Transfer gossip? There’s far better fiction available…

Date published: Monday 22nd January 2018 9:41

This week, I want to talk about something that you’re very interested in. Actually chances are, you’re really bloody obsessed with it.

What is it?

Transfer gossip.

Ah yes, where would we be without transfer gossip? Even if there isn’t actually any news at all, the press is happy to pluck any comment from a player, drum it up to have a significance and meaning that was never meant, throw in some creative thinking and hey presto, you’ve got yourself a transfer rumour. Yay!

That, or they just make some sh*t up.

The clues are in words like Player X ‘hints’ at move to club Y. Or in that horrible use of rhetorical questions such as ‘Has player X told fans he’s going to Barca?’ which is just deceit. Nothing is left unexploited, twisted or fabricated in this febrile attempt to garner clicks and paper sales. If a player’s wife is spotted shopping in a different city to her husband’s club, that’s enough to ‘spark’ a transfer ‘rumour’.

Managers are harangued daily by the press pack into discussing transfers and their words distorted to manufacture a story, just to fill a gossip page, just to feed the beast that is transfer news lust for a few more minutes.

This all because it attracts readership and clicks. So, in a way, it is the fans’ fault that we have this ridiculous culture of mealy-mouthed words, half-truths and speculation passed off as actual news, when really it’s just a form of storytelling. Do fans just want to read anything? Or do they want to read facts? Increasingly, it seems like the former. Because if we didn’t eat it up with a large spoon then presumably it wouldn’t exist. But here at F365 we know that the biggest ever visitor numbers in our 20-year history were during the summer, driven by reporting transfer gossip from elsewhere.

When I was told this, I was fascinated, because it hadn’t occurred to me that could possibly be the case, largely because personally I’m only ever interested in a player that has signed for my club, much less players rumoured to be thinking about perhaps maybe some time never being signed. And when I look at the rumours and gossip, I know the vast majority of it will never come to pass, so I just ignore it. It feels like a waste of time. But clearly, not for the first time, I’m out of step with the modern trend.

So what is it that is so fascinating about transfer gossip that drives people to check the news several times a day? We didn’t used to be so obsessed with transfers. Rather, we were all interested in a new player and how they might fit in. But you didn’t buy the paper every day in hope of some crumb of a rumour about a player who may or may not be interested in coming to your club. Rather, we’d be more excited about players promoted from the reserves or youth teams. That was more traditionally where our hopes and dream lay. Not in a £100million signing.

Several factors seem to have combined to create this modern media obsession with transfer blether.

Firstly, the transfer window. Introduced in 2002/03 it has effectively hot-housed transfer speculation and gossip, cramming it down two narrow tunnels each year, fermenting it into a foaming, frothy brew. As the clock ticks down, the drama of a will-he-won’t-he saga intensifies and turns some deals into soap operas for both selling and buying club. We’ve seen this with the Alexis Sanchez bore-a-thon, which surely everyone is sick of. And there’s always at least one like that every window. The Sanchez-type deals are one of the reasons I avoid transfer news. They’re so very, very tedious and elongated. If Sanchez was being transferred to the moon via a massive cannon, dressed as Batman and with a carrot up his arse, to be the first lunar footballer, I really couldn’t care less. If he was being paid a billion pounds per second, I still wouldn’t click. Why would you? Like clicking on the Sunday Times rich list, it just makes you burn with anger and injustice. Better to not hurt your brain.

Secondly, there are just more transfers and loans than there ever used to be. Players move around much more. In the 1970s Middlesbrough FC made just 20 transfers. In 2017/18 we’ve already brought in 15, including loans returning.

From 1970-1980 in 10 seasons, Manchester United brought in 33 players, either on loan, free or by transfer fee. Since 2007/08, they have brought it 167, including loan returnees. Even excluding those, they’ve brought in 51. So the volume of player movement at the top level is so much higher than it ever has been. That means there’s just more information to disseminate, more potential plot lines in the season’s story.

Third, and most importantly, there has been a commodification of players that has gone hand in hand with an ever more consumerist society, the culture of which is driven by an innate belief that what you buy says something about you, and even more importantly, buying stuff is the only way to bring you happiness and success. Players are just products. Buy a cheap one, and everyone is disappointed. The club will be said to ‘lack ambition’ because they’ve ‘only’ spent £15 million on a striker. Splash a lot and everyone is happy.

For all that this is a cold way to see a sport, and one which favours mammon over humanity, it is understandable when the connection between wad and winning is a concrete one made in most fans’ minds. Also the widespread popularity of football management games has further embedded this culture of buy-to-win and of transfers being all part of the drama and fun of the season.

Add in the fact that so many football fans live a life of oppressive drudgery on low wages, or no wages, with not many prospects and even less hope, who live a life where escapism is the only way to keep yourself sane, then the fantasy land, where a player costs more money than you and every single person you know will collectively earn in their entire life, is titillating and distracts you from the daily grind. The disgust at it is a commonality. The pish-taking a way of laughing your way through another grey day.

Obviously, before the internet, transfer rumours couldn’t be updated every other hour, the way they can today. In other words, the transfer fires can always be blazed, at any time of the day and pumped to a slavering public, via social media.

And yet if you support a club in the lower leagues, or in Scotland, all of this must seem like a distant and exotic magic money tree land of insanity.

I’m still puzzled why so many people waste so much time reading transfer gossip, but if it makes you happy, then fair enough. It’s just that there is a lot of better fiction available.

John Nicholson

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