Dream League or fantasy football – has 'The Times' scored an own goal?

The paper stands by its story about a new, Qatar-led contest. But, says a French website, 'we made it all up'

A story appeared in a British newspaper last week which, although distinctly questionable, tells us a great deal about the world in which we live.

The story, occupying several pages in The Times on Wednesday, said that Qatar and other Gulf states were going to "sheikh" up football by starting a new league for the world's most prestigious clubs, from 2015.

The story was plausible enough. Qatar, the reported mastermind of the plan, has won the right to stage the World Cup in 2022. The Qatari government already owns Paris Saint-Germain and David Beckham. A wealthy Emirates family owns Manchester City.

Tiny, hyper-wealthy Qatar has a publicly announced strategy to make itself one of the great nations of the world through investing hundreds of billions in education, culture and sport – especially sport.

According to The Times, Qatar and neighbouring states have invited 16 big clubs – including Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea – to compete in the Dream Football League in the Gulf from 2015. Eight other "guest" clubs will participate every two years.

The Times carried a large image of the logo of the Dream League, showing a futuristic stadium.

Within hours of publication of the story – billed as "exclusive" – the internet began to bubble with amusement and astonishment. Especially the internet in France.

Many, though not all, of the significant details of the story had appeared on Tuesday morning on a French satirical website, Les Cahiers du Football, devoted to sending up the world's most popular sport.

The name of the competition, the number of clubs, the start date in 2015, the launch date next month – all were the same. The logo shown by The Times with the slogan, "let the dream begin", had first appeared on the French site.

Other aspects of The Times story were different. The newspaper said that the Dream League would be played every two years in summer. The French site that the new competition would be played for five months each year.

Les Cahiers said that it had concocted the whole business – the name of the league, the logo, everything. The story was not intended as a hoax, the site said, but as a satirical comment on a world in which football was being taken away from the fans as a plaything, or Machiavellian political tool, of the super-rich.

Many of the details in the original French version – not repeated by The Times – were self-evidently satirical and absurd. The story was accredited to "Agence Transe Presse". The clubs were to be paid ¤2bn each; the players would live on artificial, off-shore islands where the moral code and laws of the Gulf would not apply.

The matches would be simultaneously acted out in the clubs' home stadia by holograms. The roar of the crowd at Old Trafford or the Nou Camp would be broadcast to the players in the field in the Gulf.

The story in Les Cahiers ended with a manifestly spoof comment from a pundit called Bonnie Pascal-Fasse – meant to call to mind a real French sociological pundit on football, Pascal Boniface.

The Qatari government has since denied any knowledge of a Dream Football League.

And The Times?The Times insists that its story is true and that its source was not Les Cahiers du Football.

Oliver Kay, chief football correspondent, who wrote the story, told Reuters: "I've been amused by the speculation about the source of this story … I can guarantee you 100 per cent, 1,000 per cent, 175 million per cent, that my story had nothing to do with any website, spoof or otherwise.

"I've no idea about their modus operandi. I know that my source is very good ... and that there is more where that story came from."

The editor of Les Cahiers, Jérôme Latta, says: "I can assure you that the Dream Football League is a pure product of our imagination … Our parody started to be taken seriously on a few specialised sites on Tuesday afternoon. In my opinion, The Times must have become aware of that and contacted one of its sources and was taken in by that source."

Mr Latta says that he believes it is "significant" that his invented story should be taken seriously by a "venerable" newspaper such as The Times. It points, he says, to the degree of anxiety and fantasy surrounding the role of big money, and especially the Gulf countries, in football.

The whole affair is also strangely reminiscent of the horse-meat-in-lasagne scandal. Information, in the information society, makes oddly convoluted journeys and sometimes ends up being rather different from what it says on the label.

A sign of the times?

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'