ROGAN TAYLOR: YOU CAN BET YOUR BOOTS

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Despite all the accounts we’ve been hearing of match-fixing in Europe and elsewhere over the past couple of years (usually involving ‘Asian betting rings’), it seems to have come as a bit of a shock to many English folk that various kinds of fixing in our domestic football may well have been successfully accomplished on a number of occasions.

Perhaps there still remains something of that core belief (which sustained many Brits over centuries of imperial power) that we just don’t go in for that kind of thing, thank you very much. ‘Johnny Foreigner’ might get up to underhand shenanigans in sport, but we don’t. It’s against our religion.

Perhaps even those of us not living so determinedly in the 19th century simply rejected the idea on the grounds that there’s so much money already washing around in football – and most of it ending up in players’ pockets – that there could be little to tempt them. The risk – reward equation just didn’t stack up.

If you’re on a four year contract earning fifty grand a week – a fairly ‘ordinary’ wage at the top of the game – why would you take a chance on jeopardising that guaranteed £10million that’s coming your way just to make a (comparatively) few bob?

Apart from active fans (considerably less than a million of us), I suspect most of our fellow citizens probably never think much about football in the lower leagues. Most of us don’t know that once you drop below the Premier League (or never even make it there), the wages go off a cliff.

If you’re a player on the way down, you’ve got used to owning a Porsche but your wages (even less than MPs get!) are back in the Ford Escort world. Corruption may then become a very real temptation (on the pitch and in the House of Commons, it seems).

Of the five footballers recently arrested and bailed, one player, Sam Sodje, was secretly recorded, allegedly saying that he’d been paid £70,000 to get himself sent off whilst playing for Portsmouth against Oldham late last season.

It appeared to be a hardly credible story. He reportedly told an undercover investigator that he’d done everything he could to get the ref to send him off, to no avail, and ended up blatantly punching Oldham’s Jose Baxter twice in the groin to make sure he was red-carded. You can watch the footage of the game – it does look very weird. According to the Sun newspaper, Sodje said he got paid £70k to get himself sent off.

No one has yet been charged with any criminal offence and all of those arrested may be innocent, but we shouldn’t be surprised at all if there is proven corruption in the English game. We may be physically separated from mainland Europe – but bribery and match-fixing is clearly a global phenomena. Why not here in Old Blighty?

The man from Europol wasn’t surprised when stories broke of players’ arrests in England. Soren Kragh Pedersen, said the news was not unexpected:

‘This is not a surprise because when we look around Europe it is practically everywhere and in some of the major leagues but, of course, also the minor divisions. We see it everywhere so it would be a surprise if you did not find it in England also.’

Match-fixing strikes at the very core of all the ‘value’ that football exploits so successfully these days. The commercial expansion of the game is rooted in the intimacy and intensity of the relationship that fans across the globe have with the teams they support. It is their ‘love’ that has been monetised in recent decades, as never before.

Not only will fixed matches poison the golden goose; it could also cost the football business a fortune. The durable rumours and allegations about match-fixing in South Africa during the series of ‘friendlies’ played by the national team prior to WC 2010 (Fifa is currently investigating) has already cost the SFA a packet.

SFA President, Danny Jordaan, says their income from commercial partners has dropped from $80million to $20 million in the past two years, as suspicion of corruption continues to swirl around the Association.

If it’s going on virtually everywhere in the world, you can bet your boots it’s going on here.

Dr Rogan Taylor is the Director of the Football Industry Group at the University of Liverpool. He is also a writer and broadcaster, with five football books and numerous radio and TV contributions. He has acted as a special adviser to The FA, The Premier League and Premier League Clubs.

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