By Tony Attwood
Of course the question in the title is loaded,and I know there are some people who don’t actually believe that match fixing goes on in the Premier League. They see, and presumably accept, the evidence of match fixing from across Europe, but believe that somehow (in ways that I have never seen them explain) the Premier League is immune.
There is another view of course, that the allegation is interesting but unproven. Indeed we’ve had people on this site making the statement that we have not proven that match fixing exists in the Premier League, and that the only evidence they would accept would be tape recordings of conversations in which referees were offered inducements to help this or that club over the season.
Two points arise from that. First is the point that we are talking about matches across a season, rather than a sum of £50 notes for fixing a certain match. The other is that self-evidently we at Untold do not have such a recording. Untold is a blog run by a group of Arsenal supporting enthusiasts and so the chances of us having the resources to find such a tape are remarkably slim.
But saying I won’t believe without the tape is a bit like saying, “I won’t believe in gravity without being handed the particle.” The fact is that gravity is there, and we feel it every second of every day. We can predict the gravity on various astronomical bodies, with an amount of accuracy.
Of course some people don’t believe in science as such, and so dismiss issues such as global warming, and Darwinian theory, and presumably the sub-atomic particle explanation of gravity. With such views based on faith one can do little. But the fact remains that scientifically, having the tape is not the only level of proof.
What we have seen on Untold through the hard work of Walter and his team of investigators is something that is a type of proof – certainly a type of proof good enough to require investigation, unless one takes a profoundly anti-scientific point of view.
First, we have shown through our analysis of Arsenal matches last season, and a wide range of matches this season that there are areas of bias so outrageous that it is not surprising that most of the media is ignoring our findings. (The media of course having a vested interest in the EPL being safe and pure, since they pay so much money to cover it). When every dubious decision in a game goes in favour of one team rather than the other, you have to ask questions – and if there is an oddity it is simply why the media does not ask questions.
Second, the long term claim by the match-fixing-deniers is that such errors balance over time. You get a bad call this week, and a good call next week. We are finding no such balance at all in the time we have been investigating referees.
Third, there is no doubt that a lot of these errors could be erased by the sort of technology that exists in other sports. The fact that the Premier League, Uefa and Fifa don’t engage with this technology suggests again that something is seriously wrong. One asks “why not?” and there is no answer.
Fourth, as Walter has shown in his articles, the level of acceptable error by referees in the Premier League is higher than in other leagues. No explanation has been given for this, but the fact is, refs can get away with errors in the EPL which they could never get away with in other countries. This again suggests something odd is going on.
Fifth, the number of referees qualified to work in the EPL is extraordinarily small – again a subject of a whole series of articles on this site. Again there has never been an explanation as to why.
Sixth, our own attempts at gathering information across countries about referees has been blocked. When Walter led the research we got one reply from a national body, and then dead silence. Of course this is not proof that the word went out saying “don’t talk to these guys”, but it is suggestive.
I would argue that none of these points alone is enough, but put together they are getting very close to a very high level of proof that something odd is going wrong. If you try and form a reason as to why all this might be happening without going into match fixing, the explanation tends to look a bit odd and convoluted.
So let’s turn to the issue of proof itself.
I am going to try and keep this simple, and not get deeply involved in proof from a scientific or social science point of view.
My background and my research degree is in social science and within this I see in broad terms three types of proof.
First, scientific prediction. One says, if we do this experiment then 19 times out of 20 we will get this result. Of course that is not always possible when dealing with people, so we often look for other approaches.
Second, scientific evidence. We find the equivalent of the tape with the phone conversations on it. We’ve seen this sort of approach in the last couple of weeks in science with the faster than light argument. The evidence was gathered, and then a group of highly eminent scientists examined it, looking for holes. The theory says FTL travel is not possible, so investigations get under way.
Third, the theory is evolved to explain the observation. We know what we call gravity is there, but we can’t find the particle that generates it. But we take it one must exist, otherwise we are back in the world of magic. So we try and work out where it is and what it looks like.
As I have indicated, we are not operating in part two, but in parts one and three. We can make the prediction that when a certain referee referees an Arsenal match Arsenal is likely to lose. Then we can devise a theory to explain the situation taking into the six points I have outlined above.
When we do this one answer seems to be that a small number of teams are using agents to persuade referees to swing matches in favour of certain clubs and against other clubs. In other words team X might have an agent saying to a number of refs, you can use this villa, this yacht, have these school fees paid anonymously, etc etc, if you ensure that we get the swing of the matches, and that teams Y and Z don’t. That doesn’t mean every team in every match (although when you have a ref like the one in Portugal last year who saw Vela’s penalty appeal as a dive, one wonders!) but it means over time, give decisions our way.
The ref doesn’t have to do anything, and if he does nothing, nothing happens. He (the ref) has no evidence – just an anonymous untraceable phone call which might of course have come from a crank. But if he does just give the occasional odd decision (such as for example that in the Everton Liverpool game this weekend) he might find something nice happening. He can then report this to the league, or not. But remember there is no hard evidence of the link between the available villa or yacht, and the single event in a match.
In such a scenario all the situations outlined above (the lack of referees, the willingness to accept a much lower standard of refereeing in this country than others), point to match fixing of the Italian variety.
Of course that is not all – there could be activity going on to disrupt certain teams by enticing away the best players with offers elsewhere, by disrupting their buying and selling (putting in counter offers to every offer we make for example), buying off other clubs to ensure horrific injuries against our players (in the Shawcross style)… the list is endless. But these are speculative.
In the weight of the evidence thus far I think there is wholesale match fixing in the Premier League and the only question is whether Arsenal should continue to stay outside it.
I for one think we should stay away from it. I would sooner see Arsenal struggle in a relegation battle, but know that we have not fixed any games, than have us win the league in the style of Juve.
It’s a personal choice, but that’s just what I would prefer. I hope Arsenal continue to resist.