BLOG: Big Sam’s defence is worse than England’s

Date 28.09.2016

Senior Lecturer in Journalism & Media Studies, Matt Walsh, gives his verdict on the newspaper entrapment methods used to snare Sam Allardyce – the England football team’s shamed ex-manager. 

“Entrapment has won” – that is Sam Allardyce’s view of the press reporting that forced him out of his job as England manager.

It’s a good line. While accepting he’s made a mistake and saying he’s paid the price for it, he’s also implying that flawed reporting that flouted journalistic ethics led to his downfall.

He’s hardly the first person to turn their fire on the messenger after finding themselves at the centre of a media storm, but is he right?

He was filmed by undercover reporters giving advice on how to get around Football Association rules on player transfers while  negotiating a £400,000 deal with a  fictitious Far Eastern firm.

IPSO – the Independent Press Standards Organisation – has strict guidelines on the use of undercover stings.

Its Editors’ Code of Practice makes clear clandestine filming can only be justified in cases where there is evidence, at the very least, of serious impropriety and publication must be in the public interest.

This case passes that test – a senior FA employee taking money to avoid FA rules is clearly, at the very least, improper.

But was this a fishing expedition – did reporters randomly offer inducements to managers in the hope that one of them would take the bait?

It doesn’t appear so.

According to The Telegraph, which broke the story, the investigation ran for 10 months after the paper received specific intelligence on managers and officials at Premier League teams who were giving or taking cash inducements to secure player transfers.

And it appears more names may be in the frame.

The paper has published undercover film of football agents boasting about their corrupt relationships with eight more managers – although it hasn’t gone as far as naming them.

Football has long had a troubled history with men who buy their way to success with brown envelopes stuffed with cash. The investigation and exposure of corrupt business practices should be a primary duty of a watchdog press and those paid handsomely by the game should be thankful that the disinfecting light of publicity is being shone on some of its shadier practices.

So, entrapment? It might be a good line, but it is the worst defence since England went out of Euro 2016 to Iceland.