The Echo Chamber
Objectivity is often conspicuous by its absence in the clannish and suspicious world of Scottish football. I recall an incident in a Celtic v Rangers match in which Jorge Albertz clashed with a Celtic player in the midfield. It was a straight forward foul, no more than that but the two Celtic fans beside me got into a heated debate about it before one said angrily, ‘Alright, if you were the Ref what would you have given?’ His erstwhile friend replied with a straight face, ’If I was the Ref? I’d have sent three of those ugly bastards off and given a penalty to Celtic!’ They both laughed at that. He may have been speaking in jest but it gives a glimpse into the mind-set of some Scottish supporters who will happily deny evidence and logic if necessary to back their team’s position. A read through social media and newspaper sites demonstrates that there are many out there who would happily throw objectivity under a bus if it suited their agenda.
There’s an old adage which states that an ‘Ambassador is someone sent abroad to lie for their country.’ It came to mind today watching Gary McAllister defending Alfredo Morelos’ latest misdemeanour by basically saying his red card at Aberdeen was unjustified as it was all really an accident. Gary is an old pro and knows the game well enough to see that the talented Columbian is ill disciplined and in danger of costing his team dearly as suspension looms. It was a little embarrassing watching a worldly ex-player trot out what was in effect, a standard denial of what occurred. McAllister didn’t actually look as if he believed it himself as he said it. It would be refreshing to see a manager simply say of a player, ‘Yeh, he was silly and needs to grow up,’ instead of a knee jerk and basically meaningless attempt to justify his poor behaviour. McAllister said of Morelos’ tackle on McKenna, ‘He did everything he could to avoid contact.’ Anyone who has seen the video footage can see this for the risible nonsense it is and I suspect Gary knows it.
All managers do it to a degree and save their true feelings for behind closed doors where you can be sure players like Morelos will be told in no uncertain terms that he’s no use to his club sitting in the stand. Arsene Wenger was the master of this game and usually said ‘I didn’t see the incident’ when asked about one of his players diving or misbehaving. Never criticise your club’s players in public has become an unwritten rule in football. Perhaps that’s why it was refreshing to see Steve Clarke of Kilmarnock speak so frankly about the lack of consistency in refereeing decisions in the SPFL. Predictably the reaction of Steven Gerrard to this was to jump to the defence of his club and players without actually addressing issue Clarke raised.
The reaction of supporters to these various incidents often suffers from the same lack of objectivity. Online debate tends to be within groups with a like-minded view of things and this can lead to what social scientists call ‘Confirmation bias.’ This theory suggests that once we have formed a view, we embrace information that confirms that view while ignoring, or rejecting, information that casts doubt on it. We pick out those bits of information that confirm our bias or prejudices. In this way aspects of social media become an echo chamber where people form and share a common opinion which is often at odds with the opinion held in other ‘echo chambers’ occupied by fans of other teams. Those who are on social media a lot know that to offer an alternative opinion can sometimes lead to more zealous fellow fans descending on them like a pack of wolves. Thus former players who criticise Celtic are branded ‘soup takers’ for deviating from the group narrative.
It’s a natural and very human trait to seek out like minded individuals to interact with but is also necessary to hear contrary opinions and form a view based on facts rather than, our often biased, opinion. In football, as in politics though, the game is often about point scoring and showing the other lot in a poor light rather than objectively looking at the issues. This has been most apparent in the despicable online ‘debates’ about child abuse in football. This issue is being investigate by the FA in England and by the SFA in Scotland and the English body has received reports suggesting over 300 clubs at all levels of the game have been affected. It is a scourge on society which knows no boundaries and thankfully many of the perpetrators are being brought to justice. For supporters of any club to pontificate on the events at other clubs with the sole intention of mud-slinging is just plain wrong. To chant about such events at a football match is beyond what constitutes decent behaviour.
Football wouldn’t be the same without the rivalries and gladiatorial aspect to both the game on the field and from the fans in the stands. We’ll probably always be biased towards our clubs but even if we are it does no harm at all to listen to other points of view.
The clannishness and mistrust in Scottish football holds the game here back. We have a better product than for some times and a competitive league perhaps that is why decisions are scrutinised over and over. I would hate a major trophy being won or lost on a refereeing error so I’m all for anything which helps them get it right even if that includes VAR. Football is a fast, fluid game where the referee is the arbiter of the rules. Fans keep the game afloat with their hard earned money and deserve some transparency and openness when it comes to explaining decisions. They deserve well trained referees who call it without fear or favour which isn’t always easy with thousands of supporters trying to influence your every decision.
So the next time a Celtic player goes down in a tackle in the box will I be screaming for a penalty? You bet I will but I still want the ref to call it correctly otherwise the game isn’t worth the money we pay to watch it. Supporters will always exhibit a bit of bias, that’s their nature. Officials on the other hand must be above reproach, that’s their challenge.