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Arguing with Zombies: how football fans allow the media to control the debate

by Tony Attwood

“Arguing with Zombies” is a book by Paul Krugman in which he points out that many aspects of contemporary debates within the worlds of politics and economics are just based on fallacies.

I thought of this because two events in my world coincided.  I heard Mr Krugman being interviewed on the radio while I was thinking of how I might continue debating the point that the media has poisoned the football debate by weaponising supporters.  (See How supporters are being weaponised by the media; we’ve become their playthings)

One only has to glimpse a few of the comments published on Untold of late by supporters of other clubs to see how far the individual writers have bought into the media’s coverage and interpretation of football.  Many other comments which also reflect the same attitude have been received here but have not been published, in keeping with our policies (see Comments),

Krugman’s argument, fully backed up with facts and examples in his very erudite work,  is that there are many ideas that are palpably false, and yet which have become mainstream beliefs.  He cites the fact that 60% of members of Congress deny that climate change is happening for example.   And the fact that the American government still puts forward the view that tax cuts pay for themselves, whereas all analyses of tax-cutting programmes show that tax-cutting always means a reduction in government services for the people who most depend upon them.

In short, just proclaiming something is so, does not make it true. And this is the same in football as it is everywhere else.

Indeed I was reminded of the myths created around football which have been reiterated here in recent commentaries.  Quite a few supporters of Arsenal’s rivals maintain that Arsenal took the manager of Huddersfield, and then bought the successful Huddersfield team to Arsenal to create Arsenal’s success in the 1930s and thus should not criticise contemporary clubs that use their big spending power to deliver success.

Such a view ignores several facts.  One is that just because the club I support behaved badly in the past does not logically mean I cannot criticise a club behaving badly in the present.

Another ignores the simple fact that not one single player was transferred from Huddersfield to Arsenal during Chapman’s time at Arsenal.  (Out of interest, I extended the search on to 1937 and back to include players who had played for Huddersfield earlier in their career – but still I couldn’t find one.)  Another fact is that it took Chapman six years to win the League with Arsenal, so even if Chapman had persued the “buy Huddersfield” policy it would have been a rather unsuccessful approach in terms of time.  But even so it is still a story that is believed by some.

What actually happened in Arsenal’s case was that a vendetta was pursued by the enemies of Henry Norris in 1927 which resulted in Norris, like Chapman before him, being banned from football.  With Norris out of the way, the new owners of the club (the Hill-Wood family) successfully blackened Norris’ name with stories that are clearly still re-told today.  (See for example Kevin Moore’s disgraceful book “What you think you know about Football is wrong” chapter 14 “Arsenal should not be in the Premier League”).

With Arsenal it was even worse because that final myth was created by people in Arsenal wanting to take over Arsenal.  If that’s what we can do to ourselves, think what they can do to us!

There is of course rivalry between clubs and the fans of clubs, but to believe that certain clubs in the League have a pure history and have never done anything bad, is nonsense, just as it is to believe that one’s own club is inherently pure.   I am Arsenal through and through, as were my parents and both sets of grandparents, but I can resist the notion that Tottenham supporters are evil.  Yes I know I’ve written articles pointing out problems that Tottenham have, or have had, pointing out how long it is since they won the League, but that does not mean I believe that Arsenal has always acted properly and Tottenham regularly acted poorly.  That’s just nonsense.

Indeed on the Arsenal History Society website we went out of our way to note the sportsmanship and good nature of Tottenham’s directors after Arsenal won the vote for a place in the first division in 1919 – and particularly noted how Arsenal had earlier helped vote Tottenham into the Football League after they lost their place in the Southern League.

Football supporters who seriously think their club is endlessly honorable and their rivals are the personification of evil are, in my view, removed from reality.  For most of us, who we support happens through chance – where we were born, our relatives, friends, how the clubs were doing at the time we first took an interest, the chance of the first match we were taken to etc.  Not because one club is pure goodness and honour and the other is pure evil.

To carry on that argument is to give credence to the nonsensical gibberish published by most blogs and newspapers and spouted by radio and TV commentators today – it is to allow oneself to be weaponized thus allowing, in turn, the media to churn out utter gibberish hour after hour because they cannot be bothered to employ proper journalists doing a proper job.

Just as politicians feed us zombie type commentaries to justify policies aimed to enhance their own wealth and that of their friends, so football journalists feed us their own zombie commentaries in order to avoid having to get into the discussion of the serious issues within football.

If we debate football in their terms, we are acknowledging their way of seeing football as expressed in the media, is valid.  When we challenge the media’s approach to football as trivia, we stand a chance of seeing what lies beneath their ramblings, and the way in which they are using us to justify their lack of investigation into the real issues of importance.

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