A personal view -
One story has been suffocating all other news in Britain this week - the phone hacking furore surrounding Rupert Murdoch's media empire.
Journalists have been arrested, senior policemen have resigned, politicians of both main parties are scrambling to deny their links to News International, Hugh Grant has led the prosecution and tonight comes news of the sudden death of a whistleblower.
Murdoch's minions had been tapping around 4,000 mobile phones, including those of Prince William and the Prime Minister no less. The largest-selling Sunday newspaper, the 168 year-old News of the World (NOTW), was abruptly axed last weekend after advertisers had taken flight while Rupert himself faces the UK parliament tomorrow. It is high drama.
Football has been a useful tool for Murdoch. Realising its popularity, his Sun & NOTW 'newspapers' have been trawling the gutter for years and done their best to make footballers' and managers' private lives and sexual behaviour public property.
Murdoch's TV station Sky's 1993 creation of the Premiership brought an influx of foreign stars and renovated stadia, but also inconvenient kick-off times and vastly inflated ticket prices, while player salaries also soared to obscene levels. Why should football cost £45 a match in England but nearer £10 in Germany? And how can anyone spend £200,000 every week?
Sky's 'whole new ball-game' created a chasm between the top division and the rest which had not existed before, and while plenty of new fans bought into their 'year zero' hype, they priced out many older fans and did little to help the English national team as clubs flooded their ranks with overseas imports.
The nadir was reached in 1989 following the death of 96 Liverpool supporters at the FA Cup semi-final in Hillsborough. Murdoch's Sun splashed a front page "THE TRUTH" claiming Merseyside fans had stolen from and urinated on their dying colleagues. To say public reaction was outraged would be putting it mildly. But although no apology was forthcoming and Murdoch never said sorry, Liverpool sales of his best-selling rag never recovered.
At least in 1998 the Monopolies and Mergers Commission blocked Murdoch's attempts to take over Manchester United, a terrifying prospect, but his influence in football remains strong.
Starving him of money was the only way to fight Murdoch and I have tried to avoid giving his empire a penny. I have never bought a Sky subscription, I don't read his newspapers and I avoid his websites. Murdoch's unelected influence on British life and civility has been toxic for years and his interest in football is purely as an exploiter.
Once a Times writer, who now holds a senior position at the BBC, asked me to share quotes from an interview with a big-name manager, a normal practice amongst journalists. I took his details but did not call him back: I don't deal with Murdoch.
Another time I conducted an interview at a footballer's house and published it as an exclusive. Then the quotes appeared in The Sun, unattributed. The hack in question never replied to my email asking why and threatening legal action if repeated.
I once told another Sun scribe in a Premier League press room to leave Wayne Rooney alone as his rag was harassing England's best player over his private life in the run-up to a World Cup finals. He laughed, thinking I was joking.
For far too long, everybody from politicians to policemen to newspaper readers have indulged and tolerated a now proven criminal organisation that has wielded huge unelected power. Former Chief Executive Rebekah Brooks, who was arrested by police yesterday, intimidated elected members of parliament by threatening exposes of their private lives if they persisted asking her questions.
What were footballing figures doing in bed with News International? Gary Lineker for instance was writing a column for the NOTW up until its demise. Why did so many players take Murdoch's shilling for quotes or ghost-written pieces while complaining at the same time that their privacy was being invaded?
There are no excuses anymore. Public light has at last shone on this vile man and his immoral empire and the allegations of wrongdoing get worse every day. Deleting voicemails of a missing girl who was subsequently found murdered was bad enough, as was hacking the phones of families of terrorism victims, but now we learn Murdoch's organisation was paying the Metropolitan Police to keep schtum.
If football had any shame it would usher Sky out of the Premier League and ban News International from its press boxes, though pigs might fly.
I don't claim any credit for my miniscule acts of resistance, but I would like to think my little snowballs contributed in a small way to the glorious avalanche now enveloping Murdoch's dark empire.
Football could live quite happily without him.
- Sean O'Conor
(This is a personal opinion piece and does not necessarily reflect the views of Soccerphile)
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