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The silly season — and why it’s uniquely silly in soccer

Photo: Nicolae Stoian

Transfer rumors can be ridiculous.

If you’re a soccer fan, you probably already know this. You laughed at the rumors of Carlos Ruiz returning to Philadelphia Union as you pictured the massive bong John Hackworth would have to be smoking from in order to make that move. You swatted rumors of Raul joining the Union back to the Middle East. Maybe you’re taking the Grafite talk seriously. (It seems more credible, right? Right?)

We have entered the silly season. It happens in every major team sport. The season ends, and sportswriters have no other topics about which to write. There are no games. The locker room is empty.

So they write about off-season moves. (Unless there’s a lockout for the umpteenth time, at which point you can and should write about the worst commissioner in the history of major pro sports.)

But in soccer, it gets uniquely ridiculous — for good and actually kind of interesting (or only interesting to me?) reasons.

England: The hacking season

Most people’s favorite transfer rumor mill is the British media. The tabloids go nuts during the silly season — and outside it too. On a news basis, they don’t work by the same ethical standards as American broadsheet newspapers. They’ve historically been excellent at ferreting out transfer rumors and celebrity scandals.

That’s because they hacked into voice mails of sports agents, footballers, police officers, and others.

Police have arrested numerous British journalists and news executives connected with the scandal that began with News International papers and spread beyond. Among those arrested were the deputy football editor of the London Times. The hacking victims that have publicly come forward include Professional Football Association executive Gordon Taylor and player agent Sky Andrew.

How many other agents and players do you think haven’t said a thing?

One of the scandals’ revelations is how routine a practice voice mail hacking was.

How routine do you think it was during the transfer season?

The scandal probably put a stop to the hacking, at least temporarily.

The reason British sports “journalists” were tempted to hack voice mails is that it was a convenient way to to learn the truth behind transfers, scandals and other news that sells. Without the need to cite their sources, these more ethically lax publications just wanted the story, regardless of how.

Absent those true rumors gleaned from voice mails, the English football rumor mill is even more unreliable than it ever was. That’s a good thing for privacy rights, but it potentially makes the silly season a whole lot sillier.

America: The blogging season

Everyone knows there isn’t much in the order of professional soccer media in the U.S. Major newspapers devote few resources to soccer in comparison to American football, baseball and basketball.

Over the last two years, a professional freelance class has increasingly emerged, with MLSSoccer.com, Fox Soccer, Sports Illustrated, Sporting News, ESPN and NBC Sports providing paychecks to a revolving crew of freelancers to write about soccer. Most of them, like Steve Davis, Brett Latham, Kyle McCarthy, Graham Parker, and Brian Strauss, are good, solid professionals.

Few are ferreting out scoops on transfers, however. That’s in part due to the closed door nature of Major League Soccer, a single entity that holds all player contracts and therefore has the power to zip many lips around the league.

But it’s also due to the nature of the American professional soccer writers and their publications: Historically, they’ve come in mostly for regularly weekly columns and commentary, not breaking news. The most notable exceptions are guys like Davis, McCarthy, and Ives Galarcep, and they all previously covered MLS clubs for newspapers. (Davis covered FC Dallas, Galarcep covered the Red Bulls, and McCarthy still writes about the Revolution for the Boston Herald.) So we’re talking traditional newspaper guys working the beat, much like Kerith Gabriel, Chris Vito and Marc Narducci have done for Philadelphia-area newspapers.

During the off-season, however, the remaining newspaper class of soccer reporters get assigned to other beats. Soccer isn’t all they write about, so they don’t fall into silly season habits.

That’s where the blogosphere comes in. They’re not beat writers. Even those with backgrounds in journalism don’t spend a ton of time doing original reporting — yes, guilty as charged — because, honestly, that’s a lot of work. We need to get paid, yo.

So bloggers link to all sorts of crap around the web: Unsourced reports from unreliable publications, Twitter feeds, and the like. And it becomes a report. Maybe someone calls it news. And links to it. And it goes viral.

But it’s not news. It’s just a rumor, and you have no idea where it originally came from.

It’s why we almost never report on rumors at PSP, other than to link to them in news roundups, unless we have done the reporting from reliable sources, such as with the Danny Califf trade. It’s pointless. We don’t waste our time.

See, in American soccer media circles, you can comb that desert, but in the end, unless you’re doing the original reporting, it’s just an exercise in futility, and the response is always the same:

We ain’t found sh*t.

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