Magazine article The Spectator

Even Serious Newspapers Have Adopted the Sex and Football Agenda of the NoW

Magazine article The Spectator

Even Serious Newspapers Have Adopted the Sex and Football Agenda of the NoW

Article excerpt

The other day someone asked me what the story of Sven-Goran Eriksson, the Football Association and the girl was all about. I hesitated. I thought that I understood it - and had even written a column in the Daily Mail complaining about the lies told by the Football Association. But when I reflected, I had to concede that the story had taken on a life of its own. It had grown like some uncontrollable plant in a science fiction story so that by Monday morning it was the splash in the Guardian, and occupied several pages of the paper's tabloid sports section. The BBC prattles on about it hour after hour. No one any longer bothers to examine the reasons for its existence. It is just there.

Ostensibly it is all about lying. On 18 July the News of the World alleged that Sven-Goran Eriksson had had a fling with a secretary working for the Football Association called Faria Alam. You may ask why this was such a big story. After all, Sven is not a married man, nor has he sought in any way to defend or uphold the state of marriage. The answer is that the News of the World is obsessed with sex and football, and when the two subjects come together it has difficulty in remaining calm. Nevertheless, Sven could have killed off the story by taking one of two courses of action. He could have admitted to the affair, and asked what business it was of the newspaper's, the more so since he does not have a wife. Or, more sensibly - since the first option might have caused him some embarrassment - he could have simply said nothing.

The Football Association, however, decided to respond to the story in a different way. It lied. Where the lie originated is still a matter of dispute - was it Sven or FA officialdom or both? - but there is no question that it was told. The FA even got its lawyers to send a letter to newspapers insisting that Sven had never had an affair with Faria. In this way it managed to turn a private matter into a subject of public interest, since national bodies such as the FA are not supposed to tell untruths about anything. In fact there was plenty of evidence that Sven had had an affair, and on 25 July the News of the World informed its readers that Faria Alam had also had a fandango with Mark Palios, the chief executive of the FA and a divorced man. Mr Palios has since resigned.

In engaging with the NoW the Football Association made a disastrous mistake. Twenty, even ten, years ago such an organisation would not have felt obliged to respond in such a way. On this occasion it danced to a tune which the News of the World had struck up. And not only that. Last Sunday's NoW revealed that the FA's director of communications, Colin Gibson, had done a deal with the paper, offering to dish the dirt on Sven so long as Mark Palios was kept out of the story. Naturally this was not an arrangement which the NoW thought it necessary to honour for very long, and it reprinted the transcript of a conversation between the hapless Mr Gibson and one of its reporters. Mr Gibson is a former journalist who has worked for the Telegraph titles and the Daily Mail, and his behaviour was more naive than one would have expected. His readiness to land Sven in the soup tells us something not very nice about him and his FA masters, who presumably egged him on. More interesting to me is the way in which the entire FA and Sven responded to the NoW on the newspaper's own terms. …

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