Evans is the Football Editor of the Times of London newspaper, and he oversaw and approved the initial story on the Dream Football League, which closely mirrored down to the image a satirical story that appeared at 1:00 AM on Tuesday morning on a French magazine site, Cahiers du Football.
I called him this morning for comment, and he was forthright with me. He maintains his faith in the piece despite the fact it has not been reported since some of the “hoax” stories appeared on most major UK dailies soon after it was published on Wednesday. Evans reiterated that he believed the work Kay did was “of the highest standard.” He said the paper is “fiercely proud” of its reputation as an honest news source, and that he has, in the past, laid off at least one reporter for taking news from a website.
— Ian Prior (@ianprior) March 15, 2013
When I asked him about the fact it had emerged that Rob Beal—who claimed to be a source on the story—was a person who, it has since emerged, has an alleged history of misleading both editors, journalists and writers in the football world over a number of different matters, and that he was according to several credible witnesses I spoke to not the “Middle East” connected Paris-based media expert he claimed but a man who lives in Sheffield with his parents, Evans responded there are “countless” shady characters in football who have their own agendas.
He didn’t name specific sources on the story but he did mention that there was not a single source, that Kay “spoke to several high up chief executives” from major football clubs in England several weeks ago when Kay purportedly began work on the exclusive. They apparently confirmed the primary details of Kay’s account, including the 175 million pound asking price (Man Utd told me this morning “We were contacted by The Times on Tuesday afternoon and responded by telling them that their call was the first we had heard of it and that the Club fully supports the existing competition structure in club football” (italics mine)).
When I asked if the public is right to be skeptical considering all that emerged since, including the fact that the story with all its details and, as the CdF authors claim, a photo-shopped image, appeared on Les Cahiers du Football as a clearly satirical post 24 hours before the story was published, Evans mentioned the possibility of some sort of “subterfuge.” He didn’t elaborate.
When I asked why none of the major UK papers followed up the story with various football clubs to see if they were also approached with this proposal, he said “reporters don’t like to check up on each other’s work.” But then when I put it to him that none had printed anything on the story since Wednesday except for the “hoax coincidences”, despite it being a major international news story, he mentioned the cut-throat business of football media reporting in the UK, and that journalists would be happy to see Kay lose his credibility (which is completely different from what I’ve heard—the vast majority of journalists I’ve spoken with think the highest of Kay as one of the best in his business).
Finally, he said he said the reporting was strong “…despite the involvement of Beal.” Italics mine. So we can infer Beal was at least one source on the DFL report. Evans reiterated his belief we would know more about this story soon, and when the truth emerges it’s real, there will be a giant “I-told-you-so.”
Let’s say the DFL is real, and the pertinent facts as reported by the Times on Wednesday are correct. Let’s assume that despite the fact one of the sources on the story has a history of alleged false dealings with several leading football journalists doesn’t matter. Let’s assume Evans is correct and various clubs confirmed details on this plan “weeks ago.”
Ask yourself: Does this plan make any sense whatsoever?
Why would a future World Cup host risk their working relationship with UEFA/FIFA with such an elaborate plan, backed, as the Times reported, “by the Qatari royal family”?
If, as the Times piece first stated, the plan was to be revealed this summer, why would the Qatar FA risk enormous embarrassment and strenuously deny any such plan? Why would the Qatari royal family spend just under three billion pounds (175 million per 16 clubs) to undercut FIFA seven years before the World Cup and threaten the World Cup itself?
Does Qatar even have the footballing infrastructure yet in place to host an enormous 24 team tournament in the summertime? Why agree to a plan that would only increase their workload and debt ahead of hosting one of the most challenging World Cups in football history? Do they have the coordination and the backing of neighbouring countries to host games? Are the stadiums even air-conditioned, which was the major concern ahead of the 2022 World Cup in the summer?
What gain would Manchester United have in denying they were approached on this story by the Times before Tuesday?
Why has no other reporter since revealed that top club chief executives have, off the record, indeed confirmed this plan is real?
And the last, most important question: if, considering the patent, obvious absurdity of the above, and if Kay really was working on this story for weeks: why did he not ask these questions himself before sending the article off for publication?
Ask yourself these questions, consider the facts, and then you see what I see…the Times needs to confess. There is no story. There is no DFL. A good reporter made a mistake.