As any sports fan knows, rumors of trades, signings, suspensions, and lineup changes—almost always vaguely attributed to sources—dominate sports media reporting, and therefore our conversations about sports. (Perhaps the causal arrow points in the other direction?) But what the American sports fan may not know is that European soccer rumor reporting is orders of magnitude worse. It’s post-apocalyptic stuff, perpetrated by a bunch of Mad Max extras with credentials and Twitter accounts. Citing a fake Ken Rosenthal tweet is more ethical than most soccer transfer rumors.

This is a story about how that rancid sausage gets made.

1. Two weeks ago, the Twitter account for somewhat influential (52,725 followers) Manchester United fan site, United Report, tweeted a rumor about Wayne Rooney showing up to training with booze in his system. Their source is a Manchester United fanzine-turned-fan forum, Red Issue.

2. Yesterday, United Report tweeted, “Wayne Rooney will not play vs Norwich. Undisclosed due to legal reasons [andy mitten].”

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England has weaker press freedom laws—or conversely, stronger libel laws—so legitimate reporters vaguely nodding to a story without coming out and saying it isn’t unprecedented. (See the court injunctions against reporting on Ryan Giggs’s affair with a model, not to be confused with his eight-year-long affair with his brother’s wife.) Presumably, the reason Rooney isn’t playing has to do with the alcohol issues from two weeks ago.

3. The source for United Report’s tweet—which only cites “[andy mitten]” and contains no link—is this Norwegian paywalled column that reliable freelance soccer journalist Andy Mitten wrote for Scandinavian Manchester United supporter site United.no.

4. More specifically, United Report’s tweet showed up three hours after Reddit user Argonyon posted a translation of Mitten’s column on r/reddevils, Reddit’s Manchester United fan subreddit. While it is impossible to confirm short of United Report admitting it, I would bet anything that they didn’t personally pay for access to and then translate Mitten’s column from Norwegian, but rather cribbed Argonyon’s translation:

Wayne Rooney is poor and is not going to play against Norwich, but Mitten can’t say more on the topic due to legal reasons. Asks himself if we will ever see Rooney in form again. (Supporters in the comment section is very interested in what Mitten meant here. Many of them interpret it as if Rooney has been involved in legal trouble, or that he is on his way out in january

5. While this is all going on, the Irish Examiner retracts an article from Dec. 8 that, “falsely alleg[ed] that Wayne Rooney was dropped from the Manchester United squad for their fixtures with West Ham United and Wolfsburg as he turned up to training with alcohol in his system.” It apologizes to Rooney for the article, and says they’ve paid damages to Rooney for publishing “completely false” allegations.

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6. The Twitter account for somewhat influential (50,293 followers) soccer news aggregation site Sport Witness tweets at United Report that they’ve checked with the named source—Andy Mitten—and he didn’t write what they tweeted he wrote.

7. Andy Mitten is a longtime British soccer journalist who, to my knowledge, doesn’t actually speak Norwegian. This suggests that he wrote his article for United.no in English, and then United.no translated it into Norwegian. This is likeliest spot for where an error occurred—not Reddit user Argonyon translating the United.no article back into English—and several hours later United.no edited their article.

8. According to a translation from Reddit user complicatedfan, the edited United.no article now reads:

Wayne Rooney still is not well, and won’t be playing against Norwich. By the way, Team Rooney sent out a series of warnings to the media in consideration of what they might write after he recently went out of the team. A focused Wayne Rooney in form would certainly be important for United, but will we ever see it again? Here’s hoping.

Crucially, this new translation decouples the reporting that Rooney will not start against Norwich from anything having to do with legal or libel issues.

9. Shortly after Sport Witness tweeted at United Report that Mitten hadn’t written what they said he’d written, United Report deleted their tweet, with no mention of its deletion.


10. In a shockingly unprecedented show of restraint—or perhaps well aware of the legal consequences, as demonstrated by the Irish Examiner—the more “reputable” (in this land of the blind, the one-eyed papers are king) papers declined to print the rumor, but a few sites did.

11. Unreported on by the mainstream media, but also uncorrected by them—though to be fair, it isn’t their job to correct every overreach by the warp speed transfer rumor mill—an untold number of soccer fans who get their news from fan sites, fan forums, and In The Know Twitter accounts (that aren’t In The Know about anything) believe that Wayne Rooney won’t play against Norwich tomorrow, and that because of legal issues reporters cannot tell them why.

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