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If English football was really bent, would anyone ever tell us?

One of the big problems with Britain is that we don’t really know how to do scandals. But we are really good at covering them up.

We can have scandals, of course, from ministers having affairs with prostitutes, to a whole bunch of KGB officers working in the middle of our military intelligence services with nobody noticing.

But somehow we tend to put these things aside from everyday life.  It is as if what happened in the scandal was somehow not British, and so not really to do with us.

When we have rigged ballots in elections in Birmingham with people voting over and over we suggest somehow it is just a Birmingham thing, just a Northern Ireland thing, just, well not really, us.  When we have the Northern Rock Building Society conducting business which even a five year old could see is utterly insane and cannot be sustained, we talk about England’s chances in the world up.

And when it comes to finding that well over half our MPs have been on the make to the tune of tens of thousands of pounds a year each, we announce that the matter has been investigated, we have drawn a line under it, and then we are expected to go on voting for the some bunch of con artists all over again.

Even when our government goes to war on evidence that is clearly non-existent, and carries out a war which the majority of voters don’t want, we conclude it, draw a line under it, and then watch as the same people stand again for re-election.

In short, in Britain, we don’t do scandals very well.

You can get the full flavour of how the British handle this kind of thing by looking at corruption in football. We snigger at the Italian crisis in which certain refs were given little extras in return for little extras, not game by game, but in general.  It was a stunningly widespread and effective, and “typically Italian.”   We don’t even bother to ask if it could happen here.

That’s my point.  We feel so strongly it is not, that we don’t even ask the question.  There is no debate, despite week after the week the media focussing on some excruciatingly awful ref decisions.  We take the Alan Greene line: the ref is awful, he got it wrong  It’s the refs fault.  We won’t even mention the option of it being any more than that.

The reason for adopting this line is obvious: there is too much riding on football.  All those Sky billions that keep the sport going.  The BBC’s Match of the Day money as well.  The overseas rights.  Everything built on one simple belief: there’s no corruption.   Our income from TV is 20 times the size of football income from Italy.  There they can hardly give their overseas rights away.

Even to ask the question, even to raise the topic just once, is forbidden.  Indeed I would not be surprised if the deal between the EPL and the broadcasters worldwide says, in secret, “this contract is given on the basis that you do not ever mention the possibility that the English league is bent.  To do so ends the contract.”

Which is probably as good a reason as any to take a long hard look at some of the odd refereeing decisions that exist in the league.

Because here we have billions of pounds resting on the decisions of refs, and we believe that everything is pure and above board!

That is so naieve it is hard to imagine. But it is true.

The BBC have been very active in making sure we never think that the worold of English football is perfectly ok, even to the extent of running a bizarre Radio 5 piece about how a Chinese man tried to fix the result of a Conference game by betting on the overwhelming favourites to win.  (It’s normally the other way round).  Wheen they lost the Chinese man threatened the manager and chairman of the top of the table side and planted bombs under cars.

All very nasty if it weren’t so stupid.  You attack the manager of the losing team after the event???  Why?

Even when we had obvious match fixing (as opposed to the subtle Italian model which worked over years and years) with lights going out at grounds part way into the second half, it was deemed nothing to do with us.  It was these funny foreigners and their betting syndicates.  The football was still untouched by any whiff of scandal.

Even the Portsmouth financial disaster which shows that the club was haemoraging money, even the fact that Manchester IOU are £750m in debt and that Chelsea and Man City are funded in a manner that in any semi-decent society would seem unacceptable in every way, we still don’t turn a hair.  Even when the Tottenham accounts make no sense, when Birmingham claim to have billions but can’t pay their bank bill, and when Hull are about to sink very deep into the mire, we don’t ask.  Even when the owners of clubs like Bolton and Villa are making a fortune out of the interest they charge the clubs, we don’t ask.

Even when Tony Pulis, the man who defended Shawcross, says that refs are biased towards certain clubs there’s just a bit of a snigger.  The little man running the little club – no need to take him seriously.  But that Shawcross, he’s ok.  He plays for England.

Last year Pulis sent a DVD of the behaviour of Chelsea’s players showing how they constantly surrounded Mike Dean without being punished.  Did the press take up this as a cause celebre, revealing something very wrong with the officials behaviour in that game?  Like hell.  They ran an “Arshavin slags off his fellow professionals story” instead.

He even made specific allegations: “We had a situation last year at Chelsea when we were winning 1-0 with three minutes to go. They substituted a player who was on the other side of the pitch and he had to run across it to get off, [instead] he just walked off the pitch the far side and walked round. That’s not allowed, but it went on.”

And of course we see it at the Ems almost every match.  Remember the Wolverhampton keeper taking 15 seconds to release the ball each and every time he held it?  No action, no enquiry, no publicity.  Not even mentioned on the reports.  The did “Cesc off to Barca” instead.

In England when John Terry is caught taking money for showing people round a training ground, and having an affair with another player’s mistress we hear about that, and there is sniggering.

In France Franck Ribéry, Karim Benzema and Hatem Ben Arfa, are implicated in underage prostitution crimes,  they go for the story big time.  If Ashley Cole and John Terry were involved in such activities would we hear about it, or would it all be hushed up, for the good of the game?

I suspect the latter.

And to be clear, I make no allegation against either Mr Terry or Mr Cole, but merely use them as examples of people who seemingly have been shown to be involved in lower level misdemeanors.

Tony Attwood

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33 comments to If English football was really bent, would anyone ever tell us?

  • Lanre

    Or, when rooney or gerard dives, we dont hear a pin drop, eduardo tries to avoid a leg and the world must hear about it

  • Bobby Pliers

    A few years ago players were going out of their way to kick the ball out as soon after kick off as possible, it later came to light that they were betting on the timing of the first throw in. It was low level but the fact that it happened shows that any sport that involves human beings can never be perfect, because without getting all religious man is imperfect!

  • Hi Tony, well said and i realy enjoyed reading it. Over here in Nigeria most people including my humble self always say there is something fishy about the EPL which compelled most followers of EPL in Nigeria to christen Man IOU as “PDP” club. In case you’re wondering what PDP stands for, it is the ruling party over here and most sincere Nigerians will tell you that they’re as honest as John Terry! But on a serious note, i strongly believe that with time the dirt of the EPL will be exposed.

  • Paul C.

    Really nice piece Tony. I like the way you never actually say that there IS corruption in the game, but merely let hang the question “if there was, would anyone be brave enough to tell the world about it?”

    I think as you do, that it would be naive to imagine that there is not corruption within the game, it is merely a question of scale. Is it everywhere or just within individual clubs, or even just individuals within individual clubs, if you know what I mean.

    As Bobby says above, it is just human nature to try and bend the rules. Whether that extends into illegal activity is then just another step on the path. With so many people and so much money invested in football in England, it would be crazy to imagine a world where there was NO corruption. Imagining there IS corruption, and quite a lot of it, would seem to me to be a far more sane assumption to make. And if officials heard about it, they would be incentivised to cover it up lest anyone rock the boat too badly. “Let the players hang out to dry, those oiks, but let’s make sure our integrity as a League isnt ever questioned”. That’s where the big money really is, the players are just highly paid pawns. And pawns can be manipulated. For the right price.

  • Wilshires dad

    Mike Dean spent the first half yesterday ignoring blatent pushes
    off the ball to Rosicky & Van Persie..made me wonder if he was in receipt of a brown envelope full of Arab cash. Ha ha!!
    He also allowed himself to be surrounded by complaining Man City players 2 or 3 times with no caution. I thought the ruling was that only the captain could approach the ref.

    Just to get the ball rolling, rather than the usual chant questioning the parentage of the referee, I’d like one (to the tune of Ar-sen-al, Ar-se-nal, Ar-sen-al)along the lines of What’s you’re price, What’s your price, What’s your price, what’s your price…ref-er-ee…etc.

  • Paul C.

    Well, referees are by far the most susceptible. You have to think at least a few of them are doing some dirty dealings. Hopefully that number is small.

    Hopefully.

  • Hartwick89

    Tony,

    Life is like a box of chocolates you never know you never know what you got until you eat one!

    The irony though is this corruption is predictable… If you don’t believe it just look and observe how many people in simple life for go moral behavior just to get ahead. It is not any different at the highest levels… As for the English well I call it guilt complex. Not all of course but most people (not just England) cheet. Turn a blind eye when they see others cheet because they did. Finally, when the MP’s or even Sky or any other scandal occurs it has already been done….. No big deal.

    My point is Wenger is moral. Arsenal are good. And, we will rise above this mire sooner rather than later.

    The D&Ger’s want us to sink to this level… I say stay true!

  • walter

    In my country we, as refs, have our own website from our FA where we can check the games we have to do and get messages when we have to come to disciplinary hearings when players have received red cards.

    On that website there is always a warning and a demand for cooperation from the refs to report any corruption that you face or witness.

    It would be interesting to see if the FA or the EPL also ask this to the refs.

    Because in my country our FA knows that there is corruption and they try to get this out of the game by asking the refs to help. Maybe a bit ridiculous as I know that refs are part of the problem themselves but every help they can get counts.

    But if the FA or the EPL do not mention this it could mean that they are putting their head in the sand and try to ignore that there could be corruption in football.

  • walter

    On Dean before half time I had already pointed out that he was his old himself…. being …er… well you know how he is….Strange decisions…
    The kick from Viera on Cesc if that wasn’t a card, could have been a red card, and Dean just gave nothing. On the other hand we got yellow cards as if it was for free.
    I was waiting for Dean to give a penalty for City but we kept them so far from our goal he even couldn’t hand them one.

  • Donnyfan1

    Just watched Chelski beat Stoke so easily it seemed like a practice match (except for the poor Stoke keeper I hastenly add). Remember when Stoke played Arsenal? Every Stoke player throwning it about! Ramsey was not the only player roughed up. They were like unfed animals. Today they played like a bunch of girl guides serving at the church garden party. The difference is so amazing- videos of the two games want to be sent to the press and the Prem League- as if!! This isn’t a figment of my imagination. Markers stand so far off Lampard, Gerrard and Rooney you wonder if the marker’s families have been threatened! When was the first time you saw L, R or G creamed -never mind the last!! There is something nasty in the barrel and I know this much- Arsenal will have to be 10% better than any other team and have 5 or 6 near world class SPARES in hand to win the EPL– if the last 3 seasons are anything to go by.

    They talk about ‘Freedom of the Press’ but there is none in Britain. The Press are just cover-up merchants. No-one is speaking out. Perhaps some foreign journos would like to come over, get involved and look at some of our managers, refs, and Committee members and look at some of the bizzarre decisions and goings on. I do hope so.

  • walter

    And one final thing (today): wouldn’t it be nice that Aston Villa finished 4th ?

  • walter

    Donnyfan1,
    I didn’t see the Chelsea Stoke game but if you tell me that I got this question in my head.
    If they (Stoke) leave the roughing up game just to play us than the assault on Ramsey was premeditated and leaves an even more bitter tast in my mouth. Because if you go in the game with the intent to kick the opponents you have no excuse if things like leg breaking tackles happen.

    On the other hand if you apply these tactics against all top 4 teams it is just your normal way of playing but then it is strange to hear that they do nothing like that against Chelsea. Why….?

  • Chris66

    Paranoid much?

    Asking a question and providing no answer, other than one by implication, has long been the device of cowards. If you have any proof of corruption then post it. You can blame the media all you like by millions of people read blogs (like this one) that are not under the control of media barrons. If you believe something to be true then bloody well prove it. The truth can never be defamatory. If you believe that Stoke played hard against us earlier in the season for a reason other than that they then had something to play for, whereas now they are safe and already planning their summer holiday (much like the Arsenal team looked yesterday by the way) then come out and show something and back it up.

    I sense you don’t because all you really want to do is continue the narrative on this site of unchallenged moral superiority to make back up an entrenched point of view.

  • Paul C.

    Chris – you need to get out more.

    Why shouldn’t this blog pose this question? The whole purpose of this blog is to look at the game we all love in a different way. I dont always agree with some of the more paranoid assertions of inidviduals posting, but they have a right to an opinion. If you disagree just state your reasons and move on. I will agree with your comment about the Stoke thoughts, and I would also add that the Stoke thing has far more to do with the fact that for two or three years, that was exactly how teams less talented could beat us. Blame Sam Allardyce if you want to blame someone for Stoke’s approach against us. We showed this year that we can handle that side of things much better and the more we show that, the fewer teams will try that tactic. Teams don’t do that to Chelsea because they know that Terry, Carvalho, Ballack, Essien, Lampard and Drogba can give every bit as they get, if not better. We don’t have that physical presense yet, but Chelsea spent a lot of money getting it.

    But as for your final comment – of course that is the narative on this site. Has it taken you that long to realise that this is a site of traditional Arsenal fans that KNOW that they possess unchallenged moral superiority to state any view we want? We are Arsenal fans are we not? Does that not show the fine breeding we have? Why shouldnt we have unchallenged moral superiority?

    All conspiracy theory is based on an unsupported claim and embelished with personal opinion. Corruption in English Football is actually one of the easier ones to believe.

  • Steve D.

    @ Chris

    That’s a bit unfair mate. I agree regarding Stoke, but then Tony didn’t say anything in his piece about their supposed lack of effort.

    With regards to corruption; Tony is not in a position to interview witnesses, organise phone taps, obtain financial records, or gather all the other types of evidence required to prove a case and if he writes allegations against specific individuals without proof, he would not only lose his website but would also be prosecuted for libel.

    If I’ve understood Tony’s post correctly, he’s pointing out that despite there being so many indicators that corruption in the EPL (and England as a whole) exists, it’s rare for anyone in a position to do anything about it (e.g. mainstream media and/or the authorities) to actually ask the question. All Tony is doing is trying to highlight this a perhaps someone in the right position might have the balls to do something about it, but no one will until we actually admit there’s a problem.

    I also agree with the poster that stated Arsenal need to be 10% better than everyone else in order to win the EPL and Walter’s comment about the referee probably wanting to give Citeh a penalty but not having the opportunity, was classic.

    Personally, I love being an Arsenal supporter. When Abramobitch bought Chelski and tried to buy the league, I felt sorry for the supporters because I felt any victory would be hollow, as if they’d cheated. I felt the same way about Man City last year and would have been embarrassed to be a Citeh supporter. I want us to win, but win fairly so I can be proud of the club’s achievements. I believe the financial stability given to us by AW will see us rise to the top in the coming seasons and see us win without the aid of mega-bucks and the whiff of corruption that surrounds that amount of cash.

  • Chris66

    Delusion is fine…it’s what helps most of us get through the day. However it is the murderer of interesting debate. I thought this site was a commune of people who support Arsenal and still believe in Wenger, but over the last few months it seems to have become almost fundamentalist. Apparently Arsene is inviolate (as opposed to just brilliant) and everyone else is either morally or financially bankrupt ( as opposed to just better than us sometimes).

    It jut seems to me that if you see the world that way then there is no room for considered opinion or even improvement. The narrative that the primary reason we aren’t winning is because someone else in cheating, is almost farcical. Even if there is an element of truth it isnt the main reason. Falling into that way of looking at the world, to me, makes us all poorer.

  • Hartwick89

    @Chris D & Stevie66;

    You are English? No? You make Tony’s point.

  • Chris66

    Hartwick

    You can’t prove a negative, but that doesn’t make It true.

  • Hartwick89

    I can prove a positive…

    Arsenal since Wenger’s inception have not been superimposed by the powers that be.

    Arsenal have not over spent or got caught up in what you would say got sucked up in indebtednes that plauges most of the EPL leauge…

    We have finished in the final four since Wenger has been there and in the process built a fortress in which if we choose to buy we can and if not so be it… (No demands of sustainability based on outer economic pressure)

    Diaby handled Veira like Wenger planned it..

    And so your negative is what? England prefer to look or cheet by supporting teams that otherwise should be chastized?

    This manegerial staff has chosen a team of substance and it’s guys/girls like you who can’t fathom it….

    Go Gunners!

  • goonergerry

    There may not be evidence of corruption-often because it is difficult to prove- but there is evidence of a culture of dishonesty within the EPL which is never very far from the surface. Many players are chronic gamblers-have we forgotten the Sheffield Wednesday affair of the 60s, the match fixing allegations of the 90’s resulting in extensive police investigations,that our own manager was sacked after allegedly taking a “bung”-does anyone think that is an isolated example? Were Chelsea not suspected of making illegal payments earlier this season? Does anyone seriously think that is an isolated example? You don’t have to be paranoid to realise that the massive amounts of money that a few have and spend in order to secure success arising from the the leagues failure to properly regulate the ownership of clubs makes corruption more likely.
    We can’t argue that referees would not be an easy target-but perhaps because they are such soft targets no one needs to resort to openly corrupt methods of influence-They are clearly influenced by the media-Every sound bite of Sir Alex is clearly designed to and is effective in influencing referees.

  • Chris66

    Hartman

    What flavor is that Kool-aid.

  • Paul C.

    Chris – the flavor of Hartwick’s koolaid is the same as mine – Arsenal flavored. What other flavor could it possibly be?

  • Mark

    I think this is the best article you have written Tony, certainly the most pertinent.

    The EPL is totally rigged.

    Whether that will come out in the wash over time is another matter. I am not counting on it.

    It all boils down to what one of your enlightened contributors termed ‘The football-media complex’.

    Personally I don’t think Arsenal will win much in the next few years, other than a few hearts.

    My sincere hope for the players is that none of them are mutilated in the course of doing their (highly paid) job.

    For me, the milk has gone sour, and I doubt I will watch and follow football with any great enthusiasm any more.

    I find it disturbing when players and managers become detritus in the machinery of the aforesaid football media complex.

    I remember the way that Graham Taylor was savaged by the media, and I hope AW does not receive a similar fate, for the crime of producing a team that plays attacking football, and wins more than their fair share of matches on an uneven playing field.

  • FinnGun

    Not disagreeing with Tony’s post but…

    The biggest problem with the FA and referees isn’t corruption. It’s incompetence and stupidity.

    Allowing the use of video and other technology for the refs would really help. In a lot of ways.

  • Joe

    Chris66 – I really wouldn’t bother trying to reason with them here. You just end up getting the ‘I am more in the know than the average fan’ line, if you push hard enough you may even get the ‘I have insider knowledge of cheating going on in the F.A., but I can’t tell you about it’.

    On a more personal note, the fact you lot seem to have put our tremendous disposal of Stoke down to them not trying hard enough as they did against you. Truly pathetic Tony and Walter, you should be ashamed of what you have turned your flock of followers into.

    Walter, come on mate. It’s time now, feel the moment and let us all into your secrets that ‘the refs’ told you. You know, the insider stuff you mentioned the other week. Surely you have the power to blow the lid off this scandal!

  • Rhys Jaggar

    And did you notice the concerted set of stories at the weekend in the NOTW which was a Murdoch-style ‘if you don’t do as you’re told, this’ll happen’?

    1. LFC owners don’t own lease for new ground site: implication, they won’t build it.
    2. Torres ‘might need to not play in EPL as he might become a cripple’ – I’m off in the summer?
    3. Rafa ‘may get an offer he can’t refuse’ from Italy. Taking Torres with him?
    4. Rooney ‘may not play in the World Cup’ (the US would like that). A story he personally denies this morning.
    5. England 2018 bid ‘may be eclipsed by Russia’ (any alliance with the US depends on you doing as you are told) – any more threats from you and we’ll side with Roman, not you.
    6. ‘Many EPL clubs may be bought by middle east/Indian businessmen who will pile debts onto the clubs’ (if you think it’s bad now, this is what I could do to you)
    7. Lady Bracewell-Smith will sell her shares to an East European billionaire (not too many of them are nice people and gambling is endemic in eastern European football) – the ‘if Arsenal weren’t a gambling club before, they soon will be’ threat…..

    I don’t know much about horse racing, Mr Attwell, but I know that races were fixed at Royal Ascot in more than one year. And the folks promoting Cheltenham alluded to that in the papers too……you either accept it or you don’t I guess. If you can read the signals, you can make safe profits. If you can’t, you’ll be a mug. I hope St Nicholas Abbey is really as good as they say he is. Great if so. Wouldn’t want a big fix on him ‘doing the Triple Crown’ just for media headlines and some Paddys making a fortune backing it and fixing it at the same time……..that’s not racing, that’s farce.

    Look at ludicrous decisions in an Ireland-England international and Guscott saying ‘that’s a disgusting decision’, after the ref upstairs clearly made a bent decision. None of the Irish players cared afterwards.

    Look at the penalty yesterday against Birmingham. Well you say, what about the one they got 2008 against us. Tit for tat and all that. But that one yesterday was a shocker. Not much better at Goodison. The Man Utd second one on Saturday wasn’t too good either. I guess Chelsea negated that by winning 7-0. Hopefully that was fair and square. Just a bad day at the office for Stoke, eh?

    I’d be seriously surprised if match fixing didn’t happen here. Seriously surprised.

    But Mr Murdoch now has Sky in Spain and Italy, so his next tactic will be to play them off one against the other and anyone who doesn’t kiss his ass doesn’t get the money.

    What we need to ask is: is this still football? Football we will shell out thousands for?

  • cape gooner

    @FinnGun

    You say “The biggest problem with the FA and referees isn’t corruption. It’s incompetence and stupidity.”

    This is possible but very unlikely. I suspect that you need to be very good in order to referee an EPL match. It is a little like saying that when Gordon Brown talks of “light touch regulation” he is so thick that he doesn’t realise that he what he means is a system left wide open to fraud.

  • cape gooner

    @ Rhys Jaggar

    The penalty against Birmingham was 100% in terms of the laws. Although the defender touched the ball (it was still in play), his “second leg” tackle took out the attacker. This is a foul, and as Cesc found out against Barcalona, a yellow card offence.

    That referees seem to be following an unwritten set of laws that says that if you get the ball in the penalty area then a foul will not be given, is the sort of nonsense that leads to corruption.

    This case is made more complicated by what happened to the ball after the tackle. It was not knocked out of play, but was available for a goal scoring oppotunity if the attacker had not been brought down. Does that mean that even with the unwritten law, it should have still been a foul, and in fact, a red card?

  • Abhishek Kumar

    @ Finngun..

    Its not stupidity its also part of a plan i guess. Whenever I guess the ref is far, he can give benefit of doubt or he can always choose to ignore what he saw. But video referral would kill all that.

    It does not kill the sport to have video references coz it has been used in hockey and it makes thing much more transperent.

  • Finsbury

    Joe: ” I really wouldn’t bother trying to reason with them here”

    For fun, lets compare Cricket to Football, again!

    Two weeks ago it was revealed that Essex Police had arrested two players on match-fixing charges/allegations.

    Today, the oh so surprising IPL scandal breaks water.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/8643535.stm

    Never saw that coming.

    I note, there’s a lot more cash sloshing about the PL then the IPL.

  • Mark

    lol, true Finsbury.

    I wouldn’t bother trying to reason with the likes of Chris66 and Joe.

    They get their kicks with this sort of stuff.

    Football has been rampant with corruption for a long time.
    I think brian Clough got in trouble for something.

    Snooker players are at it.

    THe South Africans poisoned the All Blacks.

    lol…..and these are just the first things that spring to mind.

    I guess if you enjoy ‘tainted trophies’,
    carry on Joe.

  • muse

    All i can say that we should do some thing by writing pig poster ; says English football is bent and is not favorable some teams. take that poster to any Stadium. hopefully will get some reaction

  • sam

    EPL sometimes looks like WWE to me, this feeling is hightened when we lose games!
    I reassure myself by saying that if the game was rigged, AW wouldn’t stand for it and he’d move to a better league. But then again, most leagues are under heavy influence of betting syndicates.