Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Tue 5 June 2007

Lies, lies and more damned lies...

There's this fella I know - early thirties, West Ham supporter (not that that's relevant). Seems like he knows a lot about football and he does, but there's one curious thing about him. He does like to dwell in the world of football gossip.

Luckily for him, he has plenty of sources to plunder when satiating his daily appetite for lightweight speculation. One website for West Ham fans he visits is chock-full of people posting messages like: "I have it on good authority that West Ham will next week sign [insert player name here]..."

This is usually backed up with a following sentence that claims the aforementioned player was seen in a pub situated within a 25-mile radius of the stadium or was spotted playing golf at a club in the same week as the manager was sighted there.

But for him and others like him, there are alternative options for further supplies of inane speculation, namely British tabloid newspapers. If The Sun says Hartlepool United are about to buy Cristiano Ronaldo for £75 million, then who's to argue?

But in the UK we've been used to seeing that kind of insubstantial tittle-tattle for decades so why get so irritated about it?

Well it seems that even the most austere and reliable of news services are also now pandering to the fantasists by devoting part of their output to this so-called 'insider knowledge'. I speak mainly of the BBC, for they also now have a special section of their website and digital text pages devoted to the deluded, the dreamer and the gossip-monger alike.

All of which leads me to think that it's a sad day when supposedly trustworthy news organisations apply such a high profile to material which anyone could write. Go on, have a go yourself right now. It's very easy. First, choose a football team. Now choose a well-known player. Finally, choose a popular location for people to meet socially. All you need to do now is link them together in a sentence or two which infers you know something that others might want to hear.

Here's my effort:

I can confirm that Arsenal are about to sign Andriy Shevchenko. My best mate's wife saw him waiting at a bus stop in North London. Expect to hear an announcement from Arsenal soon…

That's all it takes to create football gossip. Do you believe what I've just written? No? No, I didn't think you would. Unfortunately there are thousands of people who probably do, and that's why they need to be treated with nothing but disdain. There's no point speculating about untruths, and if any news service is worth its salt it won't report them either. So stick to the facts, lads. You'll earn a lot more respect if you do.

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