Issue #142 Untruth / Misinformation

As told by Michael Wood

If you are anything like me you probably spent a good deal of yesterday being lied to.

At 12:00 Phil Parkinson was due at a press conference where he would become Bolton Wanderers manager. He was late and the reason that was given by Bolton was that the new manager was stuck in traffic.

Of course he was not. Some two and a half hours later when Parkinson did take the the stage it was not the result of a traffic jam it was – as Bradford City’s official statement would later all but say – because the paperwork around the deal (which, lest we forget, is the deal and everything before is negotiation) had not been completed.

It is a white lie of course – stuck in traffic – and hardly anything to be especially upset about. Only it comes at the end of a week where where almost everything that seemed to come out of the Bolton Wanderers camp was – being kind – misinformation.

At the end of their negotiations with Parkinson the man himself would confirm that the club had made a contract through his agent some weeks ago. Once he had said that a lot of what had emerged out of Bolton in the last few weeks started to look like, at best, misinformation.

But one might be understanding to a need to not show one’s hand in negotiations was there really a need to lie about traffic conditions on the M62?

They have also told Parkinson that their debts are not what everyone says they are and that they will be able to sign players because their transfer embargo will be lifted soon. Very well, believe that too.

The Hunt

One should not single out Bolton Wanderers as especially egregious offender in this. They figure recently but are far from alone in seeing lying to football supporters – be they those who follow your club or not – a matter of course.

So much of the talk that comes out of football is colourful misinformation and most of this is considered to be fairly harmless. Teams overplay their chances, talk up their atmosphere, and do all those other things which sit comfortably on the side of “public relations” rather than lying.

And of course clubs deal in a marketplace where there is a negative result of allowing rivals to know you business dealings. This is obviously true in some cases. One recalls Bradford City flying Stephen Hunt from Ireland only to be told when he landed at Yeadon that Hunt had been contracted by, and would be signing for, Reading.

Even with the cover of secrecy that clubs protect their business dealings with Hunt was swiped away from City. It is impossible to say how many deals would be scuppered if there was no secrecy involved but then again it is also impossible to say how many would go along exactly as they do now.

All football club’s business dealings are treated as if secrecy is sacrosanct and the price of that secrecy is a practised dishonesty with supporters which I would suggest is unhealthy.

Unless one considers one’s self a consumer of a club’s football product then one probably sees immediately the problem that emerges when the community around a football club becomes used to the heart of that community habitually lying.

Look at any club forum on any discussion and there will be a theme running through that whatever the official line is, it is dishonest.

The football clubs that sit in the middle of our communities are thought of as having the ethics of politicians – and not the good ones – and for good reason. As the “stuck in traffic” suggests being dishonest with the community they are in is as natural as breathing for them.

Does it have to be this way?

Trouser

What would happen if a club decided that – as a core principal – that openness with the stakeholders in the community and transparency was the foremost concern.

In such a situation unless there was a critical reason to keep something secret it would be public. If a player wants to be paid £5,500 a week to play for the club then that would be known. If the club makes an offer for a player – in or out – then that would be known.

That someone might gazump a bid for a player is an obvious concern but players (and specifically player’s agents) are happy to tell our rivals who are interested that they had better make a move quick because money is on the table. At the moment what we have is not secret dealings, it is just secret from us.

Imagine if as soon as Bolton Wanderers made an approach for Parkinson, or Huddersfield Town made one for Nahki Wells, the information and amounts offered were available to all to read. Would the business of Bradford City have been significantly disadvantaged by this?

And while one could understand that a number of people would be upset by a searchlight being shined in all corners of a club’s business – George Graham would never have been able to trouser £425,000 in such a situation for example – the benefits could outweigh those concerns.

What those benefits are are, I’d suggest, that a fully informed community is better able to make judgements. Judgements on how the team should be performing, on how the business is performing, on almost every aspect of the club.

And better judgements make for a better community. #chairgate shows what a good community can be. If you are happy with, and see nothing other than, being a consumer of the Bradford City football product this will mean nothing to you.

History

That club’s are run with such secrecy comes from the origin as factory clubs owned by the bosses and watched working classes. When clubs moved to being privately owned the bosses became businessmen who held the same regard for the spectator as the paternal boss did for his employees. They were to be told what they needed to know and little more.

Now football clubs are part of an industry arm of capitalism they treasure secrecy as the source of a competitive advantage and Manchester United would no more reveal their plans any more than Apple would show you the next iPhone. In that they will leak it when it suits them.

Of course coming from the land of EV and 50%+1 this would be alien talk to Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp. With the exception of three German football clubs are owned by the members and while the expectation is not total transparency from elected boards down the level of openness that Rahic will have experienced at Stuttgart is probably unheard of in modern English football.

Ultimately this subject rests on how one likes to be addressed. Football club treat supporters like children to be protected from the bad, told only what is good for them, and expected to behave as they are instructed.

I do not have that constitution and that cuts against my grain.

This week has been a good week for Bolton Wanderers but – were a Trotters fan – I would not appreciate being spoken to in such a low tone of voice.