Monday, 18 March 2013

Football: trust no one?

It's a good job that it's still good to play out the old rituals. Travelling the same way and by the same routes. Parking in the same place. Setting out for the station at the same time and in the company of the same people. Friends. Family. Thinking, sometimes, about the dead ones. The granddads and uncles who will never come down to the ground again and whose ghosts sometimes seem to be about on match day. It's a good job that it's still good to see familiar faces and shake familiar hands. The chap who always arrives a few minutes after kick-off, smiling ruefully and smelling of pub. The old feller who's always looked old.

Yes, and it's a good job that when the net bulges it still feels great to bounce around for a few minutes, roaring out the relief, hugging that bloke next to you (who's been irritating you since kick-off and seems likes a bit of an arse), loose change flying from the pockets, tepid tea kicked, spilling around the ankles.

Rangers down and out?
It's a good job, too, that failure cannot go on literally forever. You can suffer a season even more dismal than the very dismal season you endured last year. But even bleakness this severe is peppered with little points of light. You went mental when SWP, of all people, scored against Chelsea. Yes, you yelled yourself hoarse that wonderfully unlikely night at Stamford Bridge. More than this, there is still hope - and that's good too. Two wins on the bounce? Really? So that means that buying yet more tickets to away games may not be an act of lunacy? Could more luck and light really be coming our way?

Well, perhaps not. QPR fans trudged home Villa Park on Saturday feeling despondent all over again. A real six-pointer gone the wrong way and then the news from St. Mary's Stadium was not good. Then we had another kick in the teeth on Sunday. Some herbert playing for fellow strugglers Wigan stayed on the pitch despite murderously thundering into an opponent. Then that bloody Kone fellow popped up with a last-gasp winner. So it was hard not to feel as though those triumphs over Southampton and Sunderland will turn out to have been in vain. But at least we had the pleasure of travelling up to the Midlands in hope, in good fellowship and with songs on the lips.

Football's endless pack of wankers
These good vibes, even if a little fragile, are great news. Because so much else of what goes on around football today is an endless blaze of crass wank. Know-nothing goons crow at you from their keyboards, each of them about five minutes into a love affair with some EPL (I feel sick) or BPL (I want to punch someone) brand they have selected from a limited menu on their stupid satellite electronic programme guides.  The choices, of course, are as follows: Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United. Some of the fuckers are from Cheam. Some are from Hastings. Some are from Singapore. Some from Mumbai. Some are from fucking Riyadh. They are recruitment consultants and trainee accountants. They are business studies students (customers) of dull universities which have long since morphed into profitable schools of human capital management and corporate double-speak. They've never been to a match. Fifteen minutes ago they hadn't even heard of Queens Park Rangers. But now they want to give you some static about how QPR are shit and how Anton Ferdinand needs to be taught that JT is the boss.  

Dizzying sums of money are spunked by TV networks and sprayed into the pockets of foolish, charmless young men from every corner of the earth. Journeymen second-choice centre-halves live like cash-drunk gangster rappers, driving to training in custom-painted luxury SUVs.... bored by comfort, they tattoo themselves endlessly... they never say anything interesting... they inhabit nightclubs of breathtaking vulgarity... they launch clothing lines (getting malnourished Bangladeshi slum children to stitch a stupid word onto a beanie hat).  Watching from boxes: a joyless procession of plundering über-spivs and desert dictators. Plastered over everything (the players, the stadium, your children, the ticket in your pocket): LOGOS. BRANDS. USE FINANCIAL SERVICES. DRINK LAGER THAT TASTES OF NOTHING. PISS YOUR MONEY AWAY IN AN IMAGINARY CASINO. FLY TO DUBAI TO GO SHOPPING AND LOLL ABOUT ON THE BEACHES OF A PLACE WHOSE RULERS BELIEVE YOU ARE SUBHUMAN.

Thank God for Tony...?
Awful, isn't it? Not like the good old days. Fings ain't what they used to be. But that's just the wider context, right? That's just how things are. There's nothing you can do about any of that. Come on. Don't live in the past. The game's changed. There's no point resisting progress or grumbling about it. More to the point, you are reminded by your fellow QPR fan, Rangers are different. We've had our ups and downs, sure. But we're lucky. We've got the best owners in the world.

You can trust dear old Tony, right? Look, there he is - walking around the pitch before the kick off, pressing the flesh with all and sundry. Rarely caught on camera without his bright red AirAsia baseball cap.

Tony will never leave us. He's in it for the long term. OK, OK, there was that time when he took to Twitter, hinting that stick he'd received from disgruntled supporters might cause him to reassess role at QPR. That started on January 27th when he said that "many fans" were "attacking" him. Yes, it was a little strange that anyone who searched Twitter on that day was unable to find any such attacks. A bit of mild criticism here and there, and little of that actually tweeted directly to Fernandes. But that must just be some sort of glitch in Twitter search mechanism, right? Because Tony wouldn't invent or exaggerate flak in order to worry all those supporters who are so desperate to believe that his stewarding of the club will turn out to be wholly benign. That would be sly. That would be manipulative. That would be like some sort of cult of personality. AND TONY ISN'T LIKE THAT. Look, we all want to believe in today's statement about the Chairman's "lifelong commitment" to the club. We all want to believe that relegation will not mean the end of the Fernandes era. No one wants to worry about whether this statement has been made in good faith or about whether the word lifelong was used in earnest. But we are Queens Park Rangers supporters. Our faith has been abused before. Disappointment is not a stranger to us.

But never mind. Such is the strength of Fernandes's assertion today, that surely all we can do is believe it. Because if it's been uttered in bad faith, we'll know one day. We'll know, and we'll feel more let down than ever before.

Football journalists: scum of the earth?
But maybe you DO end up wondering whether anyone connected with football can really be trusted not to speak with forked tongue. From the toxic swirl of media reporting around our club this terrible season, consider two particular incidents. In both cases, a gentleman of the press has alleged something fairly horrible. In both cases, the club has declined to issue an official rebuttal. In both cases, if the hurtful stories were actually fabricated, why has no one resorted to legal action in response?

The most recent nastiness concerned the club's warm weather training break in the UAE. Via Martin Lipton of the Daily Phonehack, we were told that the trip had descended into a chaotic farce. Lipton would have us believe that the following quotes from his piece are from QPR players:
"In the evening some players were out, until 3am, 4am, 5am – and then went to training at 8am. It was like a stag party."
 "Two or three players couldn’t train the next day. It was that bad."
Harry Redknapp, of course, angrily denied both the details of Lipton's story and the allegation that Rangers players were the source of those details. "This story has come from somebody who is trying to disrupt the football club," said Redknapp. "I know exactly who it is, I know his reasons for doing it and we all know who it is. It's not come from the players, it's come from an agent."

Via Twitter, Lipton's version of events has been challenged by numerous QPR fans. Take a look at these exchanges:

'onest 'arry?
Lipton seems adamant, doesn't he? The story is true and he wrote it off the back of "direct testimony" from several QPR players. He seems VERY confident that the club will not sue him. He attaches significance to the lack of an official denial from club officials. His interlocutors in these exchanges believe that Lipton is simply lying through his teeth. But if they are wrong, of course, this means Harry Redknapp is the liar here.

Leaving aside some people's unfriendly (and, we hope, baseless) insistence that Redknapp is shadowy, bung-loving spiv, can we find any actual examples of him fibbing and getting caught out? Well, yes.

Last Sunday, The Observer's Daniel Taylor rattled off a few examples of the very obvious untruths uttered in the football world. One which he foregrounded was an anecdote about our man Redknapp:
A quick story about Harry Redknapp going back to his days as West Ham's manager and a press conference at the club's training ground. There are reports of him taking Marco Negri on trial from Rangers but Redknapp looks bewildered. He is striking a pose that Robert De Niro would be proud of. "Negri?" he wants to know. "Who? No, don't know what you are talking about." That's the moment someone points out that if you look through the window you can see Negri outside, getting some stuff out of his car. "Oh," he says. "Oh, that Marco Negri."
But, that's ancient history, right? That's just Harry being a bit of lad. Just Archbishop of Banterbury stuff. That doesn't mean this Lipton prick isn't bang out of order, does it? Well, when journalists are challenged about the truth of stories like this - stories whose assertions rest on quotes from unnamed sources - we see them reaching for well-rehearsed responses about people not understanding the media game and about the publishing articles of this sort. Now call me a cynic. But what is to stop any journo simply inventing a story and then endlessly repeating a tired line about the importance of the protection of anonymous sources as a non-negotiable cornerstone of a free press?

Well, it's easy to see that confidentiality of sources is vital in cases where stories of legitimate public interest can only be broken with the help of people who would be deterred from coming forward without the protection of a strong guarantee of anonymity. Crime. Corruption. Made-up nonsense used to justify wars or otherwise mislead the public. Matters of genuine import. Yes, yes. But wouldn't it be a tragedy if frivolous misuse of this important press privilege adds more weight to the arguments of those who would go further than whatever turns out to be allowed by the post-Leveson Royal Charter dominating the headlines today?

This is not the first time that Lipton himself has been derided for his use of this seemingly too convenient confidentiality-of-sources argument. A little while ago, our dear friends at Chelsea poked fun at one of his stories about the goings on at their club, making him look rather a plum in the process. 

So that's enough about Lipton. What about this season's other example of a tabloid hack cooking up a QPR story from the supposed testimony of nameless sources? 

Anything to fill the page
If you're struggling to see how the bender-in-Dubai story being put our way was somehow in the public interest, you'll really wonder about the tale told by The Daily Blackshirt's Sami Mokbel back in September. Mokbel's piece contended that QPR midfielder Samba Diakité was suffering from depression. No sources named. Lots of "it is thought" and "it is unclear". As with Lipton, QPR fans weighed in to take Mokbel to task. Also to no avail. He simply responded with those tired lines about us not understanding how the press works. But let's say someone at the club really did speak to the Mail man about a medical condition endured by one of our players. Why is that even a story? What interest is served by writing about it? 

At one stage in a Twitter exchange with this is my england, the Mail man conceded that were a member of his family to suffer from mental illness, he would not like it to be casually described in a national newspaper. He appeared to concede that the story was of doubtful value and hinted that, in writing it, he was only following orders. Wow. What a dismal job. Q: What did you do at work today, daddy? A: I wrote a pointless story about a not-especially-famous footballer's depression, thereby adding to the pressure in his life and perhaps contributing to his illness becoming worse. From the Twitter exchange, it was easy to get the impression that Mr Mokbel is not always proud of what he does for a living.

Just watch the bloody football
What the Diakité incident tells us, perhaps, is that not only should we feel disinclined to distrust the truth of what we see written about football the 'papers, but we should also distrust the intentions of the hacks.  When you add this to the evidence of massive fibbing on the part of managers, as discussed by The Guardian's David Conn, you may want to decide that no one in this filthy game is to be trusted. That, of course, should do nothing to detract from your enjoyment of the actual 90-minute spectacle of twenty-two men kicking a bag of wind. That still has blood, thunder, balletic artistry and drama aplenty. Thankfully. Because everything else about the game is just so much bollocks.


  1. Taking no prisoners as usual TIME. Anger and passion in equal measures, brilliant as ever.

  2. Never let the facts interfere with a good story

  3. Excellent article. Trusting any owners is foolish.. In hindsight maybe the best one in recent decades was Richard Thompson... And we protested against him!

    1. "We" did not protest againt him. Its fans like you why other clubs and the media do not like us. If relegated means we lose the idiot supporters like yourself then so be it. We will go back and re-build, hopefully with idiotic fans not "protesting" agaisnt absolutely everything they dont lile.

    2. The protests and pitch invasions aimed at Richard were were ten times more than anything levelled at Briatore et al. Glad you're calling AKUTRs, the LSA, what was the OSC and the majority of fans who wanted Richard out of our club idiots.

      The media always liked us. We were always everyone's second favourite club. Especially after they saw us being treated like fools under Briatore. People have only started disliking us since this current regime.