I will admit at once that there are two problems in proving corruption exists within English football.
First, the only people who stand a chance of proving corruption are
a) the police
b) the football authorities
c) an insider in a club, or a journalist with exquisite sources.
As I will outline below, part of my argument is that the football authorities themselves are corrupt, many journalists (especially those on TV) have been bought off by these authorities, and by and large the police have other things to get on with. As for those within the game, as I will point out later, there is a good reason why they are afraid of revealing anything.
Second, we can’t disprove corruption. We can say, there have not been any cases of proven corruption in the English game for a number of years, but that doesn’t say very much if the corruption is endemic. It could be that there is a very effective cover-up going on. It could be, as in my first point, that those who might investigate, don’t want to.
Thus I think we need to look at the arguments more carefully – avoiding the simplistic allegations that one is only suggesting there is corruption because we lost, or that this is just another conspiracy theory (the arguments I dealt with in an earlier piece) and instead asking this question
What reasons are there for thinking that there is corruption?
Having done this we can think: are these reasons good enough and strong enough to make us feel that corruption in the English game is probably rife?
Of course in doing this, we know that someone is likely to come along and say, “You Arsenal supporters make me laugh…” and ignore all the logical argument and instead just get into an emotional rant. But let’s try and ignore that just for a moment by listing out some factors that point towards English football being bent.
1. FIFA. We know FIFA is bent, because they have been caught out in terms of their dealings with Master Card in the American court, (the judge’s famous comment, “FIFA lied and lied and lied,”) and the dealings of their marketing agency in taking bribes.
FIFA controls English football, in the sense that it oversees the rules and the FA is bowing down to its power in terms of World Cup issues.
2. Jack Warner of FIFA. Worthy of a separate listing from FIFA simply because if you go onto Google and type in “Jack Warner corruption” you get42,900 hits. Here’s a snippet taken from the Guardian (not generally a paper to make wild accusations that could lead to a court case)…
The Warner family travel company made £500,000 from reselling 2006 World Cup tickets for three times their face value;
Warner’s Trinidad FA under-declared their income from the 2006 World Cup by £17m. Multi-millionaire Jack said players still taking legal action to recover their share of the missing money are “mercenary”: “These players hold us to ransom – just because of greed.”
“Bribes and kickbacks” to Fifa executives and contacts by Fifa’s collapsed marketing agency up to 2001 – totalling £66m. Jack said: “I am deputy chairman of Fifa’s finance committee – and I have never seen one iota of corruption!”
My point is that a game in which a man like Warner holds so much power is more rather than less likely to be corrupt. Listening to Beckham say what a good and great man Warner is, only emphasises the fact that English football is probably in bed with people like Warner. Indeed Beckham’s eulogy about Warner being a fine and upstanding man shows just how far the FA have sunk. Not only do their have as the team coach a man who has been in severe trouble with the Italian financial police (as covered in an earlier story here) they now talk up Jack Warner.
3. Television. TV could be a strong party to exposing corruption in football, and Panorama has tried for the BBC. But the trouble is TV is beholden to football in England, because it wants part of the action. The fact is the FIFA bribes case was mostly amount TV companies bribing FIFA to get TV contracts. If football in England delivers your audience you tend not to knock it, and so any corruption gets swept under the carpet by the very people who ought to be exposing it. Every season promises to be the best. Every end of season is “the most exciting in years”. So it goes…
4. The press. The press are also beholden to football – although not so much as TV. But still there is an unhealthy relationship, which leads to the press attacking individual managers and clubs, but not investigating the whole game, for fear of being banned from the grounds (which clubs are totally entitled to do). Currently, for example, Leeds have banned the Guardian, because of its exposure of their ownership issues and court cases in Jersey. So I would argue that the papers are (with some exceptions) just staying off the subject of football corruption.
5. Breaking the rules. If you see an organisation breaking its own rules over and over again, you know that something is seriously wrong. The Fit and Proper rules are hardly monuments to good housekeeping, but even these can’t be kept to by the authorities. Leeds United – ownership unknown. Notts County – ownership unknown. Birmingham City – ownership unknown. And that’s before I even get to the Conference openly breaking its own rules over Chester City.
6. Implementing rules erratically. The rule of law demands that rules are applied equally, which is certainly not the case when suddenly Eduardo is singled out over a diving charge, where many others have not been before. The issue is not whether Eduardo dived against Celtic, but rather, has the rule been applied in the same way to all cases over time? Since no previous case has been brought, the answer clearly is no. The same could be argued when Arsenal under George Graham were suddenly deducted two points for what was called a “fracas” at Manchester United. It was in fact a melee on the pitch of the type we have seen many times before or since. I don’t condone the behaviour, but note that other clubs, before and after, did not have two points deducted.
7. Corruption elsewhere. The fact is, as Walter recently pointed out in these columns, the rest of Europe is awash with stories of corruption in football. In Italy, as we know, the case against four major clubs was proven – but it took years of phone tapping to get the evidence. There is talk of corruption from east Europe across to Germany. Everyone questions what is going on… except in England. Our view is that an Englishman would never do such a thing. It is just these nasty Johnny Foreigners. Suddenly Alan Sugar, instead of being a disgraceful joke, is the man who sets out our public attitude.
And this is really the point. On what basis can it be argued that while the rest of Europe seems to be awash with corruption in football, and the revelation of how it happens, do we argue that football in England is clean?
8. History. English football has been riddled with corruption since the start. I won’t go through it all – I did a piece on www.blog.woolwicharsenal.co.uk recently on the subject from a historic point of view. But basically football and corruption have walked hand in hand since the FA Cup was first played. So why is it different now? If we had had a big case that removed all the corruption and exposed all the cheats that would be fine – but we haven’t. Every case is dealt with as if it were isolated and as if there has never been another case.
9. Gambling and large amounts of money. Gambling and money tend to be at the heart of corruption – and football is just about the biggest unregulated market on the planet apart from drug dealing. (OK we have organisations like FIFA to regulate – but since they are corrupt – as witness the revelations against FIFA – this amounts to no regulation).
10. Corruption can be invisible. This was the frightening part of the Italian corruption case. It was not a case of money being handed over to refs, but rather of ways being smoothed, life being made nice. Not for a specific result, but just generally. Then the pressure was brought on so that certain refs would get certain games, and the results would go a certain way.
Of course we can look back to the days of Liverpool domination of the league and say, “well they had the best team”, or we might look at just how many penalties they got in the last few minutes of games. Either way we can prove nothing.
But we can stop being simplistic and nationalistic. We can move from a position of saying “you are only claiming there is corruption because your team is not winning” to one that says, “the ten points outlined above suggest that the English game is more, rather than less likely to be riddled with corruption.
PS: Don’t forget MAKING THE ARSENAL. Amazon have finally got their stock levels sorted and are despatching it. Or you can get it from the publishers, and I’ll sign it. www.emiratesstadium.info
(c) Tony Attwood 2009
- How much have Arsenal’s rivals spent on transfers in recent years?
- Why is it becoming so difficult to find a sponsor for new football stadium?
- Corruption flares up again in Italy, as Premier League figures don’t look too clever
- How much does a club have to spend on transfers to get a trophy?
- Does the team that is top after 14 games usually go on to win the league?