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As Protestors March to Reverse Brexit Vote, Main(lame)stream Media Manipulates Readers by Focusing on Football

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Which Way? Image Courtesy Of: https://briefingsforbrexit.com/where-the-eu-and-ourselves-went-wrong/

 

Hundreds of thousands of protesters descended on London on 20 October 2018 to demand a second referendum on the final Brexit deal, which is scheduled to occur in March 2019. Perhaps in line with the dominant narratives in Western media, football has become a major talking point in the media’s fear-mongering which surrounds Brexit. Most recently, Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino (who is, ironically, Argentinian) compared Brexit to “a car crash” and claimed that voters received “manipulated information” during the campaign. With all due respect to Mr. Pochettino, I am forced to ask a simple question: Where did this “manipulated information” come from?

 

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A 16-year Old Saying “Brexit Stole My Future” is the Height of Victimhood. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/premier-league/brexit-mauricio-pochettino-european-union-britain-tottenham-hotspur-referendum-a8591976.html

 

It is no secret that the media manipulates information in the modern era, but I am afraid that Mr. Pochettino is mistaken when he thinks that pro-Brexit voters were the ones who were manipulated; indeed, most of the media was—and continues to be—extremely biased against the “leave” campaign and voters. A good recent example of this bias is a 4 September 2018 The Telegraph piece written by Tim Wigmore with the emotional title “Why Premier League fears work permit changes after Brexit could make another Leicester miracle impossible”. Now, to any football fan the utter idiocy in this headline should be fairly obvious.

 

It is well known that modern industrial football—especially in the last twenty years—has become increasingly unequal due to its intimate connections with the processes of globalization, characterized by growing interconnectedness, transnational flows of capital and corporations, and the trend towards “open borders”. Similarly, those familiar with the Premier League are also aware that it is one of the world’s most unequal leagues. Therefore, one would rightfully give you a weird look if you were to argue that the Premier League is an “equal” league. Similarly, one would also likely give you an odd look if you were to make the claim that—somehow—Leicester City’s improbable 2015-16 Championship happened because of Britain’s EU membership, as The Telegraph’s headline seems to imply. Make no mistake, Leicester City took the title in spite of—and not because of—the Premier League and the EU’s open borders. This is an important distinction to make, and one that Mr. Wigmore seems to miss in his article.

 

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Make no mistake, Leicester City took the title in spite of—and not because of—the Premier League and the EU’s open borders. Image Courtesy of: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/football/2018/09/04/premier-league-fears-work-permit-changes-could-make-another/

 

Mr. Wigmore claims that the Premier League’s great concern is that “Brexit will limit the talent that clubs can access, and so make the league of lower quality, more predictable and less interesting to a global audience”. It seems that this should not be a concern, since the Premier League was never supposed to be for a “global” audience; it is an English League and—therefore—was primarily designed to be played for an English audience. Perhaps this passage would have been more correct if it had said “Brexit will limit the international talent that clubs can access”; the rhetorical jump made in assuming that this would make for a “lower quality” and “less interesting” league is based partially on assumption, and partially on a major underestimation of Britain’s young footballing talent. There is absolutely no guarantee that the young British players—who are often shut out of the top teams due to international competition—are somehow of a lower quality than their international counterparts. Indeed, making this argument in any other context—at least one not referring to the native talent of a white Anglo-Saxon country—could easily be construed as xenophobic or racist. Imagine making the claim that African football cannot survive without access to European (often white) coaches? It likely wouldn’t go down well, yet we—somehow—allow opinion shapers in the media to give us these same biased opinions on other topics without batting an eye.

 

According to Mr. Wigmore, the Premier League fears that “clubs’ ability to recruit from the continent” will be obstructed if the UK were to leave the EU. This would be of little concern to British teams—and the Premier League—if they had faith in their own academies and locally raised players. But, of course, the issue is not as humanist as one focusing on faith in one’s fellow humans; rather, it is about money (as it often tends to be in industrial football). As Mr. Wigmore notes, “the Premier League is increasingly dependent upon foreign broadcasting revenue, [and] becoming more amenable to young foreign talent [is] commercially appealing”. From this comment, we see that the real fear for the Premier League is that international audiences would not be interested in watching XIs made up of players from the British Isles. Yet instead of admitting this very real concern, the author—and the Premier League—instead appeal to emotion through some thinly veiled virtue signaling with this absurd claim: New transfer rules would affect the smallest teams, “so the Premier League’s competitive balance would suffer, entrenching the elite”. I am certain that the vast majority of Premier League fans who have been watching for the last twenty-six years can recognize just how patently false this is. After all, the elite have already been entrenched.

 

A cursory look at the history of the Premier League shows that, over the past twenty-six years of the league’s existence, competition has gradually become intra-elite, rather than league wide. Just look at the champions that have come out of the twenty-six years of Premier League football (from 1992 to 2018) as compared to the twenty-six years preceding the Premier League (1965-1992):

 

1992-93 – 2017-18 (26 Seasons):

6 Different Champions

Manchester United (12)

Chelsea (5)

Arsenal (3)

Manchester City (3)

Blackburn Rovers (1)

Leicester City (1)

 

1965-66 – 1991-92 (26 Seasons):

9 Different Champions

Liverpool (12)

Arsenal (3)

Everton (3)

Leeds United (3)

Derby County (2)

Aston Villa (1)

Manchester United (1)

Manchester City (1)

Nottingham Forest (1)

 

It is a fairly obvious fact that the Premier League did not increase the competitiveness of English football’s top tier. Can you imagine Derby County taking the title one year, followed by Aston Villa the next year? If you can’t, then it may become clear that The Telegraph is engaged in a crude form of opinion shaping and manipulation, which goes against Mr. Pochettino’s argument that it was just “leave” voters who were “manipulated”. The entire nature of this debate would, of course, be comical if it were not for the fact that it is harmful to the development of what German sociologist Jurgen Habermas termed “the public sphere”, characterized by free and open discussion of matters of public concern.

 

If we are to be able to realize that transnational unions like the European Union—and the rhetoric of “open borders” and “increased productivity” that go with it—are actually harmful to individuals by subverting democratic practices, open dialogue is essential. Indeed, given that the protestors of 20 October 2018 who have filled London’s streets are actively participating in subverting their own democracy by demanding a second referendum, it is clear that this kind of open dialogue is important now more than ever. It is only by individuals speaking to other individuals—within the public sphere—that elite control over the media and culture can be resisted. But, of course, don’t think you’ll find that in outlets like The Telegraph.

 

It is vital that citizens take back their countries—and their democracies—from transnational oligarchs. Nations are made by and for their citizens, just like football leagues. By participating in the public sphere, individuals might be able to realize this. Otherwise, they will fall into the logic of The Telegraph, which writes that “the Premier League is one of the UK’s most successful exports, televised in 189 of the 193 countries in the United Nations. It has harnessed globalization [sic] to become the envy of every other football league in the world – not so much a domestic league as a transnational one, inspiring deep devotion from Jakarta to Lagos and New York”. The Premier League was not meant to inspire “deep devotion” from Jakarta to Lagos and New York. Rather, it was meant to inspire “deep devotion” from Plymouth to Norwich and Newcastle and give young British footballers the hope that they could, too, don the shirts of their favorite teams. And just like the Premier League, the British government was not meant to take its cues from European Union bureaucrats in Brussels; it was meant to take its cues from citizens in London, Belfast, Cardiff, Glasgow and across the UK.

 

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A Pro-Brexit Campaigner Saying “We Want Our Country Back” While Looking to Reverse Democracy Must Be the Height of Irony. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.businessinsider.com/the-british-public-now-backs-a-second-brexit-referendum-2018-7
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Football Fans Vs. The Bureaucratic Modern State: Debate Over Road Signs in Britain Both Geometrical and Sociological

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Author’s Note: As a marginal Sociologist I will support Mathematician Matt Parker from the perspective of my own discipline. In the spirit of C. Wright Mills, it is a Sociologist’s job to point out the difference between “personal troubles” and wider “public/social issues”: One person’s unemployment is a personal trouble; but if that person can transcend their individuality and see that others are unemployed as well the personal trouble becomes a wider social issue, like an economic recession. In this case, what may at first seem like a small personal “trouble” (people upset at a minor detail on highway signage) could actually be part of a wider public/social issue (the inflexibility of the modern bureaucratic state or the dumbing down of modern society in the context of one-dimensional thought). This is why it is important to move away from our own individualism and start thinking outside of ourselves.

Yesterday, on 31 October 2017, the BBC ran a piece focused on the incorrect depiction of footballs on British roadways. The piece notes that “Currently, the image on the sign is made entirely of hexagons but a ball like that would be geometrically impossible to make. Instead, a real football has a mixture of hexagons and pentagons . . .”. Mathematician Matt Parker has started a petition—and gathered 20,000 signatures from football fans supporting him—to get the signs changed. Even though UK law stipulates that the hexagon pattern is the only one that can depict stadiums, Mr. Parker rightly points out that this incorrect depiction of footballs is “embarrassing” due to the UK’s national tradition in sport and “very proud” tradition in math and science.

 

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Does This Really Look Like a Football Without the Iconic Pentagon? Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-41813720

 

Of course, the bureaucrats in the British government are not amused, and their argument is that traffic signs are merely a “general representation” of the activity they are supposed to depict. A spokesman for the Department of Transportation (DfT) claimed that since these signs have been in use since 1994, “drivers have become ‘accustomed’” to the design. The spokesman goes onto explain that any new details would not be visible from the distance drivers typically see them from while on the roadway, while adding that “the higher level of attention needed to understand the geometry could distract a driver’s view away from the road for longer than necessary which could therefore increase the risk of an incident.”

Mr. Parker’s response points out the odd contradictions in the DfT’s response:

I’m not sure what the DfT thinks a football looks like but they say both: the change would be too small to be noticed and that the correct geometry would be so distracting to drivers it would increase the risk of accidents. I’m not asking for angles and measurements on the sign, just for it to look more like a football.”

Mr. Parker does well to point out the contradictions inherent in the response, and while the signs should certainly be made to look more like a football there is also a worrying condescension that comes out of the DfT’s response: the bureaucratic state seems to be assuming that its citizens are morons. To say that a new design will not work since drivers have become “accustomed” to the current one suggests that British drivers suffer from a sort of mental atrophy. Has the modern world become so one-dimensional in its thought that the modern mind is no longer flexible enough to comprehend any changes to what it is accustomed to?

It is certainly ironic, since—in other areas of the modern world—it seems that the bureaucratic state is all too willing to force change on its citizens in the name of “progressive” politics: In the United States the name of the first President, George Washington, can be removed from the church he worshiped at while statues of prominent figures from American history can be removed to white-wash the history of slavery in the United States, yet British drivers cannot deal with a “change” to their highway signs? It would seem—to me at least—that this is an insult to the intelligence of British drivers.

Similarly, the argument that “the higher level of attention needed to understand the geometry could distract a driver’s view away from the road for longer than necessary” and thus increase the risk of an “incident” seems to ignore the fact that—in the modern world—we are already distracted by much more than the correct depiction of footballs on a highway sign. I—like anyone who has ever driven on a highway—am quite certain that the millions of people taking selfies in their cars, texting in their cars, stuffing their faces with fast food burgers in their cars, or even doing make up in their cars are much more likely to cause an “incident” on a roadway than someone “distracted” by a geometrically correct depiction of a football on a highway sign. To argue otherwise—as the DfT did—is merely to insult the intelligence of British citizens.

In fact, if modern society were not as dumbed down as it has become, it is likely that this incorrect depiction of a football would be more likely to cause an incident than a correct depiction would be! (Of course, that would hinge on people actually knowing what a football should actually look like…or knowing that “Bluetiful” is not a word, as I have argued before). The football sign row shows that the bureaucratic state in Britain is more willing to insult its national traditions and history—as well as the intelligence of its citizenry—than attempt to rectify an oversight in graphic design. We all make mistakes, and that’s ok—we are human after all (for now at least). But it is pretty embarrassing for the government to give excuses that are—for lack of a better word—just lame.

 

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In Italy, Signs That Actually Look Like Footballs Are Not Causing Massive Pile-Ups On The Autostrada (At Least, Not As Far As I Know). So If They Can Do It In Italy, Why Not In Britain? Image Courtesy Of: https://footballtripper.com/san-siro-stadium-guide-milan/

 

Farewell to Boleyn Ground/Upton Park: Community and Modern Football

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I will preface this with an admission: I am not a “fan” of any team in the English Premier League, although I do have sympathies for certain teams. Among those teams is West Ham United, a team I saw play two falls ago on Green Street. As someone who appreciates fan culture, I enjoy the ritual of “bubbles” at Boleyn Ground/Upton Park. After the final match at the ground, with West Ham pulling out a 3-2 victory over Manchester United, I am left thinking “what next?”.

The pageantry of the celebration was amazing and did justice to the end of an era. But I cant help but realize that this end of an era is yet another manifestation of the modern football that many fans are speaking out against.

Slaven Bilic, the Croatian coach of West Ham United for whom I have great respect after his year in Istanbul with Turkish side Besiktas, made his own views clear on the move to the Olympic Stadium. He noted that “The Upton Park stadium was a first home. No matter where you move after that – if you move to a fancy apartment, a big house or to a mansion – your favourite one is always the first. You are losing something because it is impossible to make the Olympic Stadium a fortress”. His analogy is apt—even if the new surroundings will be posher, they cannot replace the memories (and atmosphere) of “home”. His assertion (referring to Arsenal’s ground change) that Highbury felt dangerous, while Emirates is for selfies, is also spot-on—new grounds have become tourist destinations.

Of course, not everyone agrees with me. Dave Kidd of the Daily Mirror seems glad to be rid of Boleyn Ground/Upton Park, where the author first “witnessed serious violence, hardcore racism, drug-taking, frightening levels of crushing and the warm feeling of having your leg urinated upon by a man who was never going to travel across a sea of humanity to the toilets at the sides of the North Bank.” While it is hyperbolic, I’m sure that all of the incidents mentioned have, indeed, happened inside the ground. But…then again…in what old ground have such things not happened? I still remember my first baseball game at the Boston Red Sox’s iconic Fenway Park; a drunk man vomited at my mother’s feet and the language was not something I should have heard at that age. That was, needless to say, the last Red Sox game for my mother. But that was the 1990s; since then rising ticket prices have been the preferred way to keep undesirable elements out of the stadium—without destroying it and building a new ground. While the pre-match violence was unfortunate, it is hard to believe that the move to a new stadium will stamp out this kind of behavior either. To blame the ground on the activities of patrons seems wrong to me, and I cannot agree fully with Mr. Kidd’s claims that the Boleyn Ground/Upton Park “should not be mourned” and that it is “not worth idealizing”. It is fan mentality—not a stadium—that incites violence.

It is not just for the fans that I lament. The effect of the ground’s closure is felt even harder by the small businesses that make a living on the game-day experience of football fans, the establishments that make game-days around the world. The BBC did a great piece on the future of Upton Park (the neighborhood), detailing the local issues. The owner of one pub estimated that he would lose two thirds of his income—almost 500,000 Pounds—while a restaurant owner claimed that a quarter of his earnings come from West Ham fans. The Mayor of Newham is more optimistic, noting that the families moving into the 800 new flats being built in place of the stadium will contribute to the local economy and that “only a few businesses” set up to cater to fans will suffer. While this may be true, it is certainly the end of an era. As the BBC notes, fans will no longer crowd the Upton Park tube station (as even I have).

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/sport/football/36170590#orb-footer

As stadiums move—often in the name of money—from their traditional locations within the community to outside of the community, a piece of the game is lost. As this happens, it is important to remember that it is not just the fans that are affected. There are many others—from small-business owners to part time programme sellers—that feel this change not just emotionally, but financially as well. The old style football supporter—who was tied to the team because, perhaps, they could take in a match from their flat—is on the way out as well. For me, the disassociation of sport from place is what really hurts; sport adds meaning to geography. Unfortunately, in the world of modern/industrial football, it seems like money is the only thing that matters.

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Images Courtesy Of: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-3583769/UPTON-PARK-PICTURE-SPECIAL-West-Ham-bid-farewell-Boleyn-Ground-style-Winston-Reid-scores-winner-dent-Manchester-United-s-Champions-League-hopes-emotional-night.html

Roots Hall, Southend-on-Sea, England–(Southend United FC): Southend United-Morecambe (0-1) Matchday

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Some more pictures of Roots Hall taken during the Division Two match between Southend United FC and Morecambe FC. Roots Hall was built in 1952 and opened in 1955. With a capacity of 12,392 it is the largest in Essex. Like White Hart Lane there are plans for a new stadium but work has yet to start. Interestingly the stadium–which was built on what was a storage area during the first World War–was the youngest in the football league until 1988. To get to Roots Hall one can take a one hour journey via National Rail from Liverpool Street station and disembark at Prittlewell.

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Craven Cottage, London, England – Fulham FC

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Craven Cottage is one of those epic grounds. Its location is amazing, its age makes you feel the years. In it, you are truly living the evolution of football, from local XIs to the cash-splashed Premier League. As of now the capacity is 25,700, but it is slated to be increased. After all, it has been in use since 1896! In many ways, Craven Cottage took me home and gave me the feel of Fenway Park, the first stadium I ever attended a game at. The small doors–built in an age when people were of smaller proportions– reminded me of the small seats at old Fenway, where fans can’t help but feel slightly uncomfortable.

I was able to get a Fulham shirt, a picture of which can be seen here, and with it sitting on the banks of the Thames next to the stadium I was in a state of near-perfect contentment, a day in London well spent. For those interested, the Wikipedia article on Craven Cottage has a nice aerial photo, which puts the stadium’s unique location in perspective for the unfamiliar (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Craven_Cottage_).

 

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