Update, September 30: in a charming development, it turns out the Twitter account on which this rumour got started has been suspended for imitating the real Ben Fairthorne. I also recommend this post from the tastefully-named Vancouver 86ers Blog, which looks at the genesis of this fake rumour and a few reaction from media types who can't do their research.
I've heard people talking about it. People who should know better. Hey, did you hear Petr Cech might be coming to Vancouver? Really? Petr Cech? The starting goalkeeper for Chelsea, probably the richest team in world sports? Two-time defending Golden Gloves winner in the English Premier League? A twenty-eight year old who would be moving down so far in both pay and prestige they wouldn't be able to build an elevator tall enough to get him back to the top? To the Whitecaps? What are we, the Canadian Real Madrid? Did Greg Kerfoot get pictures of him with a rent boy or something? Come on.
Some of you already know what I'm about to say. You're giggling. Don't worry, I agree with you. But I have seen people who actually seem to believe this rumour is worth discussing. Even in a "oh, it probably won't happen, but here's a cool story about a potential designated player" sense. Multiple people who are generally pretty smart. It makes me sad that these rumours have to be debunked, but debunk it I will.
But hell, people are talking about it and I like Google traffic so I will too. MLS Rumors, that bastion of editorial insight, carried what for lack of a better word I will call a report from World Soccer Reader quoting a (and here's where I could really use the thesaurus again) journalist, Ben Fairthorne, from the British tabloid The Daily Star.
Here's the report. The earth-shaking Cech-to-Vancouver news. Are you ready? It's a Tweet, so you know it's good.
Cech: "I will play in MLS within 2 years." Chelsea ace eyes move to Vancouver Whitecaps; admits he will have to change colour of headgear.
You know, because Cech wears a black cap. Geddit? Geddit? That's our rumour. A hat joke from a guy whose other tweets include Luís Fabiano: "I hate Sevilla; it's too hot and there aren't enough industrial estates." and Messi: "I would love to play under Big Sam."
I feel like a goddamned moron just pointing this crap out. Petr Cech isn't coming to Vancouver. Book it. More than that; if you see someone spreading this joke-turned-rumour give their head a shake. This isn't a rumour, it's a pretty funny gag from a professional writer on one of this lighter moments that got entirely out of control.
In case you're wondering, World Soccer Reader's next Tweet after that "report" I mentioned? They got it. Unfortunately, this is life in soccer these days: jokes become rumours become "buy the jersey already".
In case it wasn't obvious, I'm not big on rumour mongering. I mean, I'll discuss them, sure, because I like attention and there's no surer way to get hits from the search engines than mentioning "Owen Hargreaves to Vancouver?" a few times. But I tend to save the real analysis for reports brought forward by legitimate reporters with connections to the club in question who are speaking seriously and not making soccer haberdashery jokes. The Hargreaves thing was more an excuse to discuss a hot topic in Canadian soccer than to pimp the possibility he might come over, which is why the title was "The Whitecaps Will Not Sign Owen Hargreaves".
I don't hate rumours as such. Like I said, if Marc Weber or Bruce Constantineau has something to say, it's worth at least talking about. Swapping stories about potential signings is fun and there's nothing like hearing a big name linked to your club and feeling a little flutter in your heart as your hopes up. But real rumour mongering? The reason that sites like MLS Rumors can exist, the banal garbage that seizes the smallest of hints or no hints at all and turns it into a story? I could not have less time for that sort of nonsense.
This has nothing to do with journalistic integrity. I'm not a journalist, I'm an idiot with a computer, an addiction (soccer) that's less dangerous than heroin but more dangerous than exercise, and too much time on my hands to shoot my mouth off about a sport I haven't played regularly since I was a teenager. But there's something fundamentally slimy about spreading rumours that you have no reason to believe are true, or, even worse, that you believe aren't true but tacitly slide down the pipeline anyway without acknowledging the fact that it's obviously bunk.
Look at that MLS Rumors page I linked to above (or, even better, don't; they don't deserve the click). It's filed under "News", which is the sort of category that implies something actually happening. "INCOMING: Petr Cech to Vancouver Whitecaps?" A little question mark at the end of the headline, the quiet "this could happen, you know" inherent from the first line. Quoting World Soccer Reader's quote of Fairthorne's tweet, laying it out there seemingly in perfect sincerity. Which is odd. They're reading World Soccer Reader's Twitter but somehow missed the very next tweet, where World Soccer Reader clarifies that it's a joke? They certainly don't mention it. The categories are "2010", "2012", "Vancouver Whitecaps FC", and "Petr Cech"; "lol" and "why do writers named Ben always think they're funny?" are suspiciously absent. It's a deliberate effort to take nothing at all and blow it up into a story that will get them attention with almost no exertion on their part. I feel like a worse person just going to that website and contributing to their advertising revenue; I can't imagine how I'd feel if I were Lenny Laymon and had actually written that.
Holier-than-thou types, of which I am one, often condemn "lowest common denominator" journalism meant only to lure eyeballs rather than inform or entertain. Pictures of attractive women who must be cold dressed like that and 72-point headlines about what some gormless striker spends his overwhelming salary on. But this isn't tabloid journalism. It's not journalism of any sort. It's deliberately lying, if only by omission, to get readers, to get "unique views" and "total page visits" and the other currencies of the online hack, to try and boost the ad revenue to something less pitiful and bring in a few nickels regardless of the sewage you have to spew in order to do it. It's sickening when newspapers do it and it's just as bad when online writers do it.
The only people who can eradicate these locusts of soccer writing are us, the readers. When you see somebody reporting a lurid story that seems too good to be true, click a few times and check it out rather than blindly believing it. Use your common sense. And if you find somebody is printing that sort of garbage, leave that site and don't come back. People lie because it's lucrative, relatively speaking. Change that and you'll change the reporting.