By Tony Attwood
There are by and large three main approaches to fixing football matches.
The first is the oldest and most obvious: when a footballer or footballers deliberately fix a result, either to help promotion or avoid relegation. This goes back to the early days of the Football League with one of the original cases being the Manchester United v Liverpool game at the end of the 1914/15 season the result of which affected the relegations at the end of that season.
As a result of this match fixing Chelsea were relegated, but subsequent enquiries revealed the problem, and Chelsea were voted back into the league by the other clubs. Man U and Liverpool however, the two clubs engaged in match fixing, escaped without punishment, which was obviously an encouragement to others.
This approach however is dangerous to the perpetrators because it requires a number of players to be involved – and it only needs one to talk, and the whole thing comes tumbling out – as happened with Man U and Liverpool.
The second approach involves gambling: paying money to players either to play badly, or kick the ball out of play at a certain moment or to bet against yourself and then have a bad game. These are the stories that the press love and the phrase “unusual betting patterns” usually emerges.
David “Bronco” Layne is the name most commonly associated with the early forms of this, due to his association with the British betting scandal of 1964 for which he was banned from football.
But again, like the wholesale match fixing of Manchester United and Liverpool, betting against your own team or betting on a specific event is dangerous because it is easy to spot today via the “betting patterns”.
The third and much more insidious approach to match fixing was made famous in Italy through the actions of Luciano Moggi (the Juventus manager) and others when they arranged matters so he could influence which referee got which game. The system (“Calciopoli” as it was called) did not mean that matches were fixed to produce a set score, knowledge of which could be used in gambling, but rather that favours were given by a variety of clubs to certain refs over time, and these refs edged games in favour of the clubs using the system. A free kick here, a penalty there, letting a foul go at another time…
This is a much more sophisticated system, and it can spread easily and quickly – in Italy not only were a number of clubs involved in “influencing” refs, but also they were able to affect TV coverage in terms of how games were shown, which highlights were picked out.
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Of course in this system not every game was fixed, not every ref was bent, and a live showing of a game might show that the ref makes mistakes – but the notion circulated that the refs were just not very good so mistakes were inevitable.
Ultimately the Italian situation was revealed through endless checking of phone calls and the evidence piled up. But it left a problem for the rest of us: how can we know if matches in our own league are fixed or not?
The absolute proof of recordings of phone calls requires a lot of people not affected by the scandal to be willing to investigate – and this in itself can be a problem if the match fixing is widespread. We do investigate corruption in the UK – take the phone hacking scandal currently at the Old Bailey… But the media has a vast amount of money invested in football, and the footballing clubs, authorities and their sponsors are powerful institutions that will certainly do all they can to stop even the idea of an investigation gaining hold.
The only way around this is to consider what might happen in a league in which the authorities were keen to ensure that no match fixing took place. We could then look to see if this happens here, and if it does that would be reassuring.
Of course introducing such checks and balances could be called an admission of guilt, but most would see it as sensible precautions – the sort of openness that most of us want our governments, tax authorities, police, courts and the like to have, so that we as citizens can be assured that the country is truly being governed fairly in our name.
Not every signifier of match fixing can be checked in this way – but some can – and in drawing up the list of what we might do to avoid match fixing, if starting afresh, we can then check to see which of these precautionary measures are in place.
Such checks and balances might include…
1: Employ a lot of refs so that no referee ever refs a single club more than twice a season. Ref can still of course influence negatively, ensuring that a rival of a club that is fixing games doesn’t get the “run of the ball”, but two matches per club is a start.
2: Ensure that no referee is employed on a contract which includes a secrecy clause requiring the ref not to give interviews about refereeing or the organisation of refereeing after retirement.
3: Employ refs from all across the country, so there is no chance of regional bias and no suggestion that a ref from one region is favouring teams from that region.
4: Investigate irregular actions of referees as perceived by those outside the inner sanctum of refereeing, ideally through a wholly independent body. This should not just consider blatant errors such as sending the wrong player off, but should look at trends and tendencies in the actions of a referee.
5: Consideration of the consequences of referee actions by an independent panel of refs who are not part of the elite body that appoints refs. Thus if one team is seen as getting far more contact injuries than other teams (suggesting their players are being fouled more, perhaps without punishment) this could be investigated.
6: An external consideration of the percentage of accuracy of referees by refs from outside the the league. Thus refs who have nothing to do with the Premier League (eg refs from Germany or France) might unannounced independently monitor certain Premier League games and note the accuracy level. A lower accuracy rate in one league as opposed to another would suggest something is going wrong, either in the training of the refs or through match fixing.
7: Open publication of referee achievements in terms of accuracy across a variety of figures.
8: Measurement of the consistency of punishment of players for offences by an independent outside body. This would reveal if certain teams or certain styles of play result in the players getting fewer red cards in some clubs than others. (I’m thinking here of Stoke under Pulis where it appeared that the side committed more fouls but got fewer bookings than most).
9: An open independent organisation to be in charge of overseeing all of this – an organisation that has nothing to do with the body that pays and selects referees.
10: A regular review of the way TV highlights are selected, and the way in which replays are selected on live matches, by a body which does not include reps of the TV companies, refereeing bodies, and the like, to see if there is any reason to suppose there is any outside influence.
The advantage of such a system is that it would not be cumbersome, since the investigations can continue over time without interfering with the games. What is more the refs, TV companies and club owners would know this is happening, and that might make them be more reluctant to get involved in anything untoward.
Now if as we looked at this list we found that maybe half of these measures were in place, we might think, ok there are some checks and balances in refereeing, but maybe more could be done.
In fact we have none of these checks and balances – and that is why the whole approach to refereeing in the Premier League is called into question.
And so we raise the next point: why not? Why not engage in these checks and balances? The answer that it costs isn’t really applicable given the riches of the Premier League. The answer that there is no reason to investigate isn’t applicable either, given the work last season of Referee Decisions, and the analysis this season of contact injuries across the clubs.
The reason why nothing is being done must surely be because the media is not calling for action – presumably to protect its own investment. When (as now) it costs the media a lot of money just to get permission to print the fixture list, you can see just how beholden they are to the Premier League.
The Premier League is a total brand, and like all brands of this magnitude, it will do anything to protect itself from even the question being asked – let alone the answer being given.
And that is both why the checks and balances are needed and why it is right to be suspicious at the fact that they are not there.
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