By Tony Attwood
Let’s imagine that you wanted to fix the Premier League so that your favourite team won. What would you do?
1. The most obvious approach would be to get someone else to suggest to certain referees that if they saw their way clear to helping your team then that lovely villa you have in the south of France would be theirs for the asking whenever the ref or his family, wanted a well- earned break. No money changes hands, and it is not necessary to “fix” each game – just give one or two odd decisions along the way in favour of your team. Throw in a few other benefits for the family – a cruise, a week in New York, any tickets for any shows in the West End that you want… all the things that can move through five different hands so as not to leave any trail.
2. Of course the “most obvious” approach is not always the most subtle, so a second element can be introduced by asking refs to give those handful of dubious off-sides and penalties against certain other teams who seem to be rivals rather than in favour of your team. This list of teams to fix against can be changed through the season so that it doesn’t become too obvious. Newcastle might not be considered a threat so are not mentioned. But then they have a great run so their name appears and they pick up a few dubious decisions against them. They slip back so attention turns elsewhere. All very gentle and fairly subtle.
3. Deflecting attention is important – for you not only want to fix matches you also want to avoid discovery. So try and few other very public tricks along the way. In a match you have not fixed, but have won, publicly praise the ref. Maybe get the manager to march onto the pitch and shake the ref’s hand.
4. Limit the number of refs. Too many refs make it very hard to fix enough to make an impact, so keep the number of refs very low, and make sure that the same ref referees the same team (ie one of the teams you want to fix) say half a dozen times in the season. But make this part of the pattern so it doesn’t stand out.
5. Ensure that the powers-that-be refuse all requests for information about how refs are reviewed, or on how the statistics that the association puts out, are obtained. You can be sure that the papers will print stories of refs getting 95% of off sides right without too much question, so just run these and let the lackeys in the newspapers do the rest for you. Oh and when they do, be helpful to the same media by offering further “insights” into the world of the ref.
6. Refuse refs the right to speak after a game. You don’t want any awkward questions around from any members of the press trying to make a name for themselves.
7. Talk to the press a lot behind closed doors, and have your man in the studio when the TV stations do their running reviews of games, so he can give the inside view. Keep pumping out the story that “it all balances out in the end” but don’t put out any stats that allow this to be considered. Better, choose a wholly irrelevant statistic, like the number of penalties teams get, to show something. It doesn’t matter what, but the papers will run the story, and interest in other matters will be deflected. So if one manager is getting a bit uppity about a whole series of bad decisions, when a ref sends his player off in dubious circumstances get the press to all run “that’s 50 red cards since he became manager”. Don’t tell them how many reds other clubs or managers have had – but do get people like the pundits on Sky to say how shameful it is that one club should have so many cards. Imply always that “50” or whatever the number is, is way above everyone else.
8. Stop managers speaking out. If a manager criticises a ref punish him by putting him in the stands for three matches. Criticism of refs by managers could lead to insights emerging that you don’t want. If you do see a manager heading in the direction of suggesting something is wrong, punish him more, and leak a story to the press that the manager is “losing it”.
9. Encourage false explanations every time there is an incident picked up in the press – for example always get the press to speak of “unusual betting patterns” so that any match fixing is related to gambling, rather than attempts by the clubs themselves to fix games.
10. When a story circulates about problems with match fixing in other countries ensure that no one ever, ever, ever, asks the question: could it happen here? That will lead to an investigation into the safeguards against match fixing and people will quickly notice that there are not any.
So, if I wanted to fix football, that is what I would do. But I am not sure I have to, for looking at the detailed analysis of matches this last season, and looking at all the Untold reports on how PGMOL run their side of things I rather think this approach is in operation.
That does not mean PGMOL is bent, nor that match fixing is going on. But if I were in PGMOL and I saw that the way refereeing in the EPL is organised is exactly the way it should be organised if anyone wanted to fix matches, I would change it dead quick to ensure that everyone in the world can see that there is no match fixing in England. To leave things as they are would be, well, suspicious.