Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Tabloid coverage of Euro '96

This is the final part of my 1996 MA dissertation 'Shock! Horror! England in the Tabloid Press: An Investigation Into the Tabloid Press, the England Football Team and the Processes Which Have Led to Sensationalisation'. This installment looks at the coverage of the England team during Euro '96.  Part one can be found here and part two here.

The Coverage in the Sun and the Daily Mirror During Euro '96

Having shown the processes that have led to a right wing and sensationalist tabloid Press, I now wish to outline and attempt to explain the coverage used during Euro ’96 by both the Sun and the Mirror.  It is clear to see that running through both newspapers there were two similar themes.  Both Wagg (1991, 1986) and Maguire (1994/95) when studying media coverage of English sports (Maguire studies cricket as well as football) have identified the themes od ‘wilful nostalgia’ as well as clear nationalist overtones, what Maguire refers to as ‘identity politics’.  It is clear that whilst these discourses run through the coverage given to Euro ’96 by both papers, they are used in different ways.

The coverage of the tournament can be broken up into four similar, yet distinct, phases in which the two above-mentioned themes are used.  These phases are different not just because of their timing but because the coverage in both the papers changes during the phases.  Firstly there was the build-up to the tournament, in the four weeks prior to it.  This was very much dominated by England’s warm-up tour of China and Hong Kong and an alleged incident on the return fight home.  The second phase covered the first week of the tournament.  This included the build-up to England’s first two matches, against Switzerland and then secondly Scotland, as well as the coverage of the first game.  The third phase was the shortest, lasting just two days, it included the coverage of the Scotland game and the build-up to England’s final group match against Holland.  The fourth phase included the reportage of the Holland game and the coverage and build-up to England’s quarter- and semi-final matches against Spain and Germany respectively.

Phase One: Hong Kong Pooey!
One single incident dominated this phase – the damage allegedly caused during the drinking exploits of Paul Gascoigne.  However it began with coverage of England’s final warm-up match against a Hong Kong select XI.  England won 1-0 with a performance that was widely acknowledged to have been quite poor.  However, some might say true to form, the tabloid Press reported this as a national disaster.  The Mirror (27 May 1996) especially went ot town on the team.  The score box on the back page had “DISASTER” across the top and read “Honkers 0 Plonkers 1”.  England’s six worst performances (or at least what Mirror journalists saw as the worst) were listed and England coach Terry Venables’ comment that the long grass did not suit England’s passing game was branded as “[…] the most pathetic excuse ever […]”.  One of the most significant comments was that “Venables now only has 12 days to restore England’s pride and spirit before [Euro ’96]”.  This point will be returned to later, however it is interesting to note that the reference is not to ‘the players’ or ‘the England team’s’ confidence but to “England’s” confidence.  Harry Harris in his report of the match refers to the game as “[…] England’s Far East fiasco […]” and “[…] one of soccer’s most humiliating episodes”.  However, in some contradiction to this, he goes on to refer to the “[…] alien sauna-like atmosphere of the monsoon season,” as well as that the opposition were “[…] players trying to relive past glories that never came their way”.  There is an interesting similarity here with the way the Sun reported England’s final warm-up game to the World Cup in Mexico 1986 (see Wagg, 1991: 228).  Both demonstrate how the same issue of a newspaper (and in this case the same report) can be both critical and accommodating.  Finally the voice of an ex-professional player is added as Mark Lawrenson asks “WHAT HAVE WE LEARNT FROM THIS DISASTER TOUR…NOTHING”.

The following day both papers reported on the announcement of the final England squad (although this was somewhat overshadowed by reporting of Leicester City’s First Division play-off victory).   Both concentrated on the exclusion of Peter Beardsley.  The Sun (28 May 1996) had Gary Lineker writing that “this is a big mistake”.  While much of the writing in both newspapers is done by journalists, some of whom have developed ‘star personalities’, it is still important for these papers to have ex- or current professionals working for them.  Journalists can be critical but their worl can be dismissed as the opinions of people who don’t really know.  An ex- or current professional or an ex- or current manager on the other hand brings more credibility to an article.

Wagg (1991: 233) made a stunningly accurate prediction.  Other than the reporting of matches in the ‘national humiliation’ tone seen above (and the opposite that will be shown below):

[a]ny follower of British football through the tabloids [can] expect […] some cocktail of Players Seen Breaking Curfew/Player Had Sex With Hotel Maid supplemented where necessary with innocuous revelations from Today’s Training Session”.

Indeed several variations of these were used.  The first was captured in a Sun exclusive “ENGLAND STAR ROBBIE SCORES WITH MP’S DAUGHTER” (20 May 1996).  The story centred on a exclusive interview with Amy Kilfoyle, daughter of Peter Kilfoyle, education spokesman for the Labour party, detailing her “sex-ploits” with here best friend, the England player Robbie Fowler.  The back page of the same issues ran with a headline that read “BONK OF ENGLAND” Our Euro stars can go home for nookie”.  This story centred of the fact that the England players would be allowed to see their families on their days off.

However, the main story in this phase centred on Paul Gascoigne allegedly causing £5,000 worth of damage to a Cathay Pacific plane on the flight home from Hong Kong.  Both papers ran very similar coverage of the incident.  Each ostensibly blamed Gascoigne in both the headlines and the main stories, yet in the editorials they asked for an “[…] immediate investigation to find the culprits” (the Sun 30 May 1996).  The Sun published photos, of Gascoigne and other players drinking in Hong Kong, taken a day before the flight along with a headline the read “DISGRACEFOOL Look at Gazza… a drunken oaf with no pride” (31 May 1996).  The Mirror printed seven photos of football hooligans used in the “shop-a-yob” scheme, placing a picture of Gascoigne alongside them and asking “Spot the England player…(tricky isn’t it?)” (30 May 1996).  Both papers ran phone polls asking whether Gascoigne should remain in the England squad.  “86% [of] Daily Mirror readers say give Gazza the BOOT” (31 May 1996) read the headline, the number was in fact only 86% of the 3,008 readers that phoned in.  The Sun published results claiming: “10,000 say Gazza must get the boot” (1 June 1996).

Both papers also concurrently developed the above-mentioned theme of “wilful nostalgia”.  Sir Alf Ramsey, a columnist for the Mirror, wrote two articles on the Gascoigne incident.  Firstly he claimed “I’d have kicked you out Gazza!” after being “[…] upset that the country’s name is being blackened […]” (30th May 1996).  In the second Sir Alf said: “I will NOT go to Wembley if this man plays” claiming “it would be impossible for me to look down on he scene of my greatest triumph […] not after the shame he has brought to this country” (1 June 1996).

The Sun (31 May 1996) ran an editorial stating:

[…] there was a time in football when the name of England was synonymous with impeccable behaviour.  Men like Moore, Charlton and Mathews enhanced our reputation around the world.  Now thanks to Gascoigne and his like our name is trash […]

The desire to concentrate a story on Gascoigne was undoubtedly motivated by the nature of the tabloid Press.  As was mentioned in Chapter Two, the tabloids are essentially not newspapers.  When Murdoch took over the Sun it had 27 specialist correspondents, within a year it had none (Chippindale & Horrie, 1990:16).  News and politics have been relegated to pages two and five and now rarely make appearances on the front page.  Such papers are instead concerned with personalities and events and are not averse to making stories up.  When this is coupled with the intensity of a three-way circulation battle where sales figures and exclusives are everything, it is not surprising to see the vilification with which Gascogne’s antics (if indeed they were true or anywhere near as extreme as made out) were treated.

A general trend running through the coverage of both the Hong Kong match and the Gascoigne incident was a sense of national decline and ‘wilful nostalgia’ of which both Maguire (1994/5) and Wagg (1991, 1986) speak.  Maguire (1994/5: 97) quotes Turner (1987) as saying “for the nostalgic the world is alien”.  Linked to this also is a sense of loss of, or longing for, a time, a place or a person.  Again quoting Turner (1987) Maguire (1994/5: 97) identifies one of the main dimensions of nostalgic discourse as being a sense of historical decline or loss – a departure from some golden age “lost in the mists of time”.  Thus socio-economic and political problems are currently perceived to be besetting Britain.  These include the economic decline of what was once the workshop of the world,mass unemployment, the loss of the Empire, the gathering pace of European integration and the apparent rise in crime.  As Hutton expands:

[…] the last British car company has been sold to the Germans and whilst the Channel Tunnel has at last been finished, the trains do not go quite so fast on our side, (Hutton 1995: 2).

The perception of Britain in a state of decline colours both the political and sporting journalism.

Maguire (1994/5: 99) has argued that during the early 1990s reporting of these events ran more or less every day:

The general tenor centred on a sense of pessimism, a lack of national cohesion and direction and a longing for a time when things ‘worked’ and people felt more secure.

Wagg (1991: 225) argues that faced with such a decline the sports writers of the tabloid Press have set themselves up to accept, on behalf of the readers, nothing less than “aquality of football befitting the nation that invented the game”.  The nationalist tone used increasing with both the ‘circulation war’ and the realisation that in Thatcher’s Britain such a style of writing was both acceptable and popular.

So according to the papers the performance against Hong Kong was not just damaging to the spirit and morale of the team but to England as a whole.  Similarly Gascoigne’s alleged actions were construed to be symptomatic of an England in decline.  He had further “shamed” and “blackened its name”.  Such actions would not have been perpetrated by the players of the World Cup winning team thirty years previously (when England was still a ‘great’ nation).  Nor were they deemed acceptable in today’s England team by the man who had managed the World Cup winners, Sir Alf Ramsey.

It is interesting to note that after four days of more or less similar coverage by the papers, the Sun drops the Gascoigne incident while the Mirror continues with three more back page stories.  These ranged from “I’LL SACK THE LOT OF YOU” (3 June 1996) in which Venables supposedly threatens to eject any squad member involved in further “booze aggro”, to “JUMBO PORKIES” (5 June 1996) in which Venables allegedly blames the airline for fabricating the story.  The Sun during this time printed several non-Euro ’96 stories, such as domestic transfers.

The day before England’s first match (7June 1996) both the Sun and the Mirror reported that Gascoigne (Now in the Sun no longer “a drunk oaf with no pride” but “England’s No1 match winner”) had pulled out of a training session.  The headlines read “GAZZA BOILS OVER!” (The Sun 7 June 1996) and “Has our Euro hope CRACKED?” (the Mirror 7 June 1996).  Both papers referred to the incident as “an England Crisis”.  Tunstall (1996: 297-301) has referred to the capacity of newspapers to define crises.  While he was referring specifically to political crises, the same can be said of the sports pages.  Individual papers will ‘fight’ each other to be first with the ‘crisis’ exclusive but they may also present a united front.  The person or organisation at the centre of the crisis will more often than not deny there is a crisis, however the definition often sticks and, when it does, such a denial can be interpreted as fuelling the crisis – the person concerned is unaware of the problem.  The motivations for journalists are again related to the circulation battle.  Along with sex and scandals such ‘crisis’ stories are popular and hence any minor problem is reported as such.

Phase Two: Up Your Kilt Tel!
This phase is again characterized by a sense of let down by the England players after a 1-1 draw with the Swiss and Scotland’s 0-0 draw with the Dutch.  The issue of drink was also raised again with both the Sun and the Mirror running exclusives on this theme.

The first day of this phase (8 June 1996), the day of the match against Switzerland, neither paper was critical.  Both ran stories on the front and back pages in which several players (namely Paul Ince in the Sun and Tony Adams in the Mirror) along with Terry Venables claim the team can win the Championship.  Both papers’ reports are coloured by a nationalist euphoria.  On the front page of the Sun Paul Ince is photographed draped in the flag of St George and on the back page of the Mirror the famous photo of Bobby Moore being carried aloft by other players after the 1966 World Cup victory has been altered so that now Adams is being carried by other contemporary players.  A greater part of each oth the reports made a clear link between 1966 and 1996.  Ince in the Sun wrote:

THIS is the moment of truth.  The day we remember the legacy of Bobby Moore and the boys of ’66 […] The time has come for the footballing bulldog breed of old England to strike back.
Patriot missiles if you like […]  This team is […] good enough to inherit the fame of Sir Alf’s boys.  (The Sun 8 June 1996)

The nostalgic links are clear to see.  The implication is that the old English spirit must rise again – if the team can win at football then the country will re-establish itself on the economic and political stage.  Throughout the tournament the Mirror ran the slogan “WE DID IT IN ’66 WE’LL DO IT IN ’96”  Sir Alf Ramsey ran his eye over the team comparing Ince to Nobby Styles, who played in a similar position in 1966, and claiming that Gascoigne (who a week before he would have kicked out of the team and refused to watch play) “[…] has the ability to be England’s match winner and inspiration” (Daily Mirror, 8 June 1996).

The match against Switzerland ended in a 1-1 draw and Gascoigne was substituted.  The Monday after the match the stories were not of the match per se but centred on Gascoigne and, again, England players drinking.  The Sun ran a story with a headline that read “OUT OF GAZ?” (10 June 1996) in which several Swiss players supposedly claimed that England could not succeed without Gascoigne.  The Mirror ran a story in which Venables “open[ed] his heart on his troubled superstar” claiming “He [Gascoigne] is a nervous wreck”.  On the front page the Mirror printed an ‘exclusive’ photo of Paul Ince drinking at a pub.  The following day the Sun ran a story that three England players were “boozing in a night club just hours after England’s dismal debut […]” (11 June 1996).  The concentration on such player-related stories was such that the Mirror did not even include a match report.  The Sun however did and while the team were branded “Euro flops” running “the risk of failing their country,” the report does go on to state that the game was “not a disaster” (10 June 1996).

During this phase the Scots also played their first match, drawing 0-0 with Holland.  This was seen as a fantastic result for the Scots but, in the English papers, the game was reported in terms of the Scotland versus England game to be played on the following Saturday.  The first sentence of the Sun’s match report was “SCOTLAND are heading for Wembley to knock England out of Euro ’96” (11 June 1996).  Similarly in the Mirror the first sentence of their report was “TERRY VENABLES’ England stars were last night warned: We’re coming to MacDuff you up” (11 June 1996).

In both papers in the run-up to the game the Scottish team were compared favourably with the English team.  The implication seemed to be that for the Scots. With little success in the past, each gritty performance was a good result win, lose or draw.  The Scots were referred to as “heroes” as opposed to England’s “Euro flops”.  It must be pointed out that neither team had won or lost at this stage, simply Scotland’s draw against Holland was perceived to be better than England’s against Switzerland.  The Mirror thus talked of the solid Scots defence:

constructed not of bricks and mortar, but proud blue shirts cemented together by the sweat of a courageous battling performance.  This was team spirit.  That doesn’t mean the level of alcoholic intake – it means honest endeavour and commitment.  (11 June 1996).

In a subtle way the papers were using a discourse of wilful nostalgia.  The Scots were supposedly showing all the characteristics that the English should have possessed but did not.  The Scots’ performance against Holland had done their country proud; the English team had let their country down.  As has been discussed in the previous chapter the papers do not really talk about the football (the reader can watch this on television), they talk about the events surrounding, and the people who take part in, the games.  The tabloids react to results, they do not discuss them.  Thus little was made of the fact that England conceded a disputable penalty that led to the Swiss equaliser.  Equally there was little mention of the fact that the Scots did not concede a penalty when John Collins handled the ball on the goal line (which could have led to the winner for Holland).

On the day of the Scotland versus England match (15 June 1996) both papers printed photos and headlines that described the match as a war.  A Sun headline read “England on War alert”.  While the Mirror on the front and back pages had Scotland captain Gary McAllister’s face superimposed onto a photo of Mel Gibson from the film Braveheart.  On the same pages Paul Gascoigne’s face was superimposed onto a photo of Kenneth Brannagh from the film Henry V.  A banner across the top read “BATTLE OF WEMBLEY” and the picture’s byline read “LIONHEART v BRAVEHEART”.  Jhally (1989) makes the point that much sports reporting is couched in militaristic terms.  This can range from the explicit – referring to the game as a war or a battle and dressing players up as historical military figures, to the more subtle such as referring to players as ‘patriot missiles’.  Jhally argues that such reporting is what one expects from a society with the military/industrial complex at its heart.

The expectations (or what the journalists think the country expects) of the team as a whole, and of Gascoigne in particular, were also laid out.  In the Mirror Sir Alf Ramsey claimed that:

[…] he [Gascoigne] owes England the performance of his career.  One which will wipe away the same of the past few weeks […].

In the Sun Kevin Keegan claimed that:

[the team] have to excite this nation of ours and whip up the support of the people.  Their backing has to be earned and [the team] didn’t do that in the first game.

The editorials of both papers placed the game as an important one for Britain.  It was seen as an opportunity to “[…] prove Britain is still great with a fine match worthy of two great peoples” (The Sun 15 June 1996).  It is clear however that both papers wanted to see England win but there is not the high degree of racial stereotyping of the Scots as there would later be of the Spanish and the Germans.  Although both the Mirror and the Sun have separate Scottish editions (the Daily Record and the Scottish Sun) it is possible that one reason for this is simply that Scotland is closer to England and may for some of the papers’ readership.

Phase Three: Trout of This World!
This is the shortest phase lasting just two days and including coverage of the game against Scotland and the build up to the game against Holland.  The Sun gave neither of their two front pages on these days to football coverage instead concentrating on the IRA bombing of Manchester.  The Mirror on the other hand (along with some coverage of the bomb attack) printed an apology to Paul Gascoigne on one front page (see Figure Five) and a full page asking the team to “GIVE THEM EDAM GOOD THRASHING” and telling readers ten things they can do to help the team such as “Pull up your tulips […] Don’t drink Heineken [..] (the Mirror 18 June 1996).

Figure 5: Apology to Paul Gascoigne, front page of the Mirror (17 June 1996)
This phase has been set apart from the rest as it is very much a transitional one.  The England team’s performance against the Scots was seen as acceptable (they won 2-0).  The Sun described the game thus:

DATES are everything in Anglo-Scottish history – 1314, 1746, and now 16.39.  Forget Bannockburn and forget Culloden.  In years to come students will be schooled in the precise moment Scottish forces were so heroically repelled by Lord Admiral David Seaman at Wembley [he saved a penalty] General Gazza and his troops are on the rampage (17 June 1996).

Both papers eulogised Gascoigne’s “wonder goal”, however they both also still questioned the quality of the squad.  In the Mirror Martin Peters, a World Cup winner in 1966, claims the team are “GONNERS WITHOUT GAZZA” (17 June 1996).  While in the Sun former Holland and Manchester united player Arnold Muhren is quoted as saying “FOUR-GET IT TEL” (a quite ironic headline in light of the eventual result against Holland) claiming that not one of the four players Sheringham, Shearer, Adams or Anderton were international quality performers.

In this phase it seems clear that the papers were ‘hedging their bets’.  They were delighted with the victory over Scotland and would remain so if the team continued to play in the same manner (perhaps mindful also of the fact the readers would not appreciate criticism of a winning team).  However if England failed to qualify or put in a bad performance and scraped through to the next round (after all Holland was seen as a tougher game than the match against Scotland) the papers could offer explanations and say ‘we told you so’.

Phase Four: EU-FOUR-IA
The final stage of coverage was defined by two very different types of discourse in the two papers each in turn was different from what had gone before.  There was still an element of nostalgia however this was not a painful reminiscing of what passed but the explicit implication that what England had lost over the last thirty years could be recaptured by, and through, the football team.

Both papers reported the games against Holland, Spain and Germany in very similar ways.  The 4-1 victory over the Dutch arguably (in football terms) a surprise result was greeted with general euphoria.  The Sun asked if it was:

Our finest hour?  Could it be that on June 30 we might find 11 new heroes to replace the boys of ’66 […] Could it be that we are within touching distance of lasting greatness?  The sort that would put our football and our footballers back on top of the tree […]” (19 June 1996).

The Mirror report began: “Shades of ’66 – the glory has returned to Wembley at last.  Now the nation believes that England can win Euro ’96,” (19 June 1966).

Equally the reports of the Spain match in both papers focused on Stuart Pearce who scored in a penalty shoot-out six years after missing in a shoot-out in the World Cup semi-final.  PSYCHO-THERAPY Brave Pearce buries torment of Turin” read the Sun headline (24 June 1996), along with “IT’S STUPERMAN” in the Mirror.  In the Sun Pearce is quoted as saying:

I would have taken a penalty a week after Turin.  Pride comes into it – the English have a lot of bottle.  When the chips are down and you have to deliver there is no better person to do this than an Englishman (24 June 1996).

By this time, as shall be discussed below, the build-up to games was, in the Mirror at least, taking on an overtly xenophobic tone.  This was done by separating England’s opponents from the English by highlighting the supposedly undesirable traits of those nations.  The quote by Pearce in the Sun was more subtle, focusing instead upon the English and separating them from the others by highlighting their supposed virtues.

The reports of the Germany game were also surprisingly similar.  England lost on penalties after a 1-1 draw.  Despite losing, both papers referred to the players as “heroes” (not “Euro flops” as they had after England’s first game –also a 1-1 draw).  The implication was that they had taken part in an “epic battle,” were unlucky to lose and so the nation could be proud.

As mentioned earlier there were two different kinds of discourse in the two papers but this manifested itself in the build up to, and not in the coverage of, matches.  Some may find it surprising but while the Sun aimed little overt xenophobia at England’s opponents, concentrating instead on ‘human interest’ stories centring on fans, and players and their wives, the Mirror was keen to distinguish between ‘them’ and ‘us’.

Two days after the game against Holland the Sun’s coverage was dominated by messages for the England squad sent in by readers along with a song sheet with the words to England’s tournament song Three Lions.  The coverage also had messages from various personalities such as Frank Bruno urging the team to “GIVE ’EM A SPAINKING (sic.)” (20 June 1996).  There was only a slight sense of nostalgic nationalism as Sir Francis Drake was adopted as the Sun’s mascot.  The paper also ran a competition for women to ring up and win a set of “England supporter bras – a St George’s cross on each cup and a pair of knickers with ‘Good Luck Lads’ written on.”  This was reminiscent of a similar offer made during the Falklands War when the Sun launched “Undie-Cover Warfare” on the Argentineans (Harris, 1983: 46).

Figure Six: build up to England's match v Spain, page five of the Mirror (20 June 1996)
The mirror however was still rejoicing over the win over Holland by running through headlines and stories from other European newspapers “’Soccer has returned to the land of its fathers… the cathedral of football is located at Wembley’ say the GERMANS!” (20 June 1996).  In this manner the Mirror was showing that while in other areas in Europe, England was losing (an on-running story in both papers throughout Euro ’96 was the European union ban on British beef) at football at least, they had reclaimed their right to be seen as the best.  Not only did the Mirror praise the virtues of the English but they also pointed out and re-emphasised the supposed ‘bad’ points in other nations.  Thus they printed “10 NASTIES SPAIN’S GIVEN EUROPE” (see Figure Six).  As well as listing Spain’s major military defeats in an article with a first line reading: “SPAIN should be ready for Saturday’s game – it has a history of stunning defeats”.  The idea that something lost in the mists of time had been recaptured is made explicitly in the Mirror’s editorial of the day and it is worth quoting at some length:

The England football team’s wonderful victory against Holland released something not often seen in their country.  Pride.  The Scots have it and do so the Irish and the Welsh.  Pride not just in their sporting teams but in their nations.  Yet something has happened in England since winning the world Cup in 1966.  The sense of nationhood has slipped away […].  It has nothing to do with a Feelgood Factor or the economy or politics.  It is having pride not just in the achievements of the national team but in ourselves […].  It shows there is still the old feeling, the old sense of community.  And the old sense of pride.  920 June 1996).

On the day of the Spain game the Sun continued to focus on stories about, and messages from fans.  There was an editorial claiming that “Tel and his boys are going for victory in Europe and nothing less… Unlike some politicians we could mention” (22 June 1996).  The front page showed television presenter Anthea Turner dressed in an England kit.

The Mirror concentrated on alleged comments by the Spanish coach Javier Clemente that England fans are “drunkards”.  Again the Mirror was placing England’s opponents in a bad light by claiming that Clemente had “sunk to the depths” with the “outrageous slur” (22 June 1996).  The Mirror’s front page consisted of a plain flag of St George with the words “ADIOS AMIGOS” printed on it.

The build up to the semi-final in both papers was remarkably different.  The Sun again focused on fans and players claiming that the fact that large numbers of fans had been wearing plastic Sun bowler hats had swung the game in England’s favour.  There were also stories about England fans in Spain as well as stories centring on sex – experts predicting England’s success would lead to a baby boom as the team’s success would lead to men’s sperm count rising (24 June 1996).  Coupled with the coverage Stuart Pearce and David Seaman received at the back of the paper both Pearce’s wife and Seaman’s fiancée were interviewed at the front (25 & 26 June 1996).  On the day of the Germany match the connection with 1996 was again made:

Tonight England bid for glory and a place in the Euro ’96 final.  [Victory] would end 30 years of pain and erase memories of World Cup heartbreak in Mexico and Italy.  So bring on the Germans and remember 1966! (26 June 1996).

The Mirror ran stories about fans also but to a much lesser extent than the Sun.  The tone of their coverage throughout the tournament was highlighted by a sense of xenophobia but the paper’s build-up for the Germany match epitomised it more than any other period.  On the 24th June, 1996, the Monday after the quarter0final against Spain and two days before the game against Germany the Mirror ran a front page declaring “football war on Germany".

Figure 7: The front page of the Mirror, (24 June 1996)
A picture depicting Stuart Pearce and Paul Gascoigne wearing World War Two soldiers’ hats along with a headline that read: “ACHTUNG! SURRENDER For you Fritz ze Euro ’96 Championship is over” were also printed.  The editorial ran as a mock declaration of war:

Last night the Daily Mirror’s ambassador in Berlin handed the German Government a final note stating that unless […] they were prepared at once to withdraw their football team from Wembley a state of soccer war would exist between us.
We desired a peaceful and honourable settlement but the German manager Herr Vogts would not have it.  Having over-run defenceless Russia, the Czech Republic and Croatia, he has evidently made up his mind to attack England […]

Inside on pages two and three, a Mirror journalist dressed as a “spy” (trench-coat, hat and dark glasses) “infiltrated behind enemy lines […] to teach the Hun a lesson”.  This mainly meant erecting a flag of St George outside the Reichstag.  On pages four and five another Mirror reporter was sent to the hotel where the German team were staying to cover the sun-beds beside the pool with towels saying “AUF WIEDERSEHEN FROM THE DAILY MIRROR”.  This was considered revenge as:

for decades we Brits have suffered as the early-rising Germans have won the holiday battle to grab the pick of the sunbeds.

The Press Complaints Commission received between 300 and 350 complaints during Euro ’96 most were about the Mirror and in turn most of those were about this one issue.  On the following day (25 june 1996) the Mirror published a story offering a food hamper to the German captain Jurgen Klinsman.  The “goodwill gift” was an apology but, the Mirror claimed “there were no hard feelings over our joke on the Germans”.  On the day of the match (26 June 1996) the Mirror moved closer to the Sun’s coverage claiming the game was important for national pride, a game the team had to “win for the good of their country”.

One reason for this different coverage could well be the editor.  Both Stuart Higgins at the Sun and Piers Morgan at the Mirror worked on the Sun under Kelvin MacKenzie.  However Morgan’s style is much closer to that of MacKenzie.  At the Sun Morgan was a gossip columnist.  As editor of the News of the World he won both awards and criticism.  He gained a public rebuke from both the Press Complaints Commission and Rupert Murdoch for intruding into the privacy of Countess Spencer.

It appears that Mirror executives, such as David Montgomery employed Morgan specifically to implement such sensationalistic reporting in an attempt to catch up with and surpass the Sun’s circulation.  Hence it is possible to argue that the power invested in Morgan coupled with a certain type of personality, was, as with MacKenzie during the Falklands War, one reason for such fervently patriotic reporting.

Thus we can se that during Euro ’96 there were four distinct (though similar) phases of reporting.  The first, prior to the tournament, focused on the build up and set out the expectations of the England side.  The following three became increasingly patriotic the England team progressed in the tournament.  Both papers concentrated on highlighting the differences between the nations.  The Sun did this by focussing on the English, the Mirror by showing the ‘bad’ points of England’s opponents (it must be reiterated that this study focused on England and thus the discourses attached to foreign teams when they were not playing England has not been looked at).  Both newspapers also succumbed to wilful nostalgia prior to the tournament, and also whenever the England team had a bad performance.  This was a yearning for a lost, golden past.  When England were seen to be doing well past glories were supposedly recaptured.

In the course of this dissertation I hope to have demonstrated with some degree of adequacy how and why the coverage from the Sun and the Mirror manifested itself as it did throughout the Euro ’96 tournament.

Clearly two main themes developed.  Firstly there was a sense of “wilful nostalgia” at the beginning of the tournament.  This was seen as a yearning for some lost, golden past in which England did well in international political and socio-economic relations (as well as in football).  Such nostalgia was to be found not just in the sports pages.  In the Mirror columnist Victor Lewis-Smith expressed surprise that his lost wallet had been returned to him – this would have happened in the “good old days” but not now (Mirror 15 June 1996).  By the end of the tournament, according to the newspapers at least, this national pride, lost over the last 30 years, had been recaptured due to the England team’s performance.  The second theme was that of “identity politics” – the clear and, in one paper, (the Mirror), explicit development of a ‘them and us’ mentality.

There are four main processes that have led to this type of coverage.  Firstly there has been an intensification of competition between the Sun, the Mirror and (although it was not part of this study) the Daily Star.  The editors and the executives realise that all three deliver a very similar product.  If any one of these papers strays from the popular theme it will lose circulation (of prime importance in the tabloid market) to the others.  The move to Wapping and the reduction of the power of the print unions also intensified competition as papers became cheaper to produce.  This meant there were more papers and more sections within these papers and hence more choice for customers.  Thus the papers, as has been discussed, were locked into a double-bind configuration.  This mutual, and mutually escalating, fear has lead to an increasingly sensationalist Press which has become more harsh in tone and some might argue more ‘down-market’.

Secondly there has been a general shift to the political right.  This does not necessarily mean, however, that all the papers are backing the right-wing parties.  On the contrary, as was discussed, the Sun, for example, has printed articles by members of all sections of both parties thus making its politics hard to define.  The shift instigated and found to be popular, by Murdoch’s Sun has led to a very subtle xenophobia in all parts of both newspapers.  The Sun’s success in using this formula has, in a circulation-oriented market, led others to follow.

Thirdly there is a concentration not on news per se but on personalities and ‘gossipy’ information.  The competition from television, which can deliver both news and sport instantaneously, has led newspaper editors away from serious stories and direct competition with television to instead become television-led.  This has led to what some might describe as an obsession with soap operas at the front of the paper and the provision of chit-chat and behind-the-scenes drama (which television sport does not provide) at the back.  There is also, in light of the above three points, a propensity to fabricate stories if a suitable (in the eyes of the journalists) one does not already exist.

Finally tabloid newspaper editors now have a high degree of control and power within their paper and they in turn may divest a large degree of control to section editors (such as a sports editor).  In this way editors such as Kelvin MacKenzie (the former editor of the Sun) or Piers Morgan (current editor of the Mirror) may impose their own beliefs and personality on to the tone of the paper.

As stated in the introduction this dissertation marks an attempt to overcome the ‘gladiatorial’ nature of the sociology of sport.  I hope to have shown that by focusing on the similarities of theories more accurate and thus more adequate explanations of sociological phenomena can be found.


As I mentioned in the introduction this dissertation is merely the beginning of a theory that could help lead to an adequate understanding of newspaper coverage of various issues.  I feel it needs to be extended in several directions which the restrictions of time and space have made impossible to follow.  This work has concentrated merely on the production of texts and also mainly on the larger configurations which influence this production – the ‘conditions of production’ as Johnson refers to them (see Figure Three).  For it to be more adequate the real influence of newspaper personnel (such as editors) could be studied.  In this regard interviews with such personnel would be a help if not a necessity.  Equally a real attempt must be made to understand how these texts are used by those who read them.  This cannot be done simply by understanding the moment of production or the conditions which have led to this.  A survey of readers and their attitudes to and understanding of such papers would be required.

What I have concentrated on in this dissertation has been the macro-sociological relationships involved in paper production.  At the micro-sociological level I believe here is scope for incorporating and advancing Bourgeois’ Loss of Control Scenario outlined in Sports journalists and Their Source of Information: A Conflict of Interests and Its Resolution (again the limitations of time and space have prevented me from attempting to incorporate the theory into this dissertation).  Use of Bourgeois’ work would be of particular benefit when focusing on the relationships between sportsmen and women and journalists.

To briefly summarise: Bourgeois places sports journalists into a “socio-cultural context” (1995: 197).  He then analyses how journalists come to terms with and deal with, these relationships by employing “ambivalent behaviour towards the source of information” which leads to a “loss of control” scenario.  The source of information in the context of this dissertation would have been the administrative body such as the Football Association.  Bourgeois identifies four main facets of this scenario; firstly, journalists are covering and event, the successful staging of which is important for the source of information’s livelihood.  Secondly, the sports journalist’s livelihood depends on presenting “good copy”.  Hence, thirdly, the journalist and the source of information have common interests.  Finally, some journalists feel they must preserve their professional credibility and thus must be seen, at least, to maintain a “social distance” (1995: 197) from the source of information.  To facilitate this, the journalist develops an ambivalent attitude towards the source of information.  That is they simultaneously adopt two conflicting attitudes.  These last two points are really empirical questions that need answering.  However it can be seen in Chapter Three that the papers do adopt conflicting attitudes, even within the same edition, both praising and criticising the team, or a player or the manager’s decisions.

Bourgeois also argues that sports journalists are required to go beyond the reporting of an event – they must transform it into a spectacle by “generat[ing] suspense and develop[ing] intriguing narratives” (Bourgeois, 1995: 199).  The loss of control scenario is part of this and refers more directly to the relationships between journalists and, for example, a football manager – what Bourgeois refers to as the “protagonist”.  Again there are four stages to this.  Firstly, there is the ‘prelude’ where the sports journalist is infected with a sense of hope in the ability of the new protagonist.  The second stage is the ‘overture’.  When this begins is dependent on the perceived success, or otherwise, of the manager.  In this stage his ability to do the job is openly questioned.  The third stage, the ‘enactment of the socio-drama’ is more or less an extension of the overture in so far as perceived flaws are highlighted or re-emphasised.  Hence journalists “explore themes and write stories that feed the socio-dramatic narrative” (1995: 199).  Finally there is the closure of the drama when the protagonist (say, for example, Graham Taylor) loses his or her job or is forced to resign.  This “loss of control” on the part of the protagonist, in a symbolic sense, cleanses the source of information or organisation to which the protagonist belonged and the cycle can begin again.

One of the major problems with Bourgeois’ theory is the creation of a false dichotomy.  Bourgeois implicitly suggests that the protagonist can have control and then lose it (albeit through a gradual process).  The word ‘control’ creates problems as it suggests that the relationship is unidirectional, that is to say one party has total control of the other.  While at various stages of the cycle the balance of power, or the degree of control invested in the parties may be skewed in favour of one or the other, neither would ever have total power and therefore total control.  Nor, equally in that regard, would either party ever have no power and therefore no degree of control.  In fact it would seem that the relationship between managers and journalists is more complex.  Brian Clough relates in his autobiography how some journalists were part of his “inner sanctum” (1994: 101).  They informed him of good young players and while he, in turn, gave them exclusive stories.  In spite of these problems I feel that Bourgeois’ theory provides a useful starting point, not least because I believe the idea of differential power relationships can be incorporated.

A theory on these lines could be tested by looking at issues other than those so far touched upon, for example how sportswomen or British athletes from ethnic minority backgrounds are treated in the Press.  Sports other than football could also be looked at as well as tournaments held in other countries.  Indeed, there is no reason why analysis should not look at non-sporting coverage also.

Equally the idea that:

[…] readers learn not only about a given issue, but also how much importance to attach to that issue from the amount of information in a news story and its position […]

Outlined by McCombs and Shaw (1972: 176) could also be tested.  Such an argument (that the media is an agenda-setter rather than just a chronicler of facts) seems especially relevant to the context of this study following the controversy over the England players’ alleged alcohol consumption prior to and during Euro ’96.

I must reiterate that this dissertation is only a starting point which I hope may lead others to the study of what I see as a so far neglected area – the coverage of sport in newspapers.

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Christoph said...

This is a very good work. I'm actually writing a PhD thesis on sports journalism in England and Germany. Would it be possible to get the thesis as a pdf file?

Roger said...

Hi Christoph. Please email your request to the email address listed on the about page.

Anonymous said...

Hi, really interesting dissertation, well done. How did you get hold of the old newspapers? Did you have to make a trip to the National Library?

Anonymous said...

Apologies – I've just seen that your dissertation was written in 1996, so the newspapers weren't 'old' at the time!

Christoph said...

Hi Roger,

Sorry, i couldn't find an email address. could you send your dissertation to, please?