The fixing of top football matches: how it works and why it is not reported

By Tony Attwood

There are two prime ways in which top football matches are fixed.

One is the gambling model where people bribe players or refs to fix a game in a particular way, and bet on the outcome.

The other is a much more complex system and is often known as Calciopoli after the Italian match fixing scandal of 2006.  In this referees, assistants, and broadcasting company execs were bribed to influence a series of matches involving certain clubs.

In this scenario the owner of club C might say to pliable refs and others, “do what you can to help us, and also just do what you can to knock back clubs A and M”.

The refs are therefore not under instruction to get a certain score or winner, but simply under instruction to help matters along.  If the outcome of a game is clearly going against what their masters wish, they are not expected to try and change it.  But edging the 1-1 draw into a 2-1 victory for the “right” side via a very dodgy penalty is what they are after.

The broadcasters are then involved, so that the more dodgy decisions by the refs are not commented upon and/or not shown.

The problem with Calciopoli is that it is insidious.  Although an analysis of referee decisions over time gives a clear clue as to what is going on, it is hard to prove (and was only proven by phone tapping in Italy).

However the notion that Calciopolio is embedded in the the Premier League is supported by the secrecy that surrounds PGMO (which keeps discussion of referee decisions at bay), their insistence on restricting the number of refs who can work in the PL, (thus making Calciopoli more effective if it is in operation), the wholly bizarre statistics that are released by PGMO about referee accuracy without any detailed substantiation of their claims (which look wholly risible), the geographic bias that they show in appointing refs, and the utter refusal of all media outlets other than the BBC even to consider that it might be happening and to analyse what is going on.

However the reverse is true with match fixing for gambling purposes which is openly discussed and analysed.  Indeed Sportradar has just issued a report to the effect that well over 900 top-flight matches have probably been fixed in the past five years for gambling purposes.

Following from this the Asser Institute in the Netherlands has concluded that the fixing of matches for gambling is much more likely in top-flight matches than second-tier competitions.

The Asser Institute also knocked on the head the old notion that gambling at this level features such issues as the number of cards, the time of the first throw in, the number of corners etc.  It is the fixing of the result or the score.

In earlier articles that I’ve written under the “Football Betrayed” headline, I’ve suggested that if we really want to know what is going on, we should always ask “why?”   And in this case the question is “why does match fixing for gambling purposes get a modest coverage in the press, while match fixing of the Calciopoli variety never gets mentioned at all?”

Of course one reason could be that gambling match fixing does exist but Calciopoli doesn’t.   That is a reasonable point, except for the fact that the evidence that Calciopoli still exists, is there, and needs considering.  I can’t prove Calciopoli is here and with us, but I can show that there are reasonable grounds to suggest that it is.

And this is the main point: saying that matches in the Premier League are “influenced” along the lines of Calciopoli is not just a wild accusation.  It is an explanation for the fact that PGMO is secretive, that its own statistics can be seen to be ludicrous by anyone armed with a pen, notebook and a video of any top match, that it employs so few refs (thus increasing the effectiveness of any ref who has been bought), that TV often ignores controversial moments in its replays, and, dare I say it, when the Referee Decisions web site ran its year long analysis of referees, it found, as Untold has found, that referee errors are not evenly spread among clubs.

Of course those who for whatever reason are against this argument can dismiss it as a conspiracy theory – for example alongside the view that the US never landed on the moon, but fixed the whole thing in a TV studio.

The difference here of course is that we have a whole range of issues which are odd – and on which we can’t get any answers.  The PGMO has, since we started focussing on them, put out a few press releases which the press (notably the Telegraph) has dutifully reprinted, but they tend not to deal with any of the main concerns, but instead focus on issues such as video refereeing.

We can also see why the broadcasters and press might not want to let a discussion on match fixing in the Calciopoli manner start.  They invest hugely in the right to do everything from print fixture lists (yes, you cannot print them without paying for them) through to the right to show matches on TV.   Backing this up is the advertising by gambling organisations which surrounds most matches.

Indeed only the BBC is exempt from the pressure placed on sports reporters by gambling companies, as it doesn’t take adverts, and the BBC is the only body that has shown an interest in our position.

I’ve always been open in saying that we don’t have the smoking gun to prove that referee doping is going on, but we have raised a lot of questions that really do need answering.  And the abject refusal of anyone even to acknowledge them, and of those with money invested in football even to acknowledge the question, tends to make me ever more suspicious.

Untold Arsenal home page


19 Replies to “The fixing of top football matches: how it works and why it is not reported”

  1. Would it be troublesome to put in a link to the Calciopoli article as I would like to forward this article to a few people still unaware of Untold and what you are trying to bring to light with excellent articles like these?


  2. I am going with a ‘sure thing’ and place a hefty bet that within the next few years ,the PGMO will announce that the EPL referees have achieved 100 % correct decisions !
    Well ,they are closing towards it each year according to their reports , and who’s to say that they will not reach it ?

  3. A good summary of the work you, Walter and the rest have been doing over the last few years. Thank you.

    I wonder to what extent fans of other teams support your contentions as there are major ‘mistakes’ every weekend of the year. Perhaps they may not agree with the bias shown against Arsenal as they support other clubs, but surely many most see the possibilities. To what extent would it be possible to reach out to them to form a coalition of the suspicious?

  4. A Sure Thing
    A horse trainer was giving last-minute instructions to his jockey when he appeared to slip something into the horse’s mouth just as a steward walked by.
    “What was that?” inquired the steward. “Oh nothing,” said the trainer, “Just a polo.” He offered one to the steward and had one himself.
    After the suspicious steward left the scene, the trainer continued with his instructions “Just keep on the rail,” he said “You are on a sure thing. The only thing that could possibly pass you down the home straight is either the steward or me.”

  5. It is Friday after all:-

    IT’S A BOY” I shouted “A BOY, I DON’T BELIEVE IT, IT’S A BOY” And with tears streaming down my face I swore I’d never visit a Thai Brothel again!!!

    Little Billy, aged 8, asks his dad for a telly in his room. Dad reluctantly agrees.
    Next day Billy comes downstairs and says: “Dad, what’s love juice?”
    Dad looks horrified and tells Billy all about sex.
    Billy just sat there with his mouth open in amazement.
    Dad says “So what on earth you watching son?”
    Billy says “Andy Murray in the Tennis”

    An elderly couple are attending Mass.
    About halfway through, the wife leans over and says to her husband “I just let out a silent fart, what do you think I should do ?”
    He replies “Put a new battery in your hearing aid.”

    I’ve been charged with murder for killing a man with sandpaper. To be honest I only intended to rough him up a bit.

    A mummy covered in chocolate and nuts has been discovered in Egypt.
    Archaeologists believe it may be Pharaoh Roche.

    My mate just hired an Eastern European cleaner.
    Can you beleive it took her 15 hours to hoover the house?
    Turns out she was a Slovak.

    Since the snow came all the wife has done is look through the window.
    If it gets any worse, I’ll have to let her in.

    Two Indian junkies accidentally snorted curry powder instead of cocaine.
    They are both in hospital: One’s in a korma. The other’s got a dodgy tikka !

    Japanese scientists have created a camera with a shutter speed so fast, they can now photograph a member of the AAA with their mouth shut.

    A boy asks his granny ‘Have you seen my pills, they were labelled LSD ?’
    Granny replies “Forget the pills, I’m trying to get rid of those frigging dragons in the kitchen?”

  6. We have been able to calculate from what the PGMO have put out there that only 5 wrong decisions – of any kind – are made on average in each game.

    That is overwhelmingly easy to refute. Therefore we know that the PGMO stats are wrong and, to be blunt, PGMO are not being honest. If they are not being honest with that then that begs the obvious question – what else are they not being honest about?

    If I was trying to cover something up I would make sure that anything I did put in the public domain was credible. So they are stupid as well as…

  7. Gunner6,
    If you type in the box to the right of the header “calciopoli” you will get a few articles that Untold has published about calciopoli and the similarity with what has been going on in the PL

  8. Seems more outlets are looking at ‘fixing’

    But Riley still has his head where the sun doesnt shine.
    From the BBC “Mike Riley, general manager of the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL), says referees are better than ever.” link requires paying
    Odd how the new media doesnt ask for any proof

  9. Brickfields – PGMO already achieve 100% correct decisions. They only publicise a different figure to allow for humility.

  10. Splendid article yet again Tony.

    Your final paragraph says it all for me. What does an honest broker have to be afraid of after all?

  11. Although all those reasons you examined that cause refs to behave the way they do and the PGMO seemingly unaware in their bliss report that the refs in the PL are doing a good job.

    There is one more scenario i would like to add.

    To keep the PL “the best league in the world” is something i am sure they are not going to leave to chance, so i think the major manipulation will come creating “upsets”, controversies and other things designed to keep the PL “entertaining”.

    They just do not realise that football in itself is entertaining enough for the fans, or maybe they do, but they are talking big money selling it to the rest of the world, and i’m sure they will do everything to keep it that way.

    And, in case something goes wrong, a fall person/organisation is already in place.

  12. I am a massive critic of the standard of refereeing and the fact that we get more harshly treated than other teams. However, I am not ready to accept the match fixing angle.

    I fully accept that corruption is alive and kicking, FIFA prove that and so too does the huge cover up with the child anise allegations.

    For me, the problem is the lack of accountability. These referees are Teflon coated. Of course they make mistakes, they are only human after all. The issue is not about mistakes. It is about inconsistent application of the rules and blatant wrong decisions when it cannot be attributed to a mistake.

    The only way you are going to get remove the problem of refereeing bias, which is what I believe we see, is to have accountability.

    The crazy thing about all this is the fact that we have cameras everywhere and can very quickly replay and review bad decisions. Whether or not you use video replays ‘in game’ is a sprats argument. However, there is no excuse not to use video evidence to create accountability. It’s simple. Where a referee has made a strange decision, perhaps where he has a clear view or perhaps has not applied the rules as he should, then he should be called to account. Fine him, ban him, demote him – I don’t really know. But just shrugging your shoulders and saying mistakes happen is simply not good enough.

    The referees are biased. They are only human,. They are football fans, they read and listen to the media, they are influenced, they support teams, they are regionally biased. They should be spread all over the Country, not concentrated in the North. Without accountability they will simply continue to apply the rules as they see fit, applying their own bias, whether deliberate or subconscious. Or perhaps they are just rubbish at their job.

    Irrespective of any of this, we need accountability and the use of video evidence must be introduced to do this and prevent the possibility of match fixing in the future.

  13. I personally believe corruption is rife throughout football anywhere that there is big money involved, but I also believe that the refs are either incompetent or lazy, I think I read on here but maybe somewhere else that since Riley has taken over PGMO there is no longer a hierarchy as to which referees get what games, no top dog getting the big matches, so what do these team of elite refs have to motivate themselves, they no they have no accountability, they can turn in the same shocking performance week in week out, they know they are protected from above and sooner or later will get the big matches, not bad really.

  14. There is though a pressure on the BBC … and indeed the other broadcasters … it is not in their interest to rock the boat by suggesting anything is wrong … they use the Premier League as a jewel in the crown of their sports output, why would they suggest anything other than all was absolutely wonderful … turkeys voting for Christmas and all that … also, do any of them really want to go to war with the FA ??? The FA who negotiate TV deals, are the gatekeepers to access and interviews with the National team and manager and of course provide FA Cup Final hospitality for the TV executives and their friends … EVERYONE has too much to lose by rocking that boat …

  15. Interesting…back in the early 80s when I was doing my undergrad degree I took a course in irregular warfare. Included within was a unit on propaganda. I remember examining the efficacy of Radio Moscow, Voice of America and the BBC. The BBC came out on top because they included much verifiable ‘truth’ mixed in with ‘message’. We shouldn’t be surprised that the BBC continues to efficiently preach a message.

  16. One of the problems is the word fix. For most people if they hear a game is fixed they understand that a clear outcome is expected in that game – team X wins. But with calciopoli out comes are not certain. The process is manipulated. The two stoke games are good examples. In the second the ref favored stoke in all the decisions until Arsenal was ahead 3-0, then he called in correctly for each team. In the first game Arsenal made a couple of mistakes and so media could focus on that instead of the outrageous officiating that was completely in favor of Stoke. Caliciopoli manipulates the process it does not guarantee certain results. Often a great performance can overcome deliberately biased officials. Arsenal often win in spite of the ref. But that does not mean that Caliciopoli is not going on. The high levels of bias and consistence bias against Arsenal proves that their is some manipulation going on. But it does not fix or make certain that Arsenal will lose.

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