The Sweeper: Newspapers and Bloggers Must Overcome “Debt Story Fatigue”

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Mark Murphy, in a masterful autopsy today on Portsmouth‘s 70 page report (PDF) to creditors (any more reports and Adobe should consider a partnership with the FA), comments how the release of more details on the trail of debt and mismanagement at Pompey proves the more things change, the more things stay the same in English football.  Murphy:

In many ways, though, the Portsmouth tale is the same old same old, just with a few extra noughts. David Conn, for instance, has written the same, high-quality Guardian article about shafted small businesses – and St John’s Ambulance – since the days when they were Independent articles.

That’s the problem with covering the myriad tales of debt, overspending, administration and failure of various clubs at all—but particularly the less televised—levels of the game in England: we already know the story; all there seems left to report on is the added zeroes.  Speaking of the Independent, today James Corrigan’s “Last Word” on player wage inflation reads like it could be just that: the last word.  Echoing Murphy’ sentiment, he writes:

So here’s what football fans learned this week. Players are ridiculously overpriced and overpaid. Agents are ridiculously overpaid for ensuring their players are ridiculously overpriced and overpaid. Clubs ridiculously overprice and overpay both of them before some eventually go bust with ridiculous debts. And the authorities ridiculously do nothing to stop all this ridiculousness.

Didn’t we already know all this? As startling revelations go, wasn’t this right up there with Sir Alex Ferguson’s declaration that he is not planning on retiring any time in the next 50 years?

“Debt story fatigue” seems to be taking its toll on the Guardian mainpage too.  While the weekend Observer usually takes a few steps back to examine the week’s fresh horrors, instead today we get Dan Taylor writing several hundred words on Man Utd’s “gutsy self-belief,” Paul Wilson chastising Abramovich (incidentally the UK’s second richest man, as of writing) for letting Mourinho go, and two sidebar links to scoreboards, one from today and one from yesterday.  A lone headline on the financial situation at Hull links to yesterday’s match report from the loss against Sunderland.  Page views are king, and with the crux of the football season dead ahead, no one wants to continue to wade in the incredibly complex morass of football finance.

Except with a UK General Election only a few weeks away, it might seem like we already “know all this” when it comes to the gross financial mismanagement in football, but in fact we don’t.  Everyone has theories buried under the mess of details, theories which dip in and out of the reality of the situation, shifting blame here and there, trying to piece together where normal, capitalistic investment ends and effective government regulation begins.  It really depends on who you read, and when.

That’s the problem; the Internet news cycle doesn’t have the time or space for the sort of long-form analysis the overarching problems with English football’s financial model still need (where’s the book on this subject already?).  Eight hundred word op-eds digesting reports and reports of reports, or round-tables of writers talking about “government stopping debt,” provide part of the picture, but through a glass, darkly.  This is exactly the time when newspapers like the Guardian need to take a deep breath, hold their noses, and take one more look at the whole story, perhaps giving it its own special section, and tell it over and over again until voters know it by heart.

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