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The most dire anti-Arsenal football journalism we’ve seen

By Tony Attwood

The headline on the Daily Mirror’s website was worrying in the extreme:

Former Arsenal striker convicted of stalking ex-girlfriend and mother of his son

Stalking is a frightening and generally terrifying experience, and it is quite right that any man who stalks a woman – or worse stalks an ex, her mother and his son, deserves to be reported to the law, so the matter can be quickly sorted out and the individual restrained.

And so yes, it is a newsworthy story which the Mirror chose to run, including reporting that Stokes has now been banned from entering his ex-wife’s street and given a four-year non-harassment order stopping him from contacting her or her mother.  The footballer can only have contact with Miss Scott if she initiates it to discuss childcare arrangements.

But then, in order to get a lot of people to read the story the Mirror didn’t leave it at that.  Because it ran the whole piece under the headline “Former Arsenal striker convicted of stalking ex-girlfriend and mother of his son.”

And undoubtedly it was the opening three words, “Former Arsenal striker” which took this story to the top of the charts in terms of page views.

Now you may be forgiven for not remembering Stokes, because he only played a few minutes of football for Arsenal.  Yes he was on our books but his total involvement seems to be as a sub at the very end of a league cup match.  So again the question is, is the headline “Former Arsenal striker…” reasonable?

Before coming to Arsenal Stokes played for Kilnamanagh, Esker Celtic FC, Cherry Orchard FC and Shelbourne and did indeed play for Arsenal reserves.   And yes as we’ve just noted, and to be absolutely technically correct, he did play in the Arsenal League Cup game against Sunderland in 2005, by coming on in the 88th minute.

So he really did have just five minutes of fame, but after that he was loaned to Falkirk, and there he stayed until 2006. It was a successful loan with Stokes getting 16 goals in 18 games but despite this Arsenal decided to get rid of him.  I don’t know why, but in footballing terms it seems a strange decision, so maybe there was something else they didn’t like – but to be quite clear, I have no information on this at all.  However that is the decision that was taken and Stokes went to Sunderland for £2m.  A reasonable price for a man with 16 goals in 18.

But maybe there is a clue as to why Arsenal did not want to stay with him comes with what happened at Sunderland.  He played 36 games and scored… just three goals.  Not what the young man’s early days had suggested.  And worse was to come because Sunderland quickly loaned him out to Sheffield United (12 games, no goals) and Crystal Palace (13 games and one goal).

He did eventually get his form back at Hibernian and Celtic, but in the English league (he had a later spell at Blackburn) he simply couldn’t turn on the goals.  And eventually he went abroad playing in Greece (no goals in four with Apollon Smyrni), Azerbaijan (a more successful 11 goals in 23 last year) and most recently Adana Demirspor in Turkey (figures for this season not available).

So 11 clubs, of whom the one they pick is Arsenal, for whom he played around five minutes.  I am not even sure if he touched the ball.

But here’s another thing if one is looking for the right phrase to slip into the headline “Former striker convicted of stalking ex-girlfriend and mother of his son.”

How about “Former Ireland striker convicted of stalking ex-girlfriend and mother of his son” – because the player has nine full caps for Ireland.  Plus one for Ireland “B” and 10 for Ireland’s under 21s.  At least that would have been closer to giving a fair impression of who we are talking about.

Of course the Mirror’s approach is one of cynical manipulation.  Technically yes he played for five minutes for Arsenal, but that is not the point.  The point is a scurrilous way to get readership while simultaneously doing what the Mirror always likes to do: blackening the name of Arsenal and sowing discontent by suggesting that Arsenal employ undesirables.

As they tend to say down the pub these days, “Watch out, there’s a journalist about”.

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