Steed Malbranque’s non-existent ill son: who started the rumours?

Image: Addick-tedKevin

Let us be quite clear: whoever was responsible for the story that Steed Malbranque had retired from football because his young son had cancer – when, in fact, no such son and therefore no such illness-related decision exist – was either spectacularly misinformed, or downright nasty, or both.

This is what Steed’s London-based solicitors Thomas Cooper have said, reportedly on the instructions of his agent, Sebastien Boisseau:

“Steed has read with concern the recent stories currently circulating about him and his family. He would like to reassure all of his friends in England and throughout world football that these stories are wholly without foundation. Steed does not have a son and his immediate family are all in good health.

“Steed does not know the origin of these stories but would like to stress that they are without merit. He trusts that they will now cease immediately.”

From a number of sources, among them such footballers as Louis Saha, Joey Barton and Rio Ferdinand, had come expressions of sympathy and solidarity with Steed when the reported reason for his retirement from the game surfaced so soon after his transfer from SAFC to the Ligue 1 side Saint-Etienne. In a comment posted here, but which I have now removed, I endorsed the view of one St Etienne supporter who had said: “Family before everything.”

Ferdinand, who had used Twitter to voice his feelings, now says whoever started the false rumour is a “scumbag” and it is difficult to quarrel with that, unless it was the result of some innocent misunderstanding.

But where did the story start?

The website of Le Figaro loftily reports today that the report originated in Britain before being repeated in France.

It is true that some UK publications stated that Steed had given up football to care for this mythical sick son. An easy search this morning turned it up at a Manchester United fan site, in the Daily Mail and the Shields Gazette, the latter even adding the detail that the “son” was four years old.

But that makes it sound like something new, a baseless story from the last two or three days with no provenance in France. Think again.

My own first sightings of the cancer story were at a St Etienne fan site, (in green and against all) and other French football sites. And that was on the morning of August 30, ie last Tuesday, before any such reference had appeared in a British newspaper or online source.

I had already seen and reported on the comments attributed to the team coach, Christophe Galtier, after his meeting with Steed three days earlier, ie the eve of a match at Sochaux.

This is how that, ahead of the erroneous explanation, appeared at Salut! Sunderland:

He said he would not be making the journey with the squad. Galtier says Steed did not specifically say he was abandoning the game – “it wasn’t exactly what he told me but he is leaning towards it; it’s not impossible but you have to ask him the question. In any case I noticed a troubled young man and I am worried for him.”

Overnight from Aug 29 to Aug 30, a fellow subscriber to the Blackcats list said during a discussion of Steed’s surprising decision that he understood “it’s a serious health problem with one of his sons”. Soon afterwards I saw the French supporters’ references on their fan sites. Did the rumour therefore start in France and spread, or did it appear first on a British fan site before making it across the Channel?

Update: my electronic correspondent at Blackcats, who is French-speaking, now says he also saw it on a St Etienne fan site. We probably read the same message. Did a French journalist do the same – and quickly put out the story without verifying it, as if a supporter’s comment could be taken to be the absolute truth? And if so, was the story then picked up by agencies and other websites and eventually find its way across the Channel?

In any event, by the end of last week, the story had appeared in French newspapers and on general football sites including 10 Sport, foot01 and a football blog of Le Parisien.

Whatever the true story behind Steed’s decision I am delighted to hear no immediate member of his family has been stricken with serious ill-health. And like all Sunderland supporters, I imagine, I wish him well whatever he now does in life.

It is perhaps a salutary lesson on the need for a little openness: a simple, factual statement would have avoided all of this. Yes, even footballers have a right to privacy, but the unusual nature of what Galtier was reporting about his new star recruit cried out for a proper explanation, whereas the words he used merely stoked speculation.

And here, just in, is what the club itself has said today: “St Etienne and the player wish to strongly deny all the rumours, sometimes fantasy, sometimes hurtful, referring to the health of Steed Malbranque or his children that have accompanied his decision. The choice is his alone and ASSE (St-Etienne) fully respects the wishes of Steed. The management of AS Saint-Etienne would like to wish the best in his choices and his future life.”

Monsieur Salut

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6 thoughts on “Steed Malbranque’s non-existent ill son: who started the rumours?”

  1. There are some translation issues, and some liberties which have been taken as to the text which exists between the lines. I doubt very much whether this was started maliciously at all. More probably that someone took their own interpretation of some comment like “Family before everything,” made some related remark and it became “fact.”

  2. Almost certainly a piece of pure speculation that slowly became “the truth”. Happens all through the ages. I mean there are still people today who wonder if the story of “King Arthur” is true.

  3. Have also seen those reports (many coming up now) and the references that former Sunderland team mates expressed their sympathies when the false stories were circulated. Did they not know their team mate well enough to realise that he didn’t have a son?

    • I did wonder whether someone had said something at Ready to Go but it was well into the saga before anyone there mentioned cancer and, more to the point, someone did say something along the lines of “hang on, I know a mate of his and he doesn’t have a son”.

      I have also read that Steed is a pretty private person, which may mean no more than he was typically French and went home after work without downing a few drinks with his mates.

      See the St Etienne statement in the posting above. They insist it’s his decision alone.

  4. When the use of the internet was widely introduced into primary schools in England, as the IT co-ordinator in my school, I passed on a warning which had been flagged up during an in service session. It was agreed that whilst the internet would be a major resource and potentially a powerful teaching aid (this was the mid ninties) information should not be accepted as fact without further corroboration wherever possible. The point was that where books and articles might contain inaccuracies and untruths they were subject to a more rigid examination than articles which anyone could write and publish immediately on the world wide web.

    As the years have passed laziness has crept in and although there is no disputing the usefulness if the internet it has become the norm for students, journalists and anyone else who requires a quick answer to use Google rather than reference books.

    Just as newspapers were (are still) able to create urban myths – Baa baa green sheep springs to mind – the fact that so many people now accept the accuracy of things they read on the internet without checking the facts is bound to lead to such things occurring.

    Twitter, facebook and blogs speed up the process. Having said all that I remember back in 1963 or 64 a rumour that Jimmy Montgomery had been killed in a car crash was spread around my school. Chinese whispers have always existed and there will always be gossip and rumours. We just need to heed the old warning “don’t believe all you read.”

    Thankfully, whatever the reason for Steed’s withdrawal from the match it wasn’t as reported and Monty did the draw at half time during the Mags game so he’s OK too.

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