Ian Herbert: Transfer talk getting you down? Then it's time to go for a long ramble online
The Way I See It: Bloggers and websites deliver original, hard facts and they are not simply a platformfor elegant writing
There's some self-deprecation in the title of the erudite football blog, Swiss Ramble. The writer behind it, Kieron O'Connor, has said it's an appropriate name because he presents his thoughts "in a rambling fashion". He also happened to be on a long walk, listening to the Football Ramble podcast, when the idea of writing it came to him.
This modesty is unnecessary. The blog, typed from O'Connor's base in Switzerland, has become an essential part of the landscape of football journalism for tens of thousands of people and its precision and articulacy won O'Connor the best blog award at the Football Supporters Federation (FSF) annual media awards, on Saturday night.
O'Connor, who discovered there was interest in what he wrote when he posted a piece on whether Everton were a good investment on a fans' forum and found 8,000 people had viewed it, has drawn on his background as an LSE-educated economist to unravel football finance, but there is more than the dissection of balance sheers to it. There have been few better extrapolations of the nuts and bolts of a transfer than the Swiss Ramble blog about Zlatan Ibrahimovic's transfer from Barcelona to Milan. A recent examination of Liverpool's future strategy and why Wigan Athletic's survival was particularly improbable were both equally fine.
O'Connor isn't alone. Not all of consequences of the democratisation of football writing delivered by the internet are positive – more on that shortly – but O'Connor belongs to a new school of blogs and sites, including Andy Green's Andersred blog (strong on Manchester United, though much more besides), the Zonal Marking tactics website, which was voted website of the year by the FSF, and the most authoritative guide to Liverpool FC on the internet – Paul Tomkins' Tomkins Times. The Sporting Intelligence site won the former Independent journalist Nick Harris the Sports Journalist Association internet writer of the year award in March.
Conspicuous by its absence on all of these sites is that running commentary on the twists and turns of transfer stories or the latest players' quotes, which have both flavoured our summer. This is no-one's journalistic cop-out: all of the websites mentioned deliver original, hard, previously unpublished facts and are not simply a platform for elegant writing. The question, ahead of another week which will be dominated by the will-they, won't-they sagas of Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas, Wesley Sneijder, Sergio Aguero and perhaps Carlos Tevez, is whether you'd all prefer a Ramble than to know the incremental shift in a transfer story.
It's cripplingly difficult to ascertain an answer to that question because to countless fans it doesn't seem to matter whether the latest shift is true, significant or neither. The BBC's daily morning website transfer story round-up, which once listed the stories of national newspapers and their websites, now breathlessly chronicles the hunches of every website going. My mates tell me they just don't read these stories until a deal is nearly done – but what's the first thing they ask me when I see them? The green Ubersocial Twitter light usually signals a message when I stagger towards the Blackberry at 7am. It'll be a follower asking about the balance of probability that a player will sign, not the shape of the balance sheet.
A story of one surreal day, last week, captured the priorities in this rather wild summer of football news. I had reported on a club worth £250,000 – Stockport County – being taken over by a 27-year-old businessman who won't name his backers and insists the fact that his last business went into administration is inconsequential, and a player who earns £250,000 a week. The Carlos Tevez story was far less significant. It was just his representatives making a veiled pitch to Internazionale. A "come-and-get-me" plea as Swiss Ramble wouldn't say. But Tevez dominated the "most read". Stockport? Didn't make the list.
Player quotes are barely less popular, by the "most read" gauge. The provenance of these quotes might be foreign journalists – continental players are more comfortable sharing their thoughts with their compatriot writers – and because they are being re-interpreted and re-translated, the player's original meaning can get mashed. But such is the demand for the easy material they offer that they are picked up and recycled across the internet within minutes and will dominate any club's profile on the NewsNow aggregator. A study on the American media by the Project for Excellence in Journalism in 2006 found that 14,000 Google News stories described the same 24 news events. Couldn't have put it better.
I assure you that keeping them safe until the papers roll off the presses is a job. Last Monday, Paul Scholes provided one of the most absorbing interviews given by a Manchester United player for years, to eight or so national daily newspaper reporters whose pact it was to release none of it to online editions until midnight. The Independent's back page, emailed to the BBC to help its paper review, was subsequently photographed and tweeted as a sizeable picture. By 9.30pm, the quotes were doing the rounds of fans' sites. It's a minefield out there.
Kieron O'Connor may contradict me when I say that his fine weekly posts are not subject to this re-publishing, though their revelations are often far more significant. So time to blank the "best read" and head for Edgeley Park, then? Maybe it is. But while I start the car, I should mention that yes, Samir Nasri probably will sign for Manchester United.
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