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.
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.