And now for something completely different.
Éamonn here with a piece of sporting trivia. As many of you may or may not know, Tom is in the process of writing a book (provisionally) entitled ‘The Moycullen Ponymen‘, a detailed and involved process that entails a great deal of typing in my own present and future! The manuscript is handwritten, and I occasionally have to resort to the every-ready web to get a date or a spelling that otherwise I just can’t read. To cut to the chase, I found myself yesterday evening Googling ‘M’Asal Beag Dubh’ and at the fore of the results – rather than details of this charming and well known Irish story written by Pádraic Ó Conaire – I found myself amongst the depths of international footballing blogs all reporting details on a devilish hoax that The Times had fallen prey to: the case of the Moldovan soccer prodigy, Masal Bugduv.
Surely not. Masal Bugduv??? For those not familiar with the Irish language, M’Asal Beag Dubh translates as My Little Black Donkey and is pronounced ma-asal be-ug duv. In short, Masal Bugduv.
The Times, on the 12th of January released a list of Football’s 50 Rising Stars. In at no.30 was:
30. Masal Bugduv (Olimpia Balti)
Moldova’s finest, the 16-year-old attacker has been strongly linked with a move to Arsenal, work permit permitting. And he’s been linked with plenty of other top clubs as well.
A soccer website, The Offside included a link to The Times list in their ‘Daily Dose’ the next day and received a comment about said list from Russian writer/blogger Makki stating that he had looked up this Masal character and that his (correct) conclusion was that the Times had been duped. By their own admission, The Offside failed to follow up on Makki’s comment, but another blogger, Fredorrarci (Neil McDonnell) of SoccerLens.com did, and found a train of information available on Bugduv and his prospects. McDonnell was no slouch, having co-written the autobiography of Siggi Jónsson, ‘Siggi Jónsson: Icelandic Jesus‘, which was longlisted for the Matalan Literary Prize in 2003. And he is living in Ireland and speaks Irish.
He found Bugduv was mentioned in an article in the January 2009 issue of When Saturday Comes magazine, who hailed Masal Bugduv as Moldovan football’s ‘one bright spot’ who thankfully had no ties with any breakaway regions of that republic. Then there was The Times’ list on the 12th, promptly followed the next day by the ‘Daily Dose’ of The Offside e-zine.
But then the plot thickened. The Wikipedia entry for Olimpia Balti showed no such player, while Google unearthed blog comments that seemed to be reprints of Associated Press wire stories hailing the Olimpia Balti player as the hero that provided the equaliser for Moldova during their international against Armenia. He was boldly described as the finest young player to come out of Eastern European football since Gheorge Hagi. And was good enough to go straight in to the Arsenal first team.
McDonnell found, however, that the Wikipedia entry for the Moldovan national team failed to list him. Neither did the report on the match by the Moldovan FA. Nonetheless below the AP story was another comment – yet again, it appeared that the AP were on the case, reporting how the 16 year old soccer maestro said during a press conference that his move has been held up by the Foreign Office and concerns regarding his international clearance.
Two days later a user on the BBC’s 606 website delivered yet another news coup:
BENITEZ TO STEAL WONDERKID BUGDUV FROM UNDER ARSENAL’S NOSE
TIROL, MOLDOVA (AP)
Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez is said to be close to signing Moldovan wonderkid Masal Bugduv for a cut-price fee of £5million.
The player described as the finest young player to come out of Eastern European football since Gheorge Hagi has been on the radar of the top European clubs all summer, although his preferred club of choice was Arsenal.
However, following Liverpool’s flirtation with elimination from the Champions League, Rafa Benitez has instructed the club to snap up the Moldovan hotshot who made his international debut last May aged just 16…
It just is a matter of making what is the best deal for him and for his club Olimpia Tirol who have nurtured him from eight years of age to what he is now, a full international.
McDonnell noticed however, there were irrefutable errors appearing in the history of Masal Bugduv. There is no such place as Tirol in Moldova. And apparently Olimpia Balti had now become Olimpia Tirol. He went directly to the Associated Press’ website and searched there for reports on Bugduv, yet found nothing. Still, reputable websites such as goal.com were still talking about him in their previews for upcoming internationals.
McDonnell then started to close the net. While many blogs and message boards had supposed stories about Masal Bugduv, the Moldovan hotshot, posted in their comments sections, and the Independent’s site had Masal lashing out at Harry Redknapp for his apparently dismissive attitude towards Moldovan football, McDonnell had other resources he could call upon.
He emailed the author of the original doubting-Thomas comment on The Offside who turned out to be a man called Ivan Makarov, the sports editor for the Russian newspaper SovietSport. His contacts in Moldova had never heard of a Masal Bugduv. In fact, neither his forename nor surname were typically Moldovan. Curious that! Ivan put Fredorrarci in touch with Lavrentii Aniscenco, the editor-in-chief of moldfootball.com, who had been at the infamous Armenian game in person and roundly denounced that our hero was ever there. It was at this point McDonnell got his big break. Lavrentii pointed out another blog post from masalbugduv.blogspot.com which mentions a report in a Moldovan newspaper called Diario Mo Thon. Such a publication, Lavrentii said, did not exist.
McDonnell had scored. It was now almost a certainty that Masal was the invention of a prankster, likely from Ireland. Mo Thón, you see, is the Irish for “my arse”.
Following McDonnell’s denouncement, the story was picked up by The Guardian on January 15th at which stage it was finally pointed out that the name Masal Bugduv was actually an English bastardisation of “M’asal beag dubh”. Even better, the story of the Little Black Donkey happens to work as a brilliant satire of the culture of football transfers. Having fallen for hype and gossip, overspent his budget, and been left with a delicate, reluctant, nervous prima donna of a donkey, the narrator of the tale speaks for many a football manager when he vehemently declares, “I didn’t half curse the beggar who sold me such a beast!”
The upshot of Masal Bugduv has obviously been discussed at length on many blogs before and – coming late to the scene and not wishing to reinvent the wheel – I have taken great big chunks of their work, whittled it down to the essentials and inserted a few bits to tie it together. Plagiarism at its finest. The principal sources were (not in order):