even considered that if Bale didn’t go down, he would have been through on goal, or at least in a position to square the ball across the box to a team-mate, so why would he even want to go to ground? Just because he can?

The problem occurs not only when the stories are simplified in a wholesale manner, creating a single opinion, but also when stereotypes such as “Englishmen don’t dive” and “referees are idiots” get mixed in along the way.

The fact is, controversy sells, and the English audience loves to hate – exactly why the pantomime of Big Brother was so successful. But if you want to know the truth; Lee Harvey Oswald didn’t kill JFK, red meat won’t give you bowel cancer and if Gareth Bale was born on the right side of the Bristol channel he would be “looking for a foul” at worst.

Media witch-hunting is created by misinformed, misguided, narrow minded and entertainment based reporting and it will slowly corrode and ruin the English game.