Bitter Green

There was a noise coming from a number of the back pages of the national press last week; not the everyday white noise of often baseless transfer speculation, quotes taken out of context and hype for a forthcoming match, all of which are easy to ignore, but something more nasty. Though in reality the sound was the same as a spoilt child spitting out its dummy and rattling its play pen, the personal abuse directed at Roy Hodgson even made the front page of The Sun.

Dressed up as schoolboy humour the early attempt to undermine the new England Manager was quickly seen through by many, now all too familiar with smearing tactics and tabloid bullying. There were defenders of the hacks who are paid to travel around the world and watch England on the International stage, with Martin Samuel laughably claiming the press never hounded out Glenn Hoddle. But the widespread reaction on social network sites was that Hodgson deserves a fair chance, regardless of the headlines generated by the men who see their roles as ‘Kingmakers’, and whose bitterness at getting it wrong couldn’t be concealed last week.

Propaganda in the British press still works of course. The London Evening Standard, the free pulp given out daily to London commuters and owned by Evgeny Lebedev, a friend of the re-elected London Mayor Boris Johnson, had four years of negative headlines on newsstands and pages of print about Johnson’s main opponent for the Mayoral race, Ken Livingstone; Johnson squeezed through with victory on Friday night, bucking the political trend of the rest of the country, with polling and television interviews after voting suggesting many people voted for Johnson not due to matters of policy, but because of perceptions about the character of Livingstone. But in football, unlike politics, the tool of the press is now weaker, as it is easier for the public to see things for themselves, rather than rely on a voice that has its own agenda.

It was little over twenty years ago when most top flight games did not have cameras at them, and apart from paying spectators who didn’t then have a platform, accounts were restricted to reporters, and sometimes  radio commentary, often inconsistent. Through social media and blogs the paying spectator now has a voice that can be heard too, and with cameras at all Premier League grounds, even non-paying spectators can watch extended highlights of matches that are not live, and often stream live coverage themselves.

There is still misinformation and ignorance by many a casual fan on platforms such as Twitter, with instincts bred from a style and vocabulary ingrained by the tabloid press, and even some bloggers fall into a trap of writing copy for deadlines and hits when detail is scarce: just this season, the author of one usually good blog gave a match report for a League Cup game he neither attended nor saw, produced instead largely from “common consent” of a match where little more than a couple of minutes of highlights were broadcast, and opinions were formed either from those tweeting from the game, some very poor local radio commentary, or worst of all, from those forming their opinions from the commentary.

But this is largely the exception. The internet and in-depth blogging have improved the output of football analysis as well as giving a voice for different opinions in the game. For any new England Manager taking a job ahead of a major tournament where his first competitive games will be watched, and heavily scrutinised, by millions around the World, this could be extra pressure. But, it is more of a meritocracy than ever before, and there will be many more people without the vested interests of newspaper proprietors or the personal agendas of sports editors, who will be able to deliver a balanced and honest outlook.