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The Lead

One of my favourite football journalists is Brian Quarstad, who wrote for a blog called—rather excitingly—Inside Minnesota Soccer until December 2012.

Among US soccer writers and journalists, Quarstad had no major media organization backing him, no professional connections, no “intermediaries.” He was, I once wrote, a guy who just picked up the phone and dialed. MLS, the USSF, whomever. He knew things going on at the highest levels, and his influence online grew from there. He understood more than most that we are football journalists now, and not in the caustic, nihilistic terms laid out by Barney Ronay on the Guardian a few weeks ago. Quarstad was never angry nor particularly opinionated—he just wanted to know what was going on.

Today (or late yesterday) the Times of London issued a retraction of the story Oliver Kay originally published on Wednesday last week on the Dream Football League. The retraction, written by Tony Evans, is available online behind the paywall sadly at the Times website here, although if you have no moral compunction, you can read it in full here. I’m certainly not the reason this happened—the good work of many people—Andrew Gibney, Nick Harris, Christophe Kuchly, Jérôme Latta, Raphaël Cosmidis and many others who cannot be named—all helped set the record straight. I was just pushed in the right direction.

By now though this is already old news. And who cares? It’s just football, right? And that’s certainly true in relative terms. But what would the consequences be had this story stood unchallenged, as published?

Serious questions over Qatar’s 2022 bid process would have been clouded with a panic-driven non-story. A brilliant French soccer magazine would be tainted by suspicion they were part of some absurd plot to undermine the Times of London for some reason. And—most important—a serial fraudster would have been allowed to dupe more journalists and threaten more good people with violence when confronted.

All of this because it’s not the Sun, it’s the Times. The author was not some low-level hack, it was Ollie Kay. Even with the CdF story revealed as it was, the idea of the DFL would have maintained the veneer of truth. That would have had consequences well-beyond football, particularly if one comes to grips with the nature of Rob Beal (see Cahiers du Football’s excellent portrait of the man: I’ll be hopefully adding a little to it later this morning).

Some, predictably, are using this morning’s retraction to bash the profession. And to that end, there are several elements here that must be highlighted.

There was the dismissive arrogance of some of the Times‘ staff when Kay’s story was called into question. There was the failure for Evans to apologize to the CdF in the retraction (Kay though did include a gracious apology on his Facebook page). There was the failure of the Times to address the frankly appalling “follow up story” to the original DFL exclusive which was, on the evidence I’ve gathered so far, based on fantasy. There were now-obvious lapses of editorial and journalistic judgment in rushing the story to print. There was the rather unfortunate behaviour of a very small group of journalists in the aftermath of the retraction. And, perhaps most damaging, there was the fact that Beal was not reported or at least the subject of a friendly warning to others long before March 11th (although with the number of fraudsters in the game, that may have been an impossibly tall order).

But as with all things in life, it’s rather more complicated than that. There’s the duplicitous and dangerous nature of Rob Beal, who managed to find the perfect amount of truthiness gained from cozy-ing up to to just the right journalists, players, scouts, whomever, to stir in to his bullshit. There’s the intractable nature of football journalism in the UK, with pressure for exclusives, a limited number of reliable sources, and way more major dailies for a sport of football’s size, which allows for hucksters and scammers to take better advantage (the Times is almost certainly not the only major reporter to be duped by Beal…more on that in the days ahead). After all, Beal is not the first fraudster to wreak havoc in football—see Kenny Huang, Masal Bugduv. Large, foreign bids for clubs that never materialize and are never heard of again. There is much beyond this story to be cynical about in European sports journalism.

Yet it also needs noting that since Wednesday, many major UK football journalists—almost all of whom were unanimous in their praise of Kay—freely gave me information that helped us to get to this point. They had no obligation in doing so other than the desire to see the truth emerge. At no point was I the subject of abuse. At no point was I dissuaded from looking into what happened with the Times story, no matter what I and others might dig up. And Kay himself, who must now carry this mistake with him for the rest of his career, has in the early stages of this been as gracious as anyone could be in these circumstances.

If Ronay’s right and we’re all football journalists now, it stands to reason there are good uns, and bad uns, and good uns that make mistakes under both poor judgment and manipulation from a deceptive third party. And while I’m not going to call myself a journalist, all those, amateur or not, who worked to stop Beal and get the Times to set the record straight—even imperfectly—are reason to enough to keep the faith in the profession.


Police to investigate coin-throwing incident by West Ham fans.

McManaman’s high tackle to be reviewed by FA, may face ban.

First Tevez and now Richards could also face driving ban.


Marchisio says Juve doesn’t fear Bayern.

Totti wants to become Serie A’s all-time leading goalscorer.

La Liga

Jordi Roura dismisses rumours of rift between Villa and Messi.

Barca’s Adriano sidelined for six weeks.


Bittencourt insists he wants to stay at Dortmund despite very little first-team football.

Bit and Bobs

Former footballer goes from riches to rags.

Sneijder spots Mourinho in the stands and waves at his former coach.

Greek player banned for life after Nazi salute.

Thanks to Alima Hotakie for compiling today’s links.

Comments (18)

  1. Thanks a lot for all your articles. It was refreshing to see someone trying to actually show the facts as opposed to the tactics of obscurity still used by the Times “journalists” (who as they say themselves are “wrong, but nice”).

    They are still obnoxious by not apologizing to Cahiers du Football directly.

  2. I’d give anything for Roma to be good and Totti to get a real shot at a Champions League medal. He deserves so much..

  3. Good job on not letting the story die, Richard. You must feel vindicated or proud or some mix of positive emotions I hope to feel in life one day.

  4. I don’t understand why both writer and editor should not be fired. Gross incompetence, followed by stonewalling are firing offenses out here in the real world – why not in journalism, as well. And please don’t blame Beal – he’s irrelevant. A single source for a story like this? Grotesque. And the calls to the teams were not ‘sources’ – they didn’t provide any information to him. He told them things, and they shrugged their shoulders. That is not verification.

  5. We all get it. You have the most integrity of any journalist ever to write anything down. Here’s an idea, how about writing stories about football(soccer). If you’d like to constantly drone on about what a great journalist you are, or whats wrong with all the other journalists in the football world, go write for some opinion piece in a newspaper sports fans wouldn’t be inclined to read.

    Bring back KJ and the guys who posted interesting blogs about the game itself that footie fans actually wanted to read.

    • KJ and the boys are still around, you just have to look harder 4231 e.g.

      anywho, the material here is a bit beyond the who won/who lost/who is shaggin a mates WAG and it’s refreshing. I still miss the lack of MLS morning links but hey, I have the googles to get through it. (psst….just wish it was here anyway……)

      there are serious consequences to both footy and real journalism because of this action. Letting it die would be as big a travesty. Try to understand the impact of it all and you might be able to see beyond what you think is chest thumping displays of superiority and figure out what it is.

  6. Unfortunate that you don’t appreciate investigative and primary source journalism. Enjoy it while you can because it doesn’t come by very often.

  7. This type of reporting is very much appreciated in pretty much any other forum. As a long time reader of the footie blog/counter attack. I was commenting on how poor this blog has become filled with stories about journalists and others who write football stories. Readers do not care about journo’s. We want stories about the players, the games, the different leagues, the tactics, the results from the past weekend, Toronto FC even(I realize the blog still carries a degree of this type of story). The blog should go back to being a great read on footie stories. Truthfully, this blog used to be the first thing I read in the morning and helped with many a boring day at the office. If I wanted to listen to RW’s opinions I would follow him on twitter.

    • You speak for yourself and no one else. There is no “we” group you are representing and there is no “footiefans” group who agree on every issue, so stop pretending to be a spokesperson for all of us.

    • Other people write this site, usually on football. Also, I broke a major story that led the Times of London to issue a retraction. Sorry?

    • …you do realize that this blog’s coverage helped to expose this cheat and also played a role in the London Times to admit they were duped.

    • How is this not a footy story? If you don’t understand the implications of this, which clearly you don’t, than I doubt I’m going to be able to change your opinion, but this was an extremely important football story.

      If it had been true, consider the implications:
      1. A new major club football tournament to challenge the top leagues and Champions Leauge. If the top teams are making enough in the DFL would they still compete in the Champions League?
      2. If it was unsactioned by FIFA or UEFA, what would happen to the standing of team/players who did participate in the DFL?
      3. What are the connections to the DFL and Qattari bid for the WC?

      If the story had gone unchallenged:
      1. How could you trust anything you read about football? Transfer news, club purchase news, anything about ownership, management or the larger picture etc.

      Anyone can write their opinion about how they thought Arsenal played on the weekend. It takes real journalism to get at the truth of what is happening in the world of football.

      Well done, Richard.

  8. More domestic football please!

  9. Well done to the people at the Times for apologizing. I’d have liked to have seen them be slightly more humble and open earlier (ie. before things became hot-ish for them) but that’s an aside and the important thing is they’ve done it now and that’s what counts – more of that type of stuff is needed in society generally, and so for a paper like them to make it happen I think sends out a very good message.

    And of course, major kudos to Richard – who totally killed – as well as all the many colleagues he noted who have contributed too.
    Counter Attack has managed to show, to a much wider audience than at any previous stage, that Rob Beal is a manipulator and liar (as well as one genuinely tragic individual) and thanks to their great work this story has really been cleared up, and one man’s insanely fraudulent behavior has been revealed (hopefully with some criminal punishment included at some future point – hope your Moms knows a good lawyer, fool!).

    So thanks for the awesome journalism – erm, I mean blogging. Yeah, no, that’s what I meant – not bad for some 2-bit punk blogger, or something…

  10. Not quite sure why people have a bee in their bonnet about this blog. If you don’t like it, don’t carry on reading it on a regular basis!

    If only The Times had spent even a few minutes actually backing up their piece before publishing, then this series of articles wouldn’t have been needed.

    Football journos are all part of an old boys club, so when something like this happens, it’s great that there are people who are willing to ask questions of it and delve a little deeper.

    If anything more should be done to highlight the complete lack of integrity in the world of football journalism. Claiming quotes from open press conferences or from foreign media interviews as ‘EXCLUSIVE!’ is one of my biggest bug bears.

  11. I’m a bit shocked that anyone would not be impressed by the work Richard put in bringing the truth to light. Readers of this blog will know that I do not hesitate to criticize Richard, but in this case he certainly deserves massive kudos. If Kay had put even a tenth of the effort into this story that Richard did… well, there wouldn’t have been a story at all.
    But seriously, get us some MLS links! Please?

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