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July 2021

Match fixing in the Premier League: the proof, the evidence, the prediction

By Tony Attwood

Imagine you are taken to the roof of a tower block and invited to jump off.  More than like you will say, “well actually no, if you don’t mind, I won’t.”  Or words to that effect.

“Why not?” enquires the awfully nice chap with you who is inviting you to do the deed.

You explain that by and large you would expect to fall to your death.

“Ah!” says the man with you.  “How do you know?  Where’s the proof?”

And indeed that is the problem.  You might argue that gravity will do you in, but your counterpart could argue that in terms of gravity we don’t have much idea of how and why it works.  We experience gravity, but we can’t explain it.  In fact we are still groping our way to understand why objects have mass.  And in the light of such a lack of evidence it is rather silly to base our daily lives on the assumption that this thing called gravity exists and will continue to exist.

But we don’t have such debate because lack of proof is what we live with once we get outside maths.  We can’t prove that scientific theories are right all the time – we can only prove that they are wrong, when we find examples that counter the theory.

Some people (and we’ve had a few of them on this site) therefore argue that any theory we might put forward about football matches being fixed is useless because if we don’t have the movie of the rich club owner giving the ref the keys to the luxury yacht while saying “anything you can do to see us right would be welcome” while the ref smiles and says, “of course boss, anything you say,” then we don’t have proof.

On such a basis we can’t prove nothing much, either in terms of why things fall to the ground when dropped from above or why a disproportionately high level of wrong decisions are given by referees against Arsenal.

But we can bring some observations to the situation, we can make predictions and we can evolve theories. We can start for example by predicting that the number of wrong decisions against Arsenal through the season will be higher than for any other club, and that the old addage about bad ref decisions all balancing out in the end, is a load of baloney.

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So we predict Arsenal will suffer under the hands of refs more than other clubs, we measure the figures week by week and then we see if our prediction is correct.  (It is, by the way, as you might have guessed).

Then we ask why this is so.   To answer that we can use the commonplace sociological observation that all human societies are (as New Scientist put in on 22 October this year) “subject to vast inertia”.  If things don’t have to change, by and large we don’t change them – and since there’s a lot of people who are doing very well out of the Premier League (players, officials, TV stations, gambling companies) there’s even more reason not to change.

So we make our second prediction – that nothing much will happen – which is what John Maynard Keynes, the economist, would have expected when he pointed out that our society is by and large controlled by defunct thinking.

In the case of ref doping in football matches that defunct thinking centres around the fact that bent football cannot exist in Britain.  Yes it has been around in the past, in terms of individual players such as David Layne who played for Sheffield Wednesday and was involved in the match fixing scandal of 1964.  Or about the match fixing of Manchester United and Liverpool in the 1914/15 season when they conspired to fix matches so that Chelsea would get relegated.

But it is argued – this is ancient history.  So nothing needs to be done.  In fact, Despite all the issues that we reveal here about how things are seriously wrong (the refusal by the authorities across Europe to discuss refereeing issues, the refusal to increase the number of referees, the insanely high number of ref errors and the clear evidence that it doesn’t “all balance out in the end”, and the fact that on average 30% of decisions in English Premier League games are wrong nothing is done.

Indeed the clever trick is that the Premier League and its referees manage the situation so that there is no debate.  The question “is the Premier League fixed?” is not even a question, because no one recognises it in the UK.   Elsewhere, yes, but here no.

And all this despite the fact that the corruption of Fifa is so well documented that there’s no point my even going through the list.  The FA is a paid up member of Fifa.  The Premier League is under the rule of the FA.  Are we really expected to think that Fifa can be that corrupt, and that it has not filtered down to other organisations that subscribe to its rules and bend the knee to its directors?

Apparently yes.  Just as we are expected to believe that although an analysis of referee errors shows us that consistently three clubs benefit from the errors, while the rest suffer we have to believe nothing is wrong.

No, it doesn’t happen in England, because if it did, someone would be talking about it.  Wouldn’t they?  And the mere fact that our level of proof is much the same as the level of proof that Galileo had in order to show that the moons of Jupiter circled the planet, and that the planets circle the sun (and not the earth), is considered not enough.  Galileo looked, drew conclusions, and then made predictions.  We do the same.

Yet somehow in Italy they do keep on chasing the situation, and they get results.  The former Atalanta captain Cristiano Doni and 16 others have, it seems, been just arrested over new match fixing charges.

Gazzetta dello Sport says that there is an inquiry going on into Serie A and B games including Brescia v Bari, Brescia v Lecce and Napoli v Sampdoria. Former Inter and Roma player Luigi Sartor, and the former Portsmouth player Alessandro Zamperini have also been arrested, it is said.

Back in June 16 other people were arrested.  The Guardian reports that Cremona prosecutor Roberto Di Martino said, “This is not the end but just a starting point.  Let’s hope it’s a starting point in cleaning up the beautiful game that is football. One of the suspects has admitted that these operations have been going on for over 10 years.

“At the top of the organisation are men from Singapore who are those who move the money, but the shareholders are divided from the west, to the far east, to South America and they manage with their men how to change the outcome of football matches.”

So we look to the far east as always.  Murky waters there – not like lovely clean England where nothing could happen even when almost one third of all decisions in a football match will be wrong.   This week a top Chinese referee confessed to receiving bribes to fix games including a Manchester United friendly.  The ref, Huang Junjie, was shortlisted for an award in 2009, but admitted receiving money in relation to Man U’s 6-0 win over Shenzhen in 2007.

Corruption hearings against some of China’s leading officials with over 20 officials and refs booked to appear in court after state media said that officials routinely fixed matches, including national team and league games, by allegedly buying off the teams or referees involved.   The state television network now refuses to broadcast Super League games.

Which is exactly the opposite of the situation in England where everyone clambers for the rights to broadcast matches and no one will say a word.

Should they be debating the issue?  Well, if you look at Walter’s article yesterday which shows that only one in five red cards is correctly given you can see that the answer is yes.

We have to ask, “is three decisions in ten incorrect how football should be?” and the answer is clearly no.  So then we ask, “How many of those three in ten decisions are wrong because of match fixing?”  Since a match can be fixed by just one or two wrong calls among the 30% that are wrong, (for example calling Van Persie’s goal against Man City offside), it really is very easy for matches to be fixed within this backdrop.

The FA could investigate this, could look at the bias that there is in referees’ activities (they could start by reading Dogface’s regular column for each league match), and could look at Walter’s overall figures.

Yet they won’t – just as none of the referee groups from across Europe would respond to our questionnaire earlier this year.   Are questions are not welcomed.

Yet one thing is certain: only a serious look at the issue by independent assessors can reveal exactly what is going on.  And that is the one thing we are not getting.

The prediction remains: Arsenal will get more wrong calls against them than any other team in the EPL this year.  You can check it at the end of the season.

Follow us on Twitter @Untold Arsenal


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44 comments to Match fixing in the Premier League: the proof, the evidence, the prediction

  • Kentetsu

    Nice article, Tony, but I guess the timing is not ideal. It’d have been better to have waited until the end of the season, at which point Walter has collected a whole season’s worth of data. Don’t get me wrong, I do agree with your points, but it is the people in denial you referred to that need convincing. After one full season of gathering data of matches involving the top teams (and Spurs) you have a more complete data pool to shove under their noses.

    At that point, what will be the next step? Is there an authority in England you can go to and that will actually do something with it?

  • Lanre

    Basically i don’t think he needs to wait till the end of the season,the fact is just that this as been happening years back.and you could tell what this issue is all about is true yestday match (totham vs chelsea) it was obvious webb was looking direct at ashly cole hand ball that led to chelsea goal what on earth was he thinking again. (man city vs arsenal)the ref was looking direct at richard when he hand the ball in the box.the officiating in Epl is telling the whole story.

  • walter

    Kentetsu, I think that it is important that this prediction has been made now.
    At the end of the season we will see how things stand with the numbers in hand.
    But someone has to stick his head out 😉

  • Dan T

    You’re so right with the general assumption of football fans that ‘nothing like that could happen in the Premier League’. Of course it can! It is probably more likely to due to the obscene amount of money in the Premier League. And soon, in a couple more years, Untold may have the data to force an investigation. I think one year of full data will simply be passed off as circumstancial, but 3 years with the exact same patterns would be much harder to discredit.

  • Dan T

    @ Walter
    I think it’s important to stick with 1 set way of doing the ref reviews for the next few seasons and make sure all of the reviewers stick to this. It would hold much more weight if the findings were directly comparable from year to year with no margin for mis-interpretation because of slightly different methods of marking refs from year to year.
    You have to remember that assuming there is match fixing going on, that these people will find any way to discredit the data that you have produced so it needs to be as consistent and objective as possible. Would it be worth having ref reviewers who are not Arsenal fans? This would help to take away any unintentional bias.

  • walter

    It sure would be worht to have more ref reviewers and also who are not Arsnal fans. But alas no refs who support other teams have offered to help on this.

  • Kentetsu

    Walter, in terms of assumptions the article actually provides little new. At the end of last season, thanks to your meticulous work, the assumption was made already that something was amiss in Arsenal games. Numerous causes were given, including match fixing. Because of the nay-sayers at that time, you and your team took it upon yourself to review games involving top teams other than Arsenal, to once and for all get a clear indication that something is indeed amiss in EPL refereering, matches involving Arsenal in particular.
    Now, at this junction in the season, the article you published yesterday does give indeed a clear indication that something is wrong. I assume Tony decided to write the above article based on the numbers that were highlighted in your article. However, I still think that with only half a season of matches played, Tony’s article is premature. On the one hand, the hypothesis (of poor refereeing for whatever reason) was already established before the start of the season. On the other hand, the data pool is still too limited to get the ignoramuses on board. “It will all even out,” is that favourite phrase and they will claim that there is still half a season for things to even out.

  • nicky

    I continue to worry about these posts about how hard done by Arsenal are through corrupt and/or incompetent officials on the field. Not that the reports have no basis of truth, but (cynic that I am) what purpose do they serve, apart from spawning grievance and hypertension among most if not all Gooners.
    If only (a) clear proof could be obtained, and (b)we all had a modicum of faith in the integrity of FIFA, UEFA or the FA, there would be a small light at the end of the tunnel. There isn’t, unfortunately, and to plagiarize Parkinson’s Law “Corruption expands to replace the absense of correction”.
    Let’s not hold our breath.

  • Dan T

    @ Nicky The clear proof is in the process of being obtained by the ref reviewers on this site. Once enough years have passed the evidence collected will no longer be seen as just circumstancial evidence but as a detailed report into the bias of referees – whether this be through intentional corruption or just natural regional bias due to the teams the referees themselves support will have to be investigated further. But either way there are steps that can be taken to dilute this such as increasing the pool of referees or sharing the big matches more between the existing refs.

  • RobL

    Excellent article Tony, and to all those that doubt anything will happen, be sure it will be the bookies who first take note, and to be honest probably already do in calculating their odds. When the odds get too skewed the FA will be shamed into doing something.

  • Topovacha

    Thanks for the great post.

    I refuse to admit to myself that there is match fixing in the Premier League, because at the moment when I do admit, I will stop watching not only football, but any sport in general.
    And just thinking about that situation is very painful moment.

    Personally I hate betting, and I think the more popular it is, it will produce more and more fixing scandals. Something needs to be done against the betting industry from the very top of it.

    Until then..I will support my beloved Arsenal.

  • I have been thinking of writing the article about proof for some time, because last time we dealt with the subject there were a lot of people coming on saying “unless you have the tape recording of the club owner saying to the ref ‘please do x and I will give you y’ we have no proof.

    What stimulated it today was the recent news about Italy and China, and the fact that I have the day off work, so had a spot of spare time. Also, having thought of the point about Galileo, it seemed logical to make the prediction, as Galileo did in predicting where the moons of Jupiter would be, and where the planets would be, in the coming months.

    As to the value of posting it, and keeping up the point that there is evidence to suggest there is match fixing… many reasons I guess.

    One is that there is always the slight hope that others will take up the theme, and ultimately through a wider coverage force the more mainstream media to examine the statistics. The other is that although the Anti-Arsenal Arsenal have gone quiet of late (hard to be hitting the AAA drum with 10 wins in 12) they will come back at some time, and I believe that one of the reasons that Arsenal struggle to return to the almighty heights of the unbeaten season is that the problem of match fixing is greater now than it was then.

  • Oh and also the editorial reason for doing it now – the next article that Untold will publish (a little later today) is somewhat lighter.

  • dan

    Which team benefits from most of bad calls?

    My guess Man U.

  • Stuart

    I second Dan here, would be interesting to know who benefits most. My guess would be Stoke or Spurs joining Man U at the top somewhere.

  • GiantGooner

    The reason people don’t believe this is because this is an Arsenal blog, and a particularly homer Arsenal blog at that (not that I mind it, homerism is at least half of what being a sports fan is about), doing a very subjective “ref review.” The people reviewing the Arsenal games are Arsenal fans. Its not credible in the eyes of neutrals and I suspect that in your heart of hearts you know why.

    I’m new to european football – I’ve only been watching the game regularly for 6 months now, and I have been surprised at the degree to which refs influence games relative to the American sports I grew up on, American Football, baseball, basketball etc. Whats needed to fix it is a greater use of technology. American football already uses instant reply extensively. It should be available in European football for offsides calls and all red card and penalty decisions as well as goal line technology. Hopefully we get there sometime over the next few years.

  • nicky

    @Dan T,
    How many more years do you think before justice appears?
    I’m in my 89th and time isn’t on my side.

  • bob

    This is an interim report of what the trends are showing.
    You wait until after the season, for what? and then what?

  • bjtgooner


    The sense of grievance and hypertension that you refer to asises from watching our team getting screwed by the “men in black” and being cheated out of points. The Untold ref reviews provide an accurate analysis of how well or otherwise the ref has performed, I can’t see how they would increase stress.

    At the end of the season, thanks to UA, very substantial documentation will be available – and this will clearly show that Arsenal get far more bad decisions than other clubs – assuming the refs continue as they have started.

    As far as I am aware, both last season and this, Riley et al have never tried to contest any UA ref report. Interesting?

  • bob

    Yes, kudos to Tony for sticking his head out.
    Is an online petition for fair play a step too far?

  • bob

    Dan T,
    Three years now, before what?
    Forcing an investigation, how? with whom?
    The fans are the bottom line. Are you part of that, or will you wait for three years, and then what?

  • bob

    Giant Gooner,
    Yes, exactly, video technology (and not the lame/insipid/goal line variety) is the answer. Would you sign in a league-wide online fans petition for it?

  • bjtgooner


    Just noticed your 4.13 post. Hang in there mate, the evidence is being accumulated, what we do with it is up for consderation. My view is that we need to use this info in some way at the season end – no later. No doubt there will be an energetic debate about the route forward – there was at the end of last season!

  • bob

    They don’t contest the growing indictment of their domain because that would be to recognize there is another domain and ruin their monologue that passes for football.

  • bob

    we had the debate already, and it will just replicate itself… 3 more years, must do every team in the league’s stats, poor refs are human and humans err, now worries it’ll even out after a decade, it’s just a game so lighten up, it’s a homer analysis so it means nothing outside gooner-land, stop whinging, still upper lip n’ all that, no matter what we need to be good enough to rise above it and we’re not, etc. etc. There, that’s the debate to be (just as it was).

    What’s the point in waiting, and for what? To convince the legion of doubters that our ref reviewers were NOT homers? Who will believe that, no matter what the evidence?

    An online petition that could be done on the basis of year’s stats already in hand. So, why the delay? And if it’s not a petition, then add any number of initiatives toward a video-replay monitored level playing field to recover the beautiful game from the hijackers.

  • bob

    Good article and timely, of course. Your keen insight and moral authority with Walter on this has long been evident. SO why lighten up in the next one? Why semi-apologize for this “heavy” one by saying you’ll lighten up in the next one? Why not build on this one? Why not reach out to other blogs in a non-sectarian way and develop a common online petition for fair play with a few basic demands, none of which excludes any other?

  • Brian Blogglesnap

    Corruption is imbued with a high inertia. Very hard to move until the money has gone.
    Wasn’t it some Italian owner that said, ( and I paraphrase) ” I don’t have to buy the best players as I already own the referees?”

  • bjtgooner


    In the debate we had last year you and I both advocated action, too many others wanted to wait and gather more evidence. So I am all for action and I am very happy to support the concept of a petition.

  • bob

    The money won’t go. That said, is an online petition that hard to sign on to? That with a hint of boycott could move money to protect its cash cow. Hmmmm?

  • Bob – vital and important though this issue is (and of course I think that otherwise I wouldn’t have written this piece, and wouldn’t have encouraged Walter and the ref reviewers) there is another point.

    We want lots and lots of people to read this – and that means attracting readers all the time to Untold.

    And in my judgement (although I course I could be quite wrong) one way to do this is to continue all the different “series” that we have within Untold and which are listed at the foot of each article (and on the home page).

    I have just published the next article – a piece by Anne about the 89 transfers we are expected to be involved in this January. That will attract other readers – but this article will be there, and I have three or four referee reviews to publish over the next couple of days.

    It is a case of keeping Untold true to its vision (being different, publishing things that others won’t touch, supporting the club, exposing the wrongs) but also being varied enough to get in the bigger audience.

    I know that sounds horribly pompous, but these are the thoughts that lurk somewhere in my head as I try to plot and plan what Untold should do.

    However I am always open to suggestions! if anyone has some ideas.

  • bob

    yes, I remember that now, and thank you for jumping in again! It’s good to try and rekindle this. The infinite variations of wait and see really means do nothing — all the while appearing to do something meaningful. Cheers, mate.

  • bob

    Here’s an idea:
    Use some kind of high-profile box/section on the UA home page to feature this: article, plus Walter’s most recent, plus Walter’s end-of-season ref summary (for last season), and any of Dogface’s prescient predictors. This will give heart to those who want you to move further in this direction; and give newcomers who are enticed by the many good hooks that UA fishes with, a stable, easy-to-find point of reference for this most important work that UA is pioneering.

  • bob

    In case my punctuation made it unclear, a UA holiday gift to savor would consist of this secular trio: this article, walter’s latest, walter’s ref summary of last year. plus one of dogface’s most prescients as proof of concept/icing on the cake.

  • Gooner Gal

    Bravo Tony, bravo!

    You started off with what could of been the script from a Steven Segal movie (minus the plastic guns and dodgy karate chops)and then segued into a nod toward Keynesian economics. Which is not the kind of thing you find on many Arsenal blogs, or footie blogs in general. On a slight tangent, I have sometimes wondered what school of thought Arsene Wenger subscribed to and what his thoughts of the neo-Keynesian economics being applied with little wider reform and poor application in the present economic downturn were. I have also wondered if it was Keynes or another theory used as an applied microeconomic blueprint to facilatate the enormous Emirates project. I personally would find the Arsenal press conferences much more engaging if a journalist asked a few interesting questions like that instead of the usual stupid ones like are we buying Bridge or Cahill.

    Back to the main point, I for one, grasp the concept of a working hypothesis and therefore am able to consider the idea that there is corruption in football. I am even able to accept the notion without demanding you provide me a link, video evidence or picture of suitcases filled with money being exchanged on a boat in international waters! I think that if you are able to accept that human beings are corruptable and corruption can be found in every walk of life, it should help with the simple understanding that football, with the vast inflow of money to the sport would be fertile ground for corruption and illegal activities.

    I too agree that unless there are questions asked and a spotlight shone on misgivings, then the status quo will remain. In my opinion, Man U were not the best team in the league last year as they were aided and abetted by the FA, referees, media and Ferguson underlings in management. If there had been a level playing field, I think they probably would of finished outside the top four. Instead they limped on to win an undeserved 19th title and the authenticity and reputation of the Premiership suffered as a result. Italy still has not fully recovered from the corruption scandal that hit it a few years ago and England would do well to take note and be vigiliant as there is no point denying that it could never ever happen here.

    Up until earlier this year, I would never of believed that RVP could of been sent off in the way that he was against Barca. I never thought UEFA would punish Wenger in the way that they did by extending an already farcical match ban – but they did. The Despatches tv show in the UK earlier this year showed how easy it was for questionable figures to buy English football clubs and even own more than one, creating an obvious conflict of interest (unless you were a betting syndicate). It even showed video evidence of how close Sir Alex Ferguson was to ‘fixer’ Joe Sim, but incredibly it seemed like our ‘free’ press hardly thought it was worth a mention afterwards.

    All of this and the things that are highlighted in the article above leads me to believe that Arsenal FC are swimming in very murky waters and our wins are really great achievements for more than the obvious three points. Articles on blogs like this one are a good thing as it’s the internet in the form of social media, that are best placed to be the catalyst for change in the future. Even if the writer is dismissed by some as putting forward an unproven conspiracy theory.

  • Gooner Gal

    And the short version is….good article Tony and good comments made by others too…

  • David Roberts

    This quote is getting a bit hackneyed but I think it applies here. “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” Lets hope so anyway.

  • Marcus

    I guess those who deny the fact that corruption is rife, or even just exist in Football, must be considered as Flat-Pitchers, to continue the Galilean line of thought.

    Either that, or they football’s Panglossians:

    “All is for George Best in the best of all possible Miss Worlds”

    While the immutable laws of the universe may befuddle some people, we shouldn’t forget that Football is a parallel universe with its own internal logic.

    The first Law of this universe is the Law Of Nomenclature

    “Only Ever Manage A Club Which Tries to Replicate Your Name”

    We see perfect proof of this law in abundance…ARSEN-E Wenger, Roberto MANC-INI, and we have to shake our heads at the folly of Villa-Boas thinking he can really manage the Pensioners.

  • bjtgooner

    @Gooner Gal

    Well said.

  • bob

    Gooner Gal,
    Keynesian thinking above? Where, pray? I thought Lord Keynes was all about deficit spending and keen on pump priming one’s way out of a bad economy; something (not that I mind at all) at seeming odds from the Wenger/AFC-way. I am oafish and historically-challenged, but definitely ready to learn. So, please, what’s Keynesian above?

  • finsbury

    I agree with Gooner Gal. Thanks Tony, Walter, Dogface, billy the dog and the rest of the pack.

    Will we ever see an interview with this expert below touching upon football in a relation of TNOTW? How dare he sling such mud about. What qualification has he for making such a claim? Is it utterly uncredible?

    Naaaaaaaaaah. It could never happen here.

  • Gooner Gal

    @ bob

    Whilst you profess that you would like to learn, I will pass on the opportunity to be your teacher! I have no idea whether you are disingenously purporting yourself to be oafish and lacking in understanding or really have again struggled with the point of the article and my subsequent addition to the discussion.

    Either way, the intonation of your questions, lead me to believe that you would be better off engaging someone else. Besides you can learn a lot from the discovery process itself and therefore I suggest Google or Yahoo search engines or a Library as a good starting point.

  • Gooner Gal

    …..But as it is Christmas and I realise that not everyone would of genuinely grasped the Keynes point….Here is the broad relative point Tony was making (I think), Keynes advocated that sometimes intervention was needed as things didn’t just sort themselves out by themselves over time. Keynes was refering to the economy, Tony was refering to state of football and action that could be taken to improve the increasingly dire situation with refereeing amongst other aspects.

    My mini tangent, was that I would be interested to learn out of curiosity a bit more about Arsenal/Arsene Wenger’s guiding philosophy on the Emirates project. As for example the new keynesian economics is predicated on the assumption that there is imperfect competition in price and wage setting and thus explains why prices and wages can become “sticky”, which means they do not adjust instantaneously to changes in economic conditions.

    In football this would encompass the obvious, like the financial distortion in the transfer market created by clubs like Chelsea and Man C as well as the not so obvious supply and demand factors like the increased number of very wealthy global football clubs chasing the top world class football players, as well currency exchange rates which historically allowed Arsenal due to the relatively strong pound to purchase players in europe and other countries at a reduced cost. This could also be correlated to FC Barca and the spanish economy as they have continued to offer players huge wages even though unemployment increased to around 21% in Spain this year.

    To me the foresight and risk taken to ensure that Arsenal could compete and to an extent be self sustaining through it’s academy is astounding and also inspirational. Arsenal not only increased it’s revenue through its move to a larger staduim but also through it’s good academy has been able to shield itself to some extent from extreme transfer market forces. That said our business model isn’t infallible as alluded to above, as we have witnessed over the past few seasons with the departure of Hleb, Cesc, Nasri, Flamini and Adebayor. Human nature is a very unpredictable random in the equation which appears to of been conciously mitigated this season by buying players who are ‘Gooners’ as it will much harder to prize them away from the club as apposed to a mercenary for hire.

  • Gooner Gal

    @ Bjtgooner & Finsbury – thanks.

  • bob

    Gooner Gal,
    Cheers for the info and joy to this world.