The Dirty Underbelly of British Tabloids And Their Football Transfer Gossip

The reason why you don’t find too many articles about transfer gossip on EPL Talk is because most of them are bullsh*t. Most of the rumors in British newspapers are fabricated to increase circulation numbers and pageviews. It’s a sleazy side of journalism where newspapers and media sources are keeping a close eye on each other’s transfer gossip. If one writes a story about a club rumored to be interested in signing a footballer, it doesn’t take long before the other British newspapers and TV media jump on the bandwagon. And before you know it, soccer blogs and websites around the world spread the rumors to a wider audience, making people start believing that the rumors are fact because they see them everywhere.

In the example of one club, Swansea City, several of its players have been touted over the weekend as potentially moving to bigger sides. The Daily Mail reported on Saturday that Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers is ready to sign central defender Ashley Williams as cover for Daniel Agger, who may be moving to Manchester City. That same day, The Daily Mirror reported that Scott Sinclair is a target of Manchester City, who is seen as a cheaper alternative to Theo Walcott.

Neither story contained any sources or quotes. And both stories could have easily been written out of thin air. Maybe they had a source that tipped the writers off to the story, or maybe they didn’t.

To make matters worse, The Daily Mail is using search engine optimization (SEO) to increase pageviews from bogus stories.

On Thursday, The Daily Mail ran a story with the headline “Allen Closing In On Anfield Switch As Liverpool Agree Terms With Swansea Midfielder.” Yet again, there was no source listed to confirm that terms had been agreed. There’s been no confirmation or denial from either club involved about Joe Allen. It seems like a completely bogus story. Yes, Liverpool is interested in signing the player, but terms have not been agreed.

So, how did The Daily Mail manipulate SEO to garner more hits to their page from their “story”? If you go to the article, and then look at the top of your browser, the description for the page (better known as the <TITLE>) reads “Joe Allen agrees terms with Liverpool.” For a search engine like Google, the <TITLE> is one of the most important attributes of the page. Do a search in Google for “Joe Allen agrees terms with Liverpool,” and The Daily Mail appears as the number one listing. Click on the ‘Tweet’ button on that same article page, and the pre-written tweet reads “Joe Allen agrees terms with Liverpool.’ Read the RSS feed for The Daily Mail, and the headline appears as, you guessed it, Joe Allen agrees terms with Liverpool.

Joe Allen has not agreed terms with Liverpool, but I’m sure that The Daily Mail got a ton more traffic instead of using a more accurate headline of “Joe Allen closing in on Anfield switch.”

Yes, Liverpool is interested in signing Joe Allen. And Swansea is interested in selling him for the right price, but that doesn’t mean that The Daily Mail should go ahead and manufacture a story to generate more pageviews.

The example of Joe Allen is one of literally hundreds to thousands of other similar transfer gossip stories that are written to drive traffic. But they work. Many of us eat them up, but they’re often not called out for it. Is it any wonder then that The Daily Mail has now surpassed The New York Times as the world’s most popular online newspaper?

The only way to stop these bullsh*t stories and tactics is to stop buying their newspapers and to stop clicking on their stories. Eventually they’ll get the message. The hard part though is learning to separate truth from fiction. Sometimes The Daily Mail and The Daily Mirror do run legitimate articles. Perhaps the answer then is to trust that Internet readers will become savvier readers? Whatever the case, the sooner the British tabloids stop this nonsense, the better.

28 thoughts on “The Dirty Underbelly of British Tabloids And Their Football Transfer Gossip”

  1. I wonder if this article would have been written if not for the Swansea connection, haha. But I agree, the newspapers are terrible, twitter is just as bad with the supposed “ITK agents”. I eat it up though because I am desperate for the latest WHU transfer news.

  2. As a Manchester United fan, following all of the rumors and gossip is frankly exhausting. I really don’t know what these “sources” writers from The Sun, Daily Mail, the Mirror, or other publications use but it really defies logic. Seriously, Bob Cass writes a story that Lucas Moura is set to agree to terms with Manchester United which I don’t doubt considering Sky, ESPN, and practically everyone else picked it up. What I don’t get is how he says that Moura is going to have a medical with the team yesterday when he’s still involved with Brazil. And then next thing you know, PSG is all of a sudden making a late bid that gets picked up by these papers because some random Brazilian publication comes out with the story. As a communications major, I do follow this stuff because I like the media in principle but this BS just gets too ridiculous sometimes.

    Overall, this was a great article Gaffer which summarizes how pointless following all these rumor mills can truly be sometimes.

    1. The rule of thumb I use is that if BBC Sport writes about it, then it’s going to happen.

      They have their paper talk/soccer transfers column, which I ignore. But if BBC Sport says a transfer is going to happen, I trust their sources far more than other British sources, even The Guardian — which has tended to be more gossip-heavy this summer than usual.

      The Gaffer

      1. 2nd… but the Beeb gets it wrong a lot lately. and dove in head first with its own 365 gossip page. All are links, and most are at least well known chatter, but some are rubbish. reference the Mail links.

        1. Like I said, the BBC has their own gossip section. But their articles on real soccer-related transfer news are quite often spot on.

          The Gaffer

  3. The red tops make up so many deals from “unnamed sources”, that they will almost by definition, get the odd one right. Then you get, you heard it here first. As The Gaffer says bullsh*t.

  4. Basically, if it’s attached to the Mail, Globe, Sun, Mirror, or MARCA, I assume it’s completely bogus. Same with most of the blogs. Sky and the Guardian are better, but still prints nonsense every so often. BBC is almost always quality with solid intel behind it.

    But really, until you see it on your favorite club’s main site, don’t believe it 100%.

  5. I don’t understand how they can print stuff like this. It would be like saying someone famous died or a war started in the paper but those things didn’t actually happen.

  6. The internet has made this stuff ten times worse. Now any muppet can go online and spread a rumor. Also the transfer deadline just adds to the hype. Definitely sells papers though. And what would we do with ourselves all summer without biting on every made up piece of nonsense that the bog rolls put out? Sky sports news is a decent source, as is the BBC.

  7. You can say what you want as a news paper, if it’s not true, its down to someone to sue for liable for it to be proven and then retracted. The papers do circulate rumors to increase readership, but its not the case all the time, some of it is the clubs to using it to manipulate the market, some of it is from a seed of a conversation of intent and true in that sense, but to early to print , and then boom, it collapses. Sky and BBC are more reliable than most. Some papers do hit the mark more than you would think.

    The papers are just hooking into fans obsession and football starved imaginations to create scenarios and keep talking about the sport. Most, not all, but most of the Chelsea rumors have been true, as have the Arsenal and Spurs stories. You cant belive everything you read on a sports page, but thats a good rule of thumb for all tabloid news content, e.g.,Headline: “600lb mum sends boy to space…by accident”.

    Nothing wrong with capturing the imagination of the football community. its not like its stuff that injures anyone.

    Plus the Swansea stuff is pretty normal and even seeded in truth. A manager take’s players with them when they go to a new club, AVB did it at Chlesea as did Harry at Spurs, or Mark Hughes at QPR, the list goes on. It may upset some people, but it’s all part and parcel of the merry go round for the richest football league in the world.

  8. That’s why I only read EPL Talk, ESPNSoccernet and other big names. I can’t tell you how many texts Ive got this summer where somines told me a transfer is going to happen and I ask for their source and it’s bleacher report or give me football. Ex: Dempsey to LFC, Skrtel quitting at Anfield, Carroll, Walcott, people need to use common sense.

    1. Harry Harris on Soccernet is probably one of the worse offenders when it comes to tabloid news. I do read their Transfer blog so I don’t have to read all the bs new paper sites but then again the guy that does that for Soccernet has to go on those sites and give them page clicks.

  9. The BBC links to the Daily Mail stories. The reality is just that journalism, like everything else, is about money. Journalists don’t write stories for free otherwise there wouldn’t be a journalism profession.

  10. oddly, the best spot to get your team news is facebook. Used to be sites like footymad or a team fan based website… basically you weed out the a bloke of mine is the pool boy for the trainer who knows the team doctor who said Messi was in for a physical with XYZ team, and the only hold up was that the driver had to be shorter then Messi and that there are only 6 men in England who fit that bill.

    back in the day we’d just go to and have a laugh… but it was just that.

    Like Kaka to West Ham was trending a week ago. yeah… OK.

  11. Bleacher Report is another culprit. The amount of bullsh*t transfer rumors, top ten reasons why articles and other rubbish that have flooded that site is disgusting. My Google News app is always flooded with stories from them. I wish there was an option to block certain sites from appearing.

    1. Even though most of the Bleacher Report is crap, they got bought yesterday by Time Warner for $175 million.

      The Gaffer

  12. Rumours have become part and parcel of the football culture. Even the official websites of EPL clubs have links to what the papers are saying about transfers. It makes for interesting discussions, sometimes heated, by fans on many forums.

    Sometimes rumours can have an interesting effect. For example, Agger of Liverpool is supposedly on his way out to join Manchester City (Barcelona are also interested). So people are keeping their eye on whether he will feature for Liverpool in the Europa League. He didn’t play last week and all eyes are on whether he will play this Thursday. A player that plays for one club in Europe cannot play for another until after a certain time (not sure of the exact rules).

  13. You can report links to Google. These findings you made, you should report it to Google and they will most likely remove the links from appearing in Search.

  14. “Neither story contained any sources or quotes.”
    This is what drives me crazy. I have been appalled to see that even decent, internationally reputable news sources such as the Guardian, publishing stories that purport to convey facts that are nonetheless completely unattributed. It seems that, at least for sports journalism, the standards for journalistic quality and proper sourcing in UK news sources lag woefully behind those of the US media.

  15. So “The Mail” were right after all. I like Laudrup, perhaps he can pull of a miracle, but I get a sense that this will be Swansea’s final song in the premier league, their “Swan-song” if you will. Loosing the manager and prominent backroom staff, Sigurdson, Allen, Caulker are all big loses. it doesn’t look good this season for the swans. I would prefer they stay up and West ham go straight back down.. I live in hope…

  16. mmm, foot in mouth.

    But certainly point taken. Next time just say Snejider to Man U and your article will always be relevant.

  17. Here’s another example of how The Daily Mail is manipulating SEO by fabricating stories:

    The title on the page reads: Tottenham agree fee with Real Madrid for Luka Modric

    But then the article talks about how close a deal is. If you search in Google for “Tottenham agree fee with Real Madrid for Luka Modric,” the first entry that appears is The Daily Mail.

    While The Daily Mail gets a ton more traffic from using that trick, “reputable” websites such as Bleacher Report take the story as being truth and run a story entitled “Spurs, Real Madrid Agree £25 Million for Luka Modric” at — which drives more traffic to The Daily Mail.

    The Gaffer

  18. “Perhaps the answer then is to trust that Internet readers will become savvier readers?”

    Yeah, right.

    Perhaps the answer will be found if we ask the right questions – ie why does British culture revolve around rumours? Is it a product of the misconstructed education system? Is it the loss of authority of institutions? Is it the triumph of cynicism?

    Or is it a beneficial counterweight to ubiquity and populism, as scepticism toward dominant crowd tendencies undermines their social force? And is it therefore a driver of positive social change as the legitimacy of institutions is brought into focus?

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