Though football clubs making an effort to control which stories reach the public domain is nothing new, a clear trend in recent years has been an increasingly adversarial relationship between clubs and their local press. Rotherham United, Port Vale, Blackpool, Newcastle United, Southampton and Nottingham Forest have all introduced measures to restrict the access granted to local journalists ranging from refusal to grant interviews to outright bans.
Two weeks ago, Swindon Town took this attitude to its logical conclusion and announced that all mid-week, which in essence means pre match, press conferences will be scrapped next season. The club shall have no formal obligation to ensure there is pre-match access to a player or players. Instead the flow of news shall be restricted to Fanzai, a football app, the content of which shall be controlled by the club’s PR department.
Why does any of this matter? After all, the way in which fans ingest news about their football team has become ever more complex, usually composed of a mixture of newspapers, online outlets and social media accounts. Local newspapers we are told, like all newspapers, are an ever increasing irrelevance. Moreover, in the post-Leveson era the reputation of the Fourth Estate is at a fairly low ebb and it can be difficult to elicit support towards journalists of any description.
The relationship between the local press and a football club is nevertheless an important one. This is especially acute the further down the football pyramid you go, at clubs such as Swindon Town, where the nationals are only likely to appear should they draw a big name in a cup competition. Sir Alex Ferguson could ban whoever he wished without seriously affecting the news available to Manchester United fans due to the sheer scale of media interest in a club of that size.
The local press ought to fulfil two important roles, though they can often conflict with one and other. The first is help straddle the rut that has increasingly widened between clubs and their local communities. Recommended reading on this subject is David Goldblatt’s 2014 work The Game of Our Lives. Firstly this can be achieved by keeping the fans reliably informed on the bread and butter subjects that interest a fan about their team; transfers, team news, injuries etc. Where tension can exist though is the fact that local media ought to be a source of support for the club, helping to build up fervour before a big game for example, but also has a duty to hold the club and powerful figures within it to account.
This is generally the source of difficulty between clubs and their local press. A good example would be the Oyston family who own Blackpool. The local rag, The Blackpool Gazette, grew increasingly sympathetic to the array of fan groups who protested against Karl Oyston’s ‘stewardship’ of the club. Legitimate grievances ranged from his abusive and frequently prejudiced messages to certain fans as well as the way in which he and his family pocketed the proceeds of Blackpool lone Premier League season in 2010/11, after which the club has experienced serious financial difficulty. It had to start last season with a skeletal squad of players. As things stand nobody at the Gazette is allowed to speak to anybody at the club, that privilege is reserved to ‘local media partners’.
Sometimes, the way in which clubs use the media to mould the opinion of their fan base can be far more subtle. There are surely many people who are suspicious of the way in which Aston Villa, back in the Spring, promised fans that Christian Benteke would stay and signed Fabian Delph up on a new contract; just as season ticket renewals were up for sale. Villa fans won’t see either in claret and blue next season.
The desire to restrict news to press released by a club’s PR department is just another way in which modern day football can look increasingly ‘staged’ and ‘managed’. Club produced media can be a bit like hearing Katy Perry at ear splitting volume on a stadium PA system pre match. You have no option but to consume it, you’re a captive audience, but everybody knows it’s poor. True, club websites can be useful for things such as purchasing tickets or reading the full transcript of press conferences but most of the content is soft and favourable towards the club. You wouldn’t expect anything else. As players take it in turn to say what they and the team has ‘learnt’ after another avoidable defeat however, the platitudes and lip service can get a little frustrating.
As with many issues, social media is set to play an important role. There are those who would argue that social media has rendered traditional media forms redundant and that the range of information available on Twitter means that clubs will never be able to fully control the news. On the other hand there are those, myself among them, who argue that the echo chamber of Twitter with its assortment of ITK “in the know”s, ranters, and unashamed guessers, makes accurate reporting and insightful, well informed analysis all the more important.
What platforms such as Twitter create is a widespread democratisation of opinion, where everybody’s view is the equal of everybody else’s view. Initially this sounds like an attractive state of affairs, where individuals can publish content independent of the traditional network systems and hierarchies that constitute the ‘established’ media. However, it can also lead to a scenario where it can be difficult to see the wood for the trees, difficult to find the voices that carry the most weight and difficult to understand the matter at hand due to the ocean of content it provides.
This means that there is still a role for the football reporter or journalist in the traditional mould. The platforms may be changing, but the tenets of the job remain the same; to inform, investigate and hold the powerful to account when they are found to be acting in bad faith. Clubs who seek to cut out an essential part of the football fabric should be vehemently opposed by media types and fans alike. The welfare of both groups is at stake, and both would be greatly emasculated should clubs be allowed to control news content to the extent proposed by Swindon.[separator type=”thin”]
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Hadi Sacko’s Mali call-up says more about their national pool than Leeds form
The French youth international will now play for Mali.
Despite Leeds United’s poor recent form plenty of their first-team players have been called up to international duty this week.
Stuart Dallas, Eunan O’Kane and Pontus Jansson will all be playing for their respective nations in the upcoming week. Another player who has received a call-up to a national team is Hadi Sacko.
The 23-year-old winger has received his first call-up to the senior Mali side. It is a switch in allegiance for the wide-man. Sacko has previously featured for France, playing from under-16 level up to under-20.
Mali take on Japan in an upcoming friendly, who have incidentally dropped loaned out Leeds United midfielder Yosuke Ideguchi.
For Sacko it is a great opportunity to represent his country but for Leeds United fans the call-up was slightly baffling.
Whites fans will, of course, wish their player all the best with Les Aigles. Yet, it is something of a surprise to see him get such recognition.
Sacko’s form this season has not been impressive. Wasteful in possession and lacking an end product, he has struggled immensely in recent times.
Fans have consistently expressed their disappointment at his displays. In fairness, it has been that way for most of his Leeds spell. After initially joining from Bordeaux on loan, Leeds signed Sacko permanently last summer. But his’s tale at Leeds has been one of frustration and inconsistency.
The raw talent is clearly there. Fast, strong and skilfull Sacko has the ingredients to be a success. But it is turning those materials into something tangible which Sacko has struggled with. Garry Monk, Thomas Christiansen and Paul Heckingbottom have so far failed to make Sacko a credible threat.
Hopefully, Sacko can enjoy a debut with his nation next week. But his inclusion in the Mali squad says more for their pool of talent, then it does his current form at Leeds United.
Once a £1.5m Leeds United target, Anthony Limbombe receives Belgium call-up
The Belgian has been in fine form since joining Club Brugge.
Belgium have one of the most competitive national teams in the world at present. Therefore, making the squad is something of an impressive accolade.
That is certainly the case for Anthony Limbombe. The winger has received his first call-up for the Red Devils after an impressive campaign with Club Brugge.
It comes in the same month as the 23-year-old signed an extension to his deal with the Belgian side. So it is safe to say the Belgian is enjoying a good time at the moment.
Leeds United fans will certainly view the news with a massive hint of regret.
Back in 2015 Leeds had earmarked Limbombe as the man to improve their wide areas. The Yorkshire Evening Post reported that Leeds made a £1.5 million bid to bring the Belgian from NEC Nijmegen that summer.
Unfortunately for Leeds, the bid was rejected and they signed Jordan Botaka instead. The YEP reported that Leeds continued to monitor his progress that season, but Limbombe joined Brugge instead. Leeds brought in Hadi Sacko as an alternative.
Since then he has proved to be a revelation. Limbombe has played 27 times for Brugge this season. He has six goals and has been a phenom in the wide positions for Brugge.
Such form has seen his side run away with the Belgian Pro League, finishing the regular campaign 12 points clear of their nearest rivals Anderlecht.
Meanwhile, Botaka, who was signed instead, is currently struggling for form at Sint-Truiden. Sacko, who arrived a year later, has yet to establish himself at Elland Road.
Limbombe was a big target for Leeds but after missing out on his services it is unlikely the West Yorkshire club envisaged such a meteoric rise.
Now the 23-year-old will be rubbing shoulders with the likes of Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku. Perhaps a place in the World Cup squad is also in the offing for the wideman.
Leeds United will no doubt wish they had managed to bring in the player in 2015 or 2016.
As Tim Erlandsson joins Salford City on loan is his Nottingham Forest career over?
The Swedish stopper is out of contract at Nottingham Forest this summer.
Nottingham Forest goalkeeper Tim Erlandsson has found himself heading out on loan once again this week.
It has been confirmed that the Swedish stopper has made a move to join the Northern League side, famous for being part-owned by several former Manchester United players.
He arrives as the club’s current number one is heading away on international duty with New Zealand. Max Crocombe will be unavailable for two matches this month and Erlandsson will provide cover.
But does the Swede have a chance of making it at Forest in the long-run?
The 21-year-old joined Forest in 2014 from Halmstads in his homeland. The Swedish under-21 international looked a hot prospect when he arrived at the City Ground. However, it is looking increasingly likely that he will not be making it at Forest.
This season he spent time on loan at Swedish side AFC Eskilstuna. The newly promoted Allsvenskan side did not thrive in his command. They finished bottom of the Swedish league, conceding a grand total of 55 goals in 30 games.
For Erlandsson it was a brutal learning curve.
Now he is back at Forest but finds himself in a long queue of goalkeepers. Jordan Smith started the season as the club’s number one.
Forest, however, snapped up both Costel Pantilimon and Stefanos Kapino in January. If Pantilimon’s deal is made permanent in the summer, it would leave Erlandsson way down the pecking order at the City Ground.
With his contract expiring in the summer the Swedish star will not be short of offers come July. As an under-21 international, who also attended the Olympics with Sweden in the summer, his name will be on the radar for plenty of interested parties.
The move to Salford City may be the last big news regarding Erlandsson whilst he is still a Nottingham Forest owned player.
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