A while ago, when the government was under pressure to clarify Brexit, a cartoon appeared. A spokesman is announcing:
“The Cabinet has agreed what Brexit is. It’s raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens…”
I’m not quoting that for a political point, but for its observation about human nature. It touches on something that affects all aspects of our lives, but is never more obvious than in discussion of politics and football.
The point is that none of us is really objective, however much we’d like to think we are. For a mix of reasons, we’re all predisposed to certain ideas and ways of thinking.
The only difference is how far we go to indulge those predispositions. That can range from being selective about the facts and evidence we highlight, through mildly wishful thinking all the way to completely ignoring evidence and making up our preferred reality.
Subjectivity colours everything we do, even apparently mechanical activities. Take chess: you’d think it’s a matter of processing the options and coming up with the best. The top players and analysts would come to the same decisions, surely?
Far from it. Show an expert the way a particular game unfolded, and he/she can tell from the style whether the player was Bobby Fischer, Garry Kasparov or (perhaps one of my favourite sporting names) Jose Capablanca.
(Incidentally, the history of chess is a fascinating study if you’re interested in personalities. Fischer was famously eccentric, but he was far from the strangest. The nineteenth-century American prodigy Paul Morphy for instance, widely considered the best player of all time, beat all comers then quit at the age of 22 and never touched another chess piece.)
Where is this going?
We often agree that most of our football discussion comes down to opinion. Should City start with Jerome or Oliveira? How many games should Wes be asked to play? Who is our worst central defender?
We can debate all those and more. Some people may make their arguments better than others, but it boils down to opinion and legitimate alternative views.
However, it’s not always so. Let me go cite two recent examples of something that sticks in my craw.
A number of fans, including a commenter on this site, have told us it’s “obvious” that Jez Moxey left because Delia wouldn’t let him do his job properly.
Actually, it’s obvious only in their imaginations. More importantly, it’s simply not true.
Even more recently, a national newspaper linked Alan Pardew with the manager’s job at Norwich – except that there wasn’t a vacancy at the time, and I’m told there was never any truth to the rumour.
In this case it would have been forgivable (though foolish) to repeat the rumour. But some of our fans went further; not only did they take the rumour as gospel, they decided to embellish it and declared that “Pardew turned us down”.
Given similarly ‘creative’ pronouncements in politics, notably during the EU referendum and from the new American President, the phenomenon has a name: we’re now in the ‘post-truth’ age.
I don’t like the term, giving as it does some weight or legitimacy to what’s happening. I’d prefer to call it something more straightforward.
Invention. Dishonesty. Lying.
I’m not a fan.
This isn’t to censor discussion or demand obeisance to experts or conventional wisdom. Experts can be wrong, and conventional wisdom wide of the mark (eg “Wes and Pritch can’t play together”).
Everyone is entitled to their opinion. What we’re perhaps less entitled to is this: to state as fact things which have no more basis than that we’d like them to be true.
A number of things have already changed at our club since the departure of Jez Moxey, and we’ll no doubt see more as things unfold.
On Saturday I was one of the Canaries Trust representatives at a Supporter Group consultation event at Carrow Road. Hosted by Managing Director Steve Stone, Board director Tom Smith and other senior figures, the session gave an insight into the club’s planning – as well as open answers to open questions.
Perhaps the most striking difference from Jez’s time is the tone. Gone is his high-handed dismissal of queries, replaced by something much more serious and engaging. Steve’s short presentation acknowledged faults and shortfalls – including poor recruitment, underperformance on the pitch and lack of fan engagement – and recognised how they had dented faith in the Board.
More importantly, he took us through how the club is addressing and rectifying those issues. Central to the change is the creation of the Sporting Director role and the appointment of Stuart Webber to fill it, but there’s also for instance a clear commitment to better communication with fans.
The proof of the pudding will be in the eating, of course. Events on Saturday afternoon shouldn’t – and won’t – obscure the size of the challenge to get us ready for a promotion charge next season.
It was hard to go away, though, without a sense that our club is now going in a better direction.