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.
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- The abuse of female footballers is appalling, but there is a wider context
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