Aside from perhaps in the physical and visceral sense, football has a problem articulating itself. 99% of managers, players, people running clubs, and them lot running the whole thing, talk without saying anything 99% of the time. That’s how they prefer it. The less actually said the better. The contractual obligation to talk about football is merely an obstacle eating into the time set aside for the doing of the football, which they navigate with non-words, retrograde lip-service, stock sentences, tired rhetoric, and GCSE misdirection, labouring under the misapprehension that ‘media training’ refers to an improvement in communications, when what in fact it appears to refer to is a process whereby the brain is removed and replaced by a house brick (incidentally an object that they would prefer to take and use to caress their gluteal fold). But that’s not to say football is entirely to blame.
Football has no pre-ordained narrative although – as I’ve written before – we often think of a season as having a narrative retrospectively (and talk about it in narrative terms), in order to help piece it together, make sense of it and consign it to memory. We categorise points which were crucial, the events which conspired to create outcomes we weren’t anticipating, and so on. However, as there’s no such thing as fate, football narratives are created in real time, as they are in real life. They’re real things happening to real people, or at least that’s how it might be if the media weren’t complicit in its narrative creation.
It’s left to the journalists, writers, commenters and ‘the general media’ to give football its meaning; it’s allegories and narrative. It’s their job to do this, and to this end it’s understandably in their best interest to manipulate it, where possible, to supply the demands of their audience. So, the media feeds managers and players very narrow questions, with very narrow answers. Not satisfied with this alone, they speculate between the lines, meddle with the context, or just make stuff up. Football is hyper-aware of this: the press’ attempts to trip them up, to make them say something … anything, which results in an impasse. Then, when football thinks it should be saying something, it’s so entrenched in the not saying anything, that it usually comes out wrong. However, it would be remiss to suggest that it’s this alone where the break down in genuine communication is manifest.
Another reason football has a problem expressing itself is that it has an unhealthy sense of dressing room loyalty, which only serves to further stymie real communication. This has its roots in the unwritten codes of in-housism – at club level and within the football fraternity at large – in turn fed by a ‘what-goes-on-tour-stays-on-tour’ stag-do mentality, which facilitates the harbouring of all kinds of wrongdoers, from rapists to racists, and affords the likes of Andy Gray a career. One way we could perhaps effectively shift away from this current situation would be through the introduction of a more measured, authentic exchange of thoughts and feelings through the careful consideration of the opinions of individuals: through something often referred to in real life as conversation.
Pre and post-match press conferences would become pre and post-match press conversations, where the respective managers and appropriate representatives from the playing staff (and matchday officials) ask each other questions, talk to each other, and in some way take ownership of the narrative. Thus affording players and managers and the other lot something nearer to the autonomy they should be entitled to when attempting to explain away and justify their version of events, relative to their clubs and their own careers.
Though perhaps Football would still try and get away with saying very little and The Media would still try and get away with murder. Shame.
*Brett donated his fee to the ‘Mute Moyes Foundation’.