Man United fans: Stop clicking, stop buying, stop reading

Date published: Monday 3rd September 2018 8:13 - Matthew Stead

If you’re a Manchester United fan, please don’t read this. It’s about Manchester United.

If you’re a United fan, for the love of god, please stop reading news stories about your club. Please stop clicking on any articles about United, please stop commenting on them. Please just ignore everything on the internet and on the newsstands, because the fact you don’t or won’t is driving the rest of us absolutely crazy and is helping to debase the whole of football media. You’re not alone in this – it applies to other clubs with huge followings too –  but you’re the biggest and thus the most egregious culprits.

Don’t believe me? At least six back pages of the Sunday papers had United-based headlines mostly about Mourinho, Woodwood or Pogba. Or all three. It’s ridiculous. You can never get away from the next United story, no matter how dull, trivial or watery. Obviously I’m aware of the irony of this piece being about United and thus getting a lot more readers than if I wrote it about pretty much any other club, other than maybe Liverpool and Arsenal, but it needs saying all the same.

The sheer volume of United fans virtually ensures that most other clubs, issues and viewpoints get much less coverage, simply because they do not attract as much traffic. And when websites rely on that traffic to sell advertising, because readers will not pay subscriptions, then it is inevitable that United will feature more and more, to the detriment of everything and everyone else. It is narrowing mainstream football journalism in both subject matter and quality.

Thank god Manchester United beat Burnley on Sunday because maybe it’ll put something of a brake on the tedious United or Pogba or Mourinho-in-crisis narrative that the papers had been writing for weeks. Is there anything worse than such a media feeding frenzy? You could feel them all waiting for them to get beaten at Burnley to keep it going over the international week. Now they’ve been deprived of that pleasure. Not that it’ll stop them for long. They’re bound to dig up some innocuous thing someone has said in the international break and reshape it into a ‘shocking’ story.

I often wonder if the journalists tasked with keeping such stories alive by drumming up any old crap out of press conferences, merely to fill space, get any sort of pleasure from it. Quantity is everything, quality is irrelevant, so your only job is to puke some more up and puke it up now.

A story, confected or otherwise about Manchester United, isn’t just reported, it is feasted upon until the bones are stripped bare, desiccated and turned to dust by a section of the media which is so voracious in its appetite because there is much space to fill and not enough actual news or stories to fill it. So they’d rather go for thin gruel about United than prime steak about anything with much less of a following.

Even when the story has evaporated they will still desperately try and keep it going by twisting someone’s words to make a non-story into a story, or even more stunningly pathetically they just state banal facts of the ‘footballer at crisis club “caught” smiling/eating/walking’ variety. There often appears to be no quality control at all. If there was, still using ‘The Special One’ as a misquote 14 years after he originally said ‘a special one’ would always have a red line through it; it doesn’t. Regurgitation of cliches is as valid, or as useful, or as good at filling space as anything original and articulate but quicker to come up with. So it’s in. It’s always in. It’s dumb. It’s threadbare. It’s redundant. It’s boring. It’s wrong. But it’s still in. Every. Sodding. Day. That’s how little anyone cares about what they’re pumping out.

Because United have such a massive following and to print or post anything about the club is to guarantee bigger numbers, editorial vision and integrity has often been sacrificed for even more clicks. And you can see why. If you run five stories about United it will attract way more traffic than one each about Southampton, Watford, Everton, West Brom and Cardiff. This means we all learn less, know less and are more bored.

When you’ve got a manager droning on and on about himself, trying to win battles that no-one is fighting with him, to the interest of himself but few others outside the club, and in doing so feeding the ever-hungry open mouths of the press, it simply ends up choking the media like a fatberg in a sewer.

Mourinho knows that the employees of these sports vomitoriums will print anything he says. If he sat there reading out the ingredients of a Pot Noodle, they’d spin it into a story. It often seems to me that he’s taking the mickey out of them for being prepared to report literally anything to help fill space. I doubt there’s anything he could say as the manager of Manchester United that would not be reported and that’s frankly ludicrous.

But here’s the thing. It’s easy to loathe those elements of our press that are so in thrall to the bullshit-o-rama culture, albeit at the behest of owners or shareholders. It’s easy to loathe those who perpetuate Mourinho’s every utterance being lapped up, every United player’s life treated as a source of entertainment. It’s easy to loathe United players’ girlfriends or wives being treated as though their only worth is as an attractive appendage to the footballer and are thus public property to be drooled over.

It’s easy to loathe and be disgusted at the existence of all this garbage but the uncomfortable fact is this: it sells. It only exists because lots of people click on it and buy it. If they didn’t, it wouldn’t. When it’s about the world’s biggest club with a huge fan base, it gets massive attention. So really, it’s not their fault: it’s yours. It’s fans and anyone else who clicks on this stuff or buys a paper printing it. It’s all your fault. You are endorsing this, you are perpetuating it, you are to blame for its existence.

So if you’re a fan of United, or indeed any other club with a huge fanbase, you need to wean yourself off this garbage. You have a responsibility, as part of a huge section of the audience that is being sold into, to change the culture of football media away from one that is so focused on your club, to something more cosmopolitan, less crass, less stupid. You don’t need to know anything more about the crud that falls from your manager’s mouth, do you? You don’t need to know anything more about Paul Pogba, do you? No you don’t.

So spend your time on something else. You’ll feel better for it and you might change the very nature of football media in the process. It’s time all of us as consumers of football media realised that what we buy and what we click on matters. It has consequence. We have the power to change things for the better and we should. Or are you telling me how things are now is how you want it to be? If so, I don’t believe you.

John Nicholson


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