Biased? Of course we are. Who isn’t?

Date published: Monday 18th April 2016 9:58

Look, when it comes to football, I’m totally biased.

There, I’ve said it. You knew it all along, didn’t you? Yeah. You always knew it. It was obvious. And you know what? So are you.

Every week, in every football season, you will hear the words ‘bias’ or ‘biased’ thrown around a lot. It’s ridiculous.

Decisions go against your side because the referee is biased. Commentators, pundits and writers, such as we lithesome beauties at F365, are all biased against your club. We don’t like who you like. We don’t rate who you rate. We seem to be picking on your club all the time and never giving them credit for anything. Of course we are. We conspire and plan our bias meticulously in order to offend as many people as possible, all at the same time. Didn’t you know? We have a spreadsheet to plan it all.

Ahem, obviously, this is not true (or is it?). However, we are not neutral. None of us are. We form opinions via our various brain chemistry, upbringing, learning and cultural leanings. This is more usually called Being Human.

We are not here to give an equal viewpoint to every issue, incident or idea, not least because every column would be 10,000 words long and very tedious. It is not pure documentary that we are involved in here. This is not a court of law establishing facts to prosecute a crime. But this never stops people accusing us of bias, often furiously so, like it’s a terrible sin.

In fact, in football, the only people who are not biased are the fans, or at least according to the fans themselves. We might be accused of being biased against Manchester United or Liverpool, but only by Manchester United and Liverpool fans. Strange how those accusing others of bias always see themselves as the innocent, fair ones. And that’s obviously because they’re biased. See, it’s all your fault.

What does bias actually mean? Turning to the dictionary tells me that it is ‘inclination or prejudice for or against one person or group, especially in a way considered to be unfair’.

Now, I can see how that might apply to governmental attitudes to the north-east of England, but without unfair inclination to prejudice, for or against anything, football wouldn’t even exist, because being a fan largely involves prejudice for or against things. Imagine a crowd who take an even-handed, rational stance on every decision? To be a fan is to be biased.

We’re all inclined to be prejudiced in favour of our team over and above any other team. We all take against and for a side for various reasons. We all favour one player over another. Some love a player, others loathe them. And it is usually, by any measure taken outside of the culture of football, unfair. It’s often a gut feeling about the individual. But these are made every minute football is being played or discussed.

As football writers, class 101 is that you will be accused of being biased every day of the week, as though it is a sin and a betrayal of the art of writing. Even if we accept that our opinions are biased, in that they are irrationally prejudiced against a player, manager or team (and I know I sometimes am) I’m not sure who said we couldn’t be. Is that rule written down somewhere?

I am neither expected, nor required to be even-handed and, even if I was, there are so few facts about a game of football and so much individual perception, a unanimity of view is almost impossible about almost anything up to and including whether the ball is round.

What far too many critics do is to mistake an opinion which contradicts their own for terrible bias, while one which agrees with them is wisdom. Similarly with refereeing decisions. For you, fair, against you, biased.

Bias shouters in football belong to the conspiracy theory nut’s world view, where even the lack of proof of the conspiracy is proof there’s been a conspiracy to hide the fact the conspiracy exists. You are very soon through the looking glass once you jump down that rabbit hole. My friend who worked for a Scottish tabloid newspaper told me how fans of Rangers and Celtic would ring up the paper and complain it was biased against their side. Why? Because they’d counted the amount of words devoted to their club and it was less than the other team on that day. That’s where bias obsession leads you.

The fury that supposed bias invokes in football is a dead end. Let it go. Things go for you and against you, people say and do stuff that you disagree with, or agree with. This is the nature of the sport we love. It is endlessly impressionistic and open to interpretation via your own perspective. It is not, thank God, easily de-constructed into absolute objective truths and lies, even if a generation of fans raised on statistical analysis and computer games might expect it to be.

But hey, you shouldn’t trust me, because just like you, I’m really bloody biased.

John Nicholson

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