The silly season used to be June and July. The sun was out and when there wasn’t a major tournament taking place, cricket and tennis would have get half a look in on the back pages, and some rather outrageous transfer rumours would be needed to fill up Britain’s diet for football coverage. With the advent of the transfer window and ‘deadline day,’ the insatiable need for speculation has not just crept into August, it dominates it.
It might be harsh to blame Sky Sports for this phenomenon but they did create the mad money swirling around the professional game and put Jim White on their news channel hyping up the ‘slamming shut’ of the window to a ridiculous degree. The introduction of ‘Sky sources’ to the footballing lexicon is symptomatic of what has changed over the last couple of decades. It seems a Sky source ranges from a guy looking for a moment of fame on Twitter, an actual football insider or someone sat in the office in Isleworth who has read a report in another publication. For all we know, it could be one of those blokes who waved a dildo behind one of their helpless reporters outside a ground the other year.
Many moons ago I trained as a journalist. I learnt from some of the best in the business, who were generous enough to give a naïve young lad their time, about cultivating contacts and my NUJ courses left me in no doubt about the value of a well-sourced account. You weren’t to run something without it being double-sourced and allowing the subject of the report an opportunity to comment. My first boss told me too many young journalists are seduced by the exclusive and that it was ‘better to sure than first’. Woe betide the hack who burned a source in search of a breakthrough story. It seems sadly that the time-honoured traditions of journalism are set aside now in the race for something new.
Like many Fulham fans, my attention was drawn to a Sky Sports News report yesterday that suggested Slavisa Jokanovic was ‘frustrated’ by the lack of progress in the transfer window. On the face of it, there was nothing unusual about that as the Fulham head coach has been quite open in saying that he wants reinforcements before the end of the month to help sustain the club’s encouraging start. However, the accompanying report which appeared both on the Sky Sports website and local site West London Sport, was thin to say the least.
It implied that Mike Rigg, Fulham’s chief football officer who has had a much lower profile since Jokanovic arrived at Craven Cottage, had total control over transfers. The truth is somewhat more complicated than that with several club scouts and Rigg putting suggestions to Jokanovic before the head coach decides on who he wants. Supposed tensions over the role which analytics plays in this process have been speculated at in other papers but this didn’t appear in the piece authored by Lyall Thomas. Of course, there were no quotes or facts to stand up the story and frustrated had quotation marks wrapped around it, but there was no indication who had said it. It could have been someone in the Sky tea room.
Worse than idle speculation – for that’s what Sky Sports News thrives on, of course – were the glaring factual errors. The report cited that Fulham had signed nine players but included Shaun Maloney among them. This surprised me because I hadn’t seen Maloney mentioned so I checked the Fulham website, which only announces deals when they are done. Nothing. It is possible he had already found his way into Larnell Cole’s cupboard, I suppose. But no, Maloney remains at Hull City – and it turned out the journalist had confused the Scottish international winger with Scott Malone, an English left back we’d signed (and played twice) from Cardiff City. Close enough, I guess.
There was also the inference that Jokanovic was annoyed not to have completed a deal for Eddy Silvestre. The telepathy must have been strong with this one as the Serbian told the assembled press pack at his last press conference that he preferred not to talk in public about players contracted to other clubs. What’s more, apparently Silvestre had signed for Cordoba and Jokanovic was frustrated to have missed out. A quick Google or consulting somewhere like Transfermarkt would have told Lyall that the man in question had been on loan at Cordoba for part of last season, returned to Murcia and hadn’t gone anywhere else yet this summer. Whilst Malone has been correctly identified now, this error remains gloriously on the Sky Sports website.
Of course, if either Sky Sports or West London Sport had a sub-editor or someone to glance over the copy before they went to air or pressed publish, the ignominy of these mistakes would have been avoided. But such quality assurance checks seems to have gone the way of the dodo in the scramble to ‘break’ some new news. Or, in this case, something that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny but staggers around like a bemused drunk at closing time before falling pathetically to the floor. Not to worry, it’s little old Fulham, so near enough is good enough. It is a shame, though, that football journalism that brought you the likes of Brian Glanville, David Lacey, Peter Jones – and more recently the likes of Sam Wallace, Henry Winter and, yes, the sadly missed Danny Fullbrook – all of whom spoke with knowledge and authority – has slumped to this sorry state in the name of instant headlines.