In 1999 David Yallop wrote an inside account of how world football is run called “How They Stole the Game”. It revealed total corruption from top to bottom, and was largely ignored by the football reporting media in the UK.
In 2006 William Gaillard, Uefa’s director of communications, said in an interview with the BBC the culture of backhanders and bungs is prevalent across Europe in football.
Then Andrew Jennings published “Foul!”, another book on the corruption within Fifa which revealed that Fifa’s marketing partner ISL paid bribes to senior Fifa officials to secure lucrative television and sponsorship rights contracts over two decades.
A link between TV contracts and bribes. Note that. It is important in what follows.
How many more examples shall I quote? Italian football perhaps in 2006 involving Juve, Milan, Fiorentina, Lazio… with corruption based on a network of relations between team managers and referee organisations.
Or should we speak of the way FIFA changed the rules so that the play offs were seeded at the last moment. Or the big betting and bribery scandal that is apparently about to be revealed, and which spreads across hundreds of matches in the Champions League.
FIFA, UEFA, Germany, East Europe, Italy… it is everywhere, except of course not in Britain.
Actually I reported recently on a most strange programme on Radio 5 which did reveal theats and actual violence relating to a non-league game, but nothing seemed to come of that.
And so the old pals act continues with the eternal feeling that really we don’t do that kind of thing in England. Yes, I know, we have a manager of the England team who has himself been shown to be utterly corrupt financially, and who has been fined for his activities by the Italian police, but that’s because he is not English.
There are odd things – yes the Conference was found of being flagrantly guilty of breaking its own rules by allowing Chester to play on when clearly under the control of a man who has been found guilty of serious VAT fraud.
Then there’s the odd things about Leeds and Notts C and Birmingham all being allowed to play when no one knows who actually owns them (not Mr Bates, not any of the companies in the Nottingham Circle, not Mr Yeung… in all cases it is not the people we thought). But still the FA and Leagues allow them to play on. But that’s not really corruption…
And we know that the Italian job was all subtle and nothing as crude as passing brown envelopes to refs, and there was never any match fixing as such, just a sort of flavour of the way the game went.
And yes, people keep getting arrested by the police in the UK – that Arry Redknapp for example – but nothing ever is proven…
And besides if there ever were any real corruption in English football, surely the media would be up and at it. I mean, they are the people who unearth corruption don’ t they?
Well… not quite.
Unearthing corruption within FIFA all seems a bit distant and intellectual, and that Italian thing was all about funny foreigners. Football journalists in the UK don’t generally do the detail stuff – because they are making too much money out of being pundits. The TV companies, we know, have invested a fortune in securing the games on TV so they are hardly going to start saying, “well ladies and gents, welcome to another fixed game in the English Bent Football League”. Wouldn’t help their advertising levels.
And remember that bit I mentioned earlier, about TV organisations paying bribes in order to get TV contracts…
And anyway – to get to write the day to day stories about the clubs they need the clubs to be on good terms with their papers – and you don’t really get that if the paper is saying that a match was fixed.
We can say that these funny people all over the world are fixing games. We can blame UEFA for arranging the play off games in a way that favoured France, and not Ireland, and we can forget that extremely odd bit of refereeing in Georgia which helped get Ireland into the play offs. But we can’t really raise a question about the way an English game went.
Maybe we can say that if a ref gives a funny penalty to one team, he’ll give one to the other to “even it up” which sounds like a lovely British compromise.
In fact we are so certain that corruption does not exist in English football we even forget about proven cases in our own history. When I was writing MAKING THE ARSENAL which is about 1910, I was stunned by how there were match fixing scandals virtually every week. And they were reported – because the football reporters were not told by their editors to bow down to the great god of football. Here’s one story…
In 1905 Man City needed to beat Villa on the last day of the season to win the league. But Villa won and after the game the Villa captain claimed he had been offered £10 by Man City to throw the game. The Man City captain was found guilty and thrown out of football for a year. Meredith, the man in question, expected his club to help him out, but when they didn’t he sold his story to the press, revealing how Man City were breaking fundamental contract rules every day.
This happened all the time in that era because journalists were not brow-beaten by the club – but of course Man City were not thrown out of the league – nor was anyone else. The corruption existed on an industrial level, but the clubs carried on – because the clubs and the FA and the league were a cosy group. If anyone ever got punished it was a poor player.
I mention all this today, having watched the defeat against Chelsea, because to me, sitting in the stand, the activities of the ref were nonsense. From my position I clearly saw five occasions in the first half when Mikel committed serious fouls for which nothing was done other than a free kick being given. By the third or fourth he should have had his second yellow card and been sent off. In the second half I saw an Arsenal goal ruled out because of the keeper being impeded – which I couldn’t see.
Throughout the game I got the feeling something was seriously wrong – that all the little decisions – which should in my view have led for example to Mikel being sent off – were going Chelsea’s way.
Now if I take the perspective that all football is corrupt – that the arrests of five people in 2007 on suspicion of corruption in football were the tip of the iceberg, that the arrests in Germany on November 19 this year on suspicion of corruption in football, and that the recent arrest of Peter Storrie and so on and on and on, all mean that football is corrupt from top to bottom – then I just shrug at Arsenal 0 Chelsea 3 and say, “that was a fixed match”.
If I am very English and believe we don’t do that kind of thing here, I think, no it is just that I am sad that Arsenal lost today.
And that’s where I have got to, and I come down in favour of the former, because everywhere, every day, there is evidence of corruption in football, and I think on Sunday 29th November I saw a match that was corrupt. A match in which with subtle twists and turns the ref and officials arranged to ensure that a Chelsea player who should have been cautioned early on, and then sent off, was not, and that an Arsenal goal which could have changed the flavour of the game was disallowed.
It all depends on your starting point. If you ignore the fact that there is news of corruption in football everywhere, from FIFA through to the Conference, from Chinese betting rings to the arrest of high profile people in England involved in the game, then you are likely to say, “oh he’s just looking for an excuse”.
But if you start from the facts, and realise that five minutes research reveals the corruption in football is Europe wide, you see the game in a different light.
I am sure very many people will disagree with me. Perhaps I am the only one who thinks like this. But I think English Premier League football is bent.
(c) Tony Attwood 2009.