We name the country, year and club. You name the player who was the first from their country to appear in the Premier League...
Answers, answers everywhere...
Before you read any further, let us ask you this: are you biased? You probably are. We all are. Or rather, we favour one worldview over another. For example, we're biased in favour of vinyl records over downloads. We're not balanced or even-handed in this nor would we want to be. We're right and we know it and if you disagree, you're wrong. It might be unreasonable or unjustified but, sod it, we don't care. Vinyl rules and only soulless blank-eyed techno-drones think having music in digital form is superior.
This is what we believe, what we feel in our gut. However, if we had to write a dispassionate, reasoned, balanced article about the merits of downloading and vinyl, we'd try to see both viewpoints, the pros and cons of each side. This would probably be quite boring to read. It is, after all, only music storage, not the formula for curing cancer or fixing the perfect Old Fashioned, and the actual facts of the matter - records get scratched but have a richer tone than digital, the sleeves look nicer but take up a lot more space - hardly need much re-stating, because they tend towards the bleedin' obvious.
So all things considered, we'd probably rather write, and read, something unbalanced, well-argued and impassioned. In other words, biased. And, crucially, we'd probably like to read something that confirms our own views. Now that the internet and social media mean that everyone can have a go at expressing their opinions in public, well, that's entertainment, and there's plenty of it about.
There's a difference between reporting and comment, and what used to be a very solid, in some ways sacred, wall between the two has been worn paper-thin, or simply knocked down altogether in much modern journalism. And football writing has, as in many things with the media, been unknowingly in the vanguard of this change.
Because football is popular, simple to understand and a proven way of getting the common folk to part with their money, it has been given an enormous amount of space in the news agenda. When you think about the number of front pages and news headlines dedicated to 'Footballer wants more money' or 'Footballer says something silly', it actually boggles the brain. All those wars, economic meltdowns, scientific advances kept off the front by Ashley's wallet or Giggsy's winky or JT's underdeveloped sense of decorum.
This didn't especially matter, because football was essentially frivolous, it wasn't that big a deal for editorialising and selective reporting to hold sway. The red-top coverage of English football in the last 30 years must be surely the most unreasonable, biased body of work ever assembled outside Soviet era industrial production data and well illustrates the erosion between media providing the facts, and media providing the opinions. Opinions being a lot cheaper to come by than facts and much, much more plentiful, it seems unlikely that the situation will revert.
When consuming football media, some still get very upset that it is 'biased'. Time and again, we hear about the media being biased for or against a club or a player. These accusations are usually thrown around by aggrieved fans of the club, who are the least likely to be balanced and reasonable in their view. The irony of this is usually lost on the enraged fan who seems to believe he or she is the very model of open-minded discretion.
Indeed it seems to us that most so-called bias in the media is in reality merely not saying what the aforementioned blinkered and aggrieved fan considers to be the truth. Not having the same viewpoint as someone else isn't being biased, it's just having a different viewpoint. This is where the conflation of opinion with fact seems to occur. Firmly held opinions are expressed as though they are facts, and facts become merely another opinion.
In reality, the demand now is actually for opinion, and for people to have a place to express their opinion about that opinion. Facts still have their place, yes, but many people don't trust the facts. Why would they? They've already got an opinion. And anyways, the facts often get in the way of the truth, don't they?
So what is bias really? This is one definition:
Prejudice in favour of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.
This is only of limited help. The crucial word there is 'unfair' and 'unfair' is a vague and nebulous concept. Who says what is fair and what is unfair when it comes to football? Similarly, prejudice is a word thrown around carelessly. Favouring something or someone over something else might be said to be prejudice but we're not sure it is. Are we prejudiced in favour of vinyl records over digital downloads or do we just prefer them? In football, we enjoy watching Zlatan Ibrahimovic more than James Milner - does that mean we're biased against Jimmy Cheekbones?
Does it matter if we are biased then? Probably only if you disagree.
Here at F365 from time to time we are accused of having a 'typical London media bias' by people who don't realise this football media powerhouse is based in Leeds and is staffed by thick-set ex-mineworkers from Castleford who smell of baccy, beef dripping and animal hunger. And you should see the men. This critique usually happens when it is perceived we have been beastly to a northern club in favour of a southern one. All examples when this is not the case are ignored by such critics and the one example which fits their paranoia is cited as proof. It's okay, we don't cry for long.
It's often assumed all football media is London-based and of course, much of it is. The BBC felt it was so London-centric that it forced some of its staff kicking and screaming up to the elysian fields of Manchester with instructions to stop being southern pooves.
But this London concentration doesn't seem to us to necessarily lead to biased reporting per se, but rather to blinkered reporting. London is such an all-consuming experience that those living and working there sometimes forget that any life (let alone any cultured, sophisticated life) could exist outside of its grubby, over-priced environs.
Indeed, one of us, the one who lives the carefree existence of a naked boy running in the woods, was once talking to someone from a national newspaper while promoting a book and the interviewer assumed he lived in London and not just in London but in a specific area of the capital. It wasn't even in doubt. A writer talking to the media, you must live in Camden mustn't you? No. And hey, I don't want to. No really. I don't.
But even this wasn't deliberate bias as such, it was just cultural narrowness.
So in conclusion, if you're reading something, it's probably biased. But regardless of that fact, you probably won't mind too much as long as it rubs your rhubarb. Mind you, we would say that: we're biased.
John Nicholson and Alan Tyers
Read Johnny's book, 'The Meat Fix' here
Alan's football and cricket books are all in one place here