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

  1. Lanterne Rouge

    Of course the problems with football finance are important but this fatigue is understandable. Pitch Invasion does a great job of being one of the best soccer websites around but its North American base perhaps leads to an obsession with off field issues when those of us marooned over here in old Europe are concerned mainly with booking our train tickets to games, deciding where to eat and drink beforehand, who will be playing at left back, which formation will be employed and which grounds in the league we are about to be relegated to that we haven’t yet visited: in short, the actual experience of being there.

    Of course this could be interpreted as a head in the clouds attitude and a tendency to over romanticize a game with deep problems – one doesn’t imagine too many Pompey fans will worry on their journey to Wembley in a few weeks’ time (though they should), but the likes of David Conn do a brilliant job of summarizing the major issues surrounding football at the moment and I for one don’t have a lot of appetite for a deeper analysis than the one we are already being presented with, in particular the superb coverage provided by websites like your own and Two Hundred Percent.

  2. Lloyd

    Finances are, of course, a massive issue at present and a day rarely goes by without the inclusion of a debt-related article in one of the quality nationals. Also, individual clubs’ message boards are increasingly preoccupied with off-field issues (a case in point being ‘P@soti’, that of my own team, Plymouth Argyle, which is full of threads relating to the bloated wages of our players, our board, the ownership of our ground and the finances involved with our new stadium plans).

    A cursory check through the nationals at the moment will yield more articles concerning what’s happening on the pitch, but that’s to be expected since we are only a few weeks away from the end of the season. If it wasn’t for the World Cup then I could see debt dominating the media over the summer, but as it is it may be a quiet few months in that regard. After six months of unrelenting coverage of Watford, Hull, Palace, Southend and Portsmouth’s woes and ways to possible reform, most fans are in need of a break.

  3. Lanterne Rouge

    Which of course to say, doesn’t make it unimportant – I am as concerned by debt and the application of the principles of buy now/pay later to football as anyone. Just looking forward to seeing if Messi and company can overturn evil Mourinho tonight though.