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
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Caption competition
Caption competition
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

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick