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CHRIS HORRIE
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Journalism, author, lecturer and broadcaster
Journalism, author, lecturer and broadcaster

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REVIEW
 
FROM THE BACK PAGE TO THE FRONT ROOM
 
By Roger Domenghetii
Ockley Books
£12.99
 
Books about football are a difficult proposition since sport is an activity that you do or watch, rather than think about. You can report the result of matches and even describe some of the action in print, but it does not really stack up against television (or even radio) as Roger Domenghetti candidly admits. In one of the many terrific and well-told inside-the-machine stories which illuminate this book, he tells of how he and his fellow soccer hacks were covering a live match between Newcastle and Bolton from the press box.  The TV feed went down, the monitors blanked out. A goal was scored, but the hacks (including Domeneghetti himself) had to form a committee to decide who scored it. The action leading up to the goal was a blur, and there was no replay available. They were screwed.
 
The impact first of newspapers and then of television (and the internet) on football is the central theme of the book. Each chapter deals with a different topic. It is thus really a series of mini-books within a book with developments in television, politics, literature, technology tracked on parallel lines in dedicated chapters.
 
This means that the book does not tell a single story, and it is very wide in scope, with an unfortunate element of over-reach or over-ambition.  References range from Charles Darwin and George Orwell to Greavsie: The Autobiography (2013). As a result the focus is a bit variable. One minute we zoom out to see a very wide picture indeed, for example: “It’s a long path from Beowulf to Roy of the Rovers, but it’s one that’s been taken by the heroic figure in English popular culture”, then we zoom in to the microscopic level with several pages (fascinating) on the business negotiations which have lead to pay TV’s domination of the sport, or the evolution of live online betting.
 
Likewise many popular talking points, such as the problem of why watching the England national team is almost always disappointing, are mixed with – for example – a fairly details exposition of the mechanics of a non-football related coup in Hungary in the 1950s (The Hungarian Farmers Party apparently got 70% of the vote, but their leaders ended up in jail or something similar).  The Beowulf and Ye Olde English heroism section goes on for pages, and even has explanatory footnotes about ancient Scandinavian patronymic traditions, and these are pretty detailed too. All of this seems to me to be the weakest aspect of the book – a slight feel of struggling to fill out the word count in the less meaty chapters (so they are of similar length). To me, this is the literary equivalent of dribbling the ball up to the corner flag in the last few minutes aiming for a 0-0 draw for 90 minutes when both sides would be happy enough with the draw.
 
And that is a shame. Because where the book is good, which is most of it, it is really good.  The chapter on the rise “and fall” of the English sporting press is as good as it gets in terms of newspaper history – meticulously researched and source and strong on good anecdotes which zip along at a good pace, even though much is based on secondary sources.  Nothing wrong with that. The weaving together the disparate histories of newspapers, sports administration and the betting industry is done with skill and is extremely useful.
 
The chapter on betting is fascinating, and emphasizes the impact the betting industry has had on the development of the sport. The accepted view amongst critics of the “football industry” is that the game was essentially bought by television and re-themed as a bloodless, greed-based TV gameshow. Domeneghetti goes along with this conventional wisdom, but emphasizes that there were plenty of people at all levels who were happy to sell out. The new insight is the importance of the betting industry in this process, especially before the launch of the national lottery. This chapter on betting is one of the strongest in the book. I learned for example that the man who invented online betting was a former IT bloke from the government phone-tapping centre, GCHQ. This chapter alone is worth the price of admission.
 
The chapter on fan-generated media (fanzines in the 90s and online forums now) is weaker and a bit dated. He notes that the Manchester United fanzine “Red Issue” has ceased publication in print, because the producers were “sick of the bullshit” flowing from the commercialization of their club. But the fanzine was the focal point for the foundation of the fan-owned protest/tribute club FC United of Manchester. It is still going strong online, with 13,000 threads and half a million posts. FC United is an amazing success story, and the fan-owned club movement (Wimbledon, Portsmouth, Exeter, Wycombe Wanderers) sprang directly from the fanzines and/or online media set up and consumed by fanatics and activists. The central issue of this book – the relationship between TV, the newspapers and the sport – is still central to the FC United story. Fans of the new club boycott FA cup games when kick off is changed to suit TV and chant for hours from the terrace about the loathing of Sky TV.  This is a strange omission and a treatment of this topic would have made a very good book even better.
 
This said, if you want a quick and accessible overview of the history of football and sports reporting this labour of love is the go-to option and I suspect it will remain so for many years to come.
 
 
 
 

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BBC output on the day of the Hillsborough disaster

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Radio interview about the Sun's coverage of the Hillsborough disaster.

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I love the Spectator magazine and I rush out to buy it every Thursday. Under the editorship of Boris Johnson it was patchy, but under Frazer Nelson it has become consistently bonkers and therefore provocative and highly entertaining. Several of its regular writers are masters of the art of the well-turned insult flung against the idiotic, slack-jawed and conventionally correct. That’s the way, as KC and the Sunshine Band once famously said, I like it.

Imagine my disappointment, then, when the magazine’s Barometer statistics column got it completely wrong over immigration statistics this week. The magazine used ONS numbers to come up with the headline prediction that a minimum of 1.3 million Turks would end up living in the UK in the event of Turkish accession to the EU.

Sadly, not many people read the Spectator.  But a lie goes around the world before the truth can get its boots on. And this was a lie, pure and simple. The million plus number was used by the Daily Express – the most rabid of the anti-migrant newspapers – to concoct a front page headline. In  the nature of these things, the Express will eventually be quoted on TV thus making it true by definition in the estimation of many. We have thus witnessed the birth of a “factoid” – a factual, even scientific, sounding proposition which nearly everyone comes to believe, but nobody can actually track down to a source. 

The million-Turk factoid, like all of these things, does have a basis in actual data – the actual facts about Polish migration to the UK in recent years. For some reason the Poles simply can not get enough of England. They are almost as bad as the Scots (whose last King was Polish as it happens) in this regard.

There are now 688,000 people of Polish origin living the UK. This number amount to 1.6% of the population of Poland (39 million). Over 600,000 of these new arrivals came after Poland joined the EU. 

To arrive that the figure of 1.3 million Turks, the Spectator simply assumed that the propensity of Turks to head towards London or to work in the vegetable fields of East Anglia would be exactly the same.  The population of Turkey is 79 million. 1.6% (the Polish migration propensity) gives you by simple arithmetic your 1.3 million Turkish invasion. Child’s play. 

In fact, the magazine continued, this is most likely an underestimate. Turkey is poorer than Poland and “according to the International Monetary Fund” therefore “Turkish migrants would have more incentive to travel”. This higher-than-Poland propensity is hinted as being about a third more – so about 2.0% and this would get you about 1.6 million Turks and rising.  But why stop there? There’s no indication why the Spectator could not have likewise pulled a propensity of 10% out of its ear, resulting in an impending Turkish inflow of 7.8 million people. Better yet, why not base the figure on the  Scottish or Irish propensity to move. That must amount to something like 50% over the years of Ever Closer Union with England.

Using the facts of Scottish and Irish migration (combined with the reliable principle that things in the future always turn out exactly as they did in the past) you are looking at a minimum of 30 million maybe 40 million Turks fronting up in hot spots such as Green Lanes in Tottenham or odd spots round the back of Heathrow within the next few years. The news filtering back to Izmir of over-supply of labour resulting in 29 or 39.9 million unemployed and homeless fellow countrymen milling about aimlessly the streets of Edmonton and Chatham will of course  be no deterrent.

The magazine could have found more solid ground by looking at the facts concerning migration from Romania and Bulgaria which the statisticians treat a single entity with a population of 27 million. Using the higher “poorer than Poland” 2.0% propensity to come to the UK, we should by now have 540,000 Romanians and Bulgarians in the UK. The actual number is 172,000. Even the actual Polish propensity to come to the UK produces a vast over-estimate when applied to nationalities other than the Poles themselves. 

Why is this? One possibility is that the Poles are noted anglophiles, and might well be less keen on settling in Germany – the migrants obvious destination of choice.  Romania and Bulgaria were allied to Germany and Austria in the past, and there are much smaller historic communities in the UK. Turkish migrants are much more likely to want to travel to Germany: there is a larger community already resident, than to the UK – if they want to travel at all. 

Large scale migration has become a fact of modern economic life and it is hard to see how that can be reversed, even if that were thought desirable. The discussion of these issues and problems is not helped by the naked bending of statistics which serve as nothing more than exaggerated scaremongering and propaganda designed to distort a series of issues which need to be considered calmly and on the basis of the facts.  

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I am uploading some older videos and radio interviews to my all-new renovated you tube channel.

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