I wrote this in July. Unpublished.
Ah, summer. For a small period of the year, it’s all “heat waves”, music festivals, and men who dress like Jules and Vincent at the end of Pulp Fiction (or, as Quentin Tarantino’s character puts it, “dorks”). Hay fever sneaks up around this time of year too. Subsequently, everyone takes antihistamine that “may cause drowsiness” (i.e. definitely causes drowsiness) but is the only way to stop yourself continuously doing that air-pressure thing at the back of your itching throat. You know, the air-pressure thing that makes that sound.
Also: No football. Grown men who normally use football as a medium of escapism from their unhappy lives – rather than World of Warcraft, so preferable really – are forced to watch other sports, like tennis, or rugby, or the Confederations Cup (see what I did there?). But, of course, for many people that simply won’t do. So there are transfer rumours. Or “gossip”. Gossip. Does that make it sound like OK! Magazine, or the Daily Mail website’s sidebar? Does it? Well it should. That’s the level of credibility we’re dealing with here.
The old “In The Know” (ITK) twitter accounts are wheeled out by their 14-year-old purveyors, while media sources report mythical “raids” and “swoops” that mostly never even take place in the most metaphorical of senses. But because there isn’t actually any competitive football, transfer gossip is the zeitgeist, and becomes the tonic for people twiddling their thumbs on Saturday afternoons.
Of course, a lot of it is complete nonsense. While websites want hits, newspapers want sales, and “ITK agents” want retweets, general attention and to lose their virginities, when football clubs (or real football agents) do actually let any transfer information go public, it’s completely for their own benefit. And this could be the truth. If a transfer is going smoothly and there isn’t any offence taken by one of the other parties involved, making fans aware that there is a new signing on the horizon (or in Arsenal’s case this season: “oh look we’re bidding for load of players and actually want to spend loads of money this time. Look! Look! Look! … Please?”) isn’t exactly a bad thing for a club.
However, it could also be in the interests of a club (again, or actual agent) to circulate complete fantasy, or at least be economical with the truth. This might be a complete lie about bidding for a Real Madrid striker to excite fans in the same week as the launch of the new away kit, it could be means of encouraging clubs to make bids for a player who wants to leave and/or the club wants to sell. And for some publications and websites, running this is fine. Because it’s that time of year, transfer stories get hits, and the more the merrier.
Attention is the name of the game here. And because transfer rumours are so frequently little more than hot air anyway, it gives publications and websites more room to manoeuvre. And by manoeuvre, I mean run with stories that might not be from a particularly reliable source. And by reliable source, I mean some bloke down the pub.
One of the finest examples of this was last summer, when the ITK agents were in boom. ITV’s football website quoted @agent_153 (the guy who tweeted: “I have MASSIVE news for all English football fans. I need 500 retweets on this tweet for me to release it”) in an actual article, as the source. Not just a source, the source. Naturally the piece has since been removed, and, once his “ITK agent” chums started outing themselves, Mr 153 exited pretty sharpish, leaving an overweight-teenager-shaped hole in the door in his wake. Regardless, the article was still a) hilarious and b) a fine example of the limited amount of credible validation a spot of transfer gossip needs for a football news website to run it. And that was all the story was: gossip.
Gossip is a word that is now synonymous with something ITV2 would probably try to make sound fun. So maybe the women from Sex in the City sitting round a table in an expensive wine bar, or something mildly associated with The Only Way is Essex.
When you think about it like that, anything that is “gossip” is most likely inherently evil. The word gossip shouldn’t be patronisingly reduced to its first syllable like they do in adverts for Closer magazine; it should be spat out in disgust, like Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character does in Doubt.
So take your sports pages – print out an article from caughtoffside.com if you have to – tear them into pieces, go up to your roof, and throw them into the wind. That is gossip.