Soccer Hoaxer Scores

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Fictional Moldovan Soccer Phenom Tells All
by Brian Phillips
Slate.com
January 23, 2009

Inside the ingenious hoax that fooled the British sports press.

090123_snut_soccertn-2001On a typical weekday, the English soccer press devotes itself to unsubstantiated rumors, manufactured scandals, and bikini pictures of players’ girlfriends (who seem to roam the earth together in a giant conjugal yacht, like the Beatles in Yellow Submarine). This week, however, thanks to an ingenious hoax that took in the Times of London, the soccer press has been engrossed by Moldova. Specifically by one Moldovan teenager, who is not, as it happens, a real person.

Earlier this month, the Times ran a feature called “Football’s Top 50 Rising Stars,” which featured at No. 30 a 16-year-old attacker named Masal Bugduv, whom the paper, never one to fear irony, described as “Moldova’s finest.” A bright future seemed to fill Bugduv’s windscreen. The young player had been “strongly linked,” the Times said, with a transfer to the London club Arsenal, had already earned a mention on the popular soccer news site Goal.com, spawned excitement in online forums, and been portrayed as something of a savior by the magazine When Saturday Comes, which introduced him as “one bright spot” amid Moldova’s nationalist strife.

But as the old scout’s adage says, even the most talented young striker will struggle if he has no corporeal being. Blogger Neil McDonnell, who writes about sports under the name Fredorrarci, suspected something might be amiss after picking up a hint from a Russian blog commenter about a “fanny misteak” in the Times feature—the spelling presumably the result of complex transliteration from the Cyrillic for “dude, what?” After a bit of rifling through Wikipedia history pages and an exchange of e-mails with the editor of Soviet Sport magazine, McDonnell discovered that not only was there no such player as Masal Bugduv, Masal Bugduv wasn’t even a Moldovan name.

McDonnell kept poking around. He found that the player had originated in a series of fake AP stories posted to forums and blog comment sections, as if they’d been copied and pasted there. Taken together, these formed the droll chronicle of a temperamental young talent, already a regular for the Moldovan national team as a teen, who was convinced of his own greatness—”I Will Destroy Luxembourg and Join Arsenal Says Bugduv” raged one headline—and frustrated by the unending delays, attributed to unspecified “diplomatic issues,” that kept him from completing a move to his favorite club. The stories were just excessive enough to carry a faint Wodehousian aroma if read in sequence, but not quite excessive enough to arouse suspicion in a newspaper writer on a jag of pre-deadline speed-Googling.

The hoaxer, it seemed, had exploited the trickle-up nature of online information flow. The blog comments fooled the blogs, the blogs fooled the news sites, and the news sites fooled the magazines. When the Times came to Bugduv, his story was resting on a pedestal of widespread acceptance. In the end, the hoax laid bare what we had all dimly suspected: Sometimes, sportswriters do not know what they are talking about.

Read the rest of this article here.