The Telegraph claims to have discovered the existence of a 1,000 page dossier on the World Cup prepared by the BBC. It reports:
"There was a time when BBC commentators like John Motson were expected to do their own homework ahead of big games. But the modern-day BBC pundit has no need for coloured pens, filing cabinets or football yearbooks, because an army of researchers has compiled a giant book of World Cup facts for them. The BBC's "book", which is available electronically to presenters, is understood to run to more than 1,000 pages."
The Telegraph's chief reporter Gordon Rayner appears to suggest this tome would have been kept a closely guarded secret had commentator Steve Wilson not "let slip the existence of the BBC fact book during live coverage of the Argentina v Bosnia-Hercegovina match".
Which is not strictly true.
Anybody following BBC Radio 5 Live pundit John Hartson on Twitter could have seen the book for themselves when he tweeted a picture of it on 11 June and then gave his followers the chance to win a signed copy after the World Cup. Presenter Dan Walker, who also tweeted a pic to more than 300,000 followers, even gave his a hashtag:
It seems unlikely the BBC was trying to keep this secret and more likely they just didn't think anybody would be that interested - or surprised - to hear they do some research and preparation ahead of such major events (even if commentators don't always get it all right on the night).
For the record, the BBC has been providing these briefing books for staff covering major tournaments for the past 20 years, so it isn't even new.
National Football Museum
Dan Walker told the Media Blog he will be donating his, signed by the BBC commentary team, to the National Football Museum where its secret existence can be enjoyed by around 500,000 visitors per year.
It should also be pointed out, the "army of researchers" was just four people - Craig Barnes, Paul Birch, Tom McCoy and Noel Sliney - all named on the front of the book, as you can clearly see in Hartson's photo. What's more, the "1,000" pages the Telegraph reports is also actually just 436, according to one of the writers:
And the Telegraph's report is also wrong in its initial assertion that such briefing books would never have troubled the travel bag of John Motson. In John Motson's autobiography Motty: 40 Years in the Commentary Box, the BBC commentator writes not only about these books but also underlines the fact it is the work of just four people (which would be a rubbish "army") who do it as part of their day job:
"A team of four...working in the Match of the Day office service commentators, editors and producers with background material... They produce huge, detailed volumes of information before major events such as the World Cup."
The lesson here would appear to be if you're going to criticise somebody for doing too much research at least make sure you've done enough yourself.
Of course, the facts should never get in the way of the desired story and the Telegraph will be delighted with the reaction its erroneous claims have elicited. One commenter wrote:
"Yet more proof, as if any were needed, how these idiots who run the BBC waste our license fees. Let the grossly overpaid commentators do their own damn research - that's what they're paid for and sack the idiot at the BBC who authorised this waste of our money!"
Putting aside the irony of this armchair economist considering an inaccurate story to be proof of anything he would do well to ask himself how much more expensive it would be to have apparently "grossly overpaid commentators" pulling together a 1,000 page dossier... or even a 436 page one.