By Tony Attwood
What is it in football that makes corruption so likely? It is not just the large amount of money – that always causes problems in every industry, and not every industry is in such a mess as football.
Rather, according to the Financial Times, it is the short termism in football. The way that players and managers can be hired and fired at will, the fact that everything depends on the last result, that the players’ career is likely to be short, and can be even shorter than expected if injury strikes.
All of this conspires to make a situation in which corruption can thrive. It doesn’t have to thrive of course because the authorities could always recognise that the set up of football leads to potential corruption and have a highly active anti-corruption operation. But for reasons that I will leave to your imagination, they don’t.
Where then exactly do we find this corruption? Here are the ten locations…
1: The FA
The Daily Mirror caught the right note with its headline “FIFA is an odious and corrupt fiefdom but our own FA is almost as bad”. Here’s part of their assessment…
“Our FA, which now paints itself as FIFA’s arch-nemesis, willingly embraced the bent culture of the 2018 World Cup bidding process, spending millions on “inducements”, even asking Prince William to add his tongue to the collective suck-up to obnoxious characters. It was only after losing to Russia so embarrassingly that the FA became critical of FIFA.
“Had they won the World Cup, would they have joined in the cries to stop players being forced into the heat of slave-labour-run Qatar in 2022? No.
“This is the same FA that drags fans down to Wembley for FA Cup semi-finals, not caring how they will get home so long as it charges over-the-top prices to keep their tacky, debt-ridden stadium afloat.”
But at least the press has woken up to what goes on in the FA as with Sky News’ headline “‘Widespread corruption’ claims hit FA after Allardyce quits“.
Of course long before this there was Lord Triesman who was forced to quit as FA Chairman when he was caught saying. “Spain are looking for help to bribe the referees. There’s some evidence that the Spanish football authorities are trying to identify the referees and pay them.” His problem was the FA wasn’t looking to expose the perfidious Spanish, but rather to cash in on the deal.
2: The UK Government
The government clearly knows that at best the FA is a highly dubious organisation that has given up on any serious attempt to regulate the sport in England, and which gives vast sums of tax payers money to highly corrupt international gangs (Fifa, Eufa etc) in attempts to win favours from the them.
If I have good reason to believe that a house builder is using stolen goods or is in other ways engaged in criminal activity, and I then wilfully employ the builder to build me a house, I am guilty of aiding corruption.
By the same token so is the UK Government guilty, and in a fairer world every single sports minister for the past 20 years would be in the dock.
Here is a list of those who in the 21st century have aided and abetted criminal activity in sport by supporting the FA. If Tracey Crouch wants to be removed from this list all she has to do is act on her threat to withdraw FA funding. Mind you Grant, Robertson, Sutcliffe and Caborn all said the same about withdrawing funding, and never did, so I guess she doesn’t want to step out of line.
|Term of office
|The Rt Hon. Richard Caborn
|7 October 2013
|12 May 2015
In 2011, under the Robertson tenure, the Culture Media and Sport Committee held a inquiry into sports governance and Robertson said, “if you look across sport, it is very clear to me that football is the worst governed sport in this country, without a shadow of a doubt.”
The inquiry called the Football Association arrogant and complacent, and urged full reform. The FA did nothing. The government did nothing.
Not all agents are crooks, but certainly any who are involved in dual representation in which the agent acts for both the player and the buying or selling club, certainly are. As are any players who go along with it. (They go along with it because they then don’t pay their agent – the club does.)
The excuse of the authorities for not stamping this out is that a lot of agents work internationally, and so the excuse that “we don’t have jurisdiction in Andorra” is to be heard. But all that needs doing is for the regulations to be tightened.
There is more however. FA rules don’t allow agents to represent players under 16, who in British law are classified as children. So the agents deal with the parents or other relatives who can be known to put pressure on the players to switch agents moving from the honest and honourable to the exploitative. This is possible, because the FA only uses a “light touch” when dealing with agents.
Allardyce is not the only manager to be implicated in dodgy dealings. How many, like him, have had their sons operating as agents in transfer deals that have involved the father’s club and the son’s player?
As the Telegraph said last month in a piece “Eight current and former Premier League managers stand accused of receiving “bungs” for player transfers after The Daily Telegraph found widespread evidence of corruption in the English game.”
5. The Football League
The Parliamentary inquiry into football under Robertson said of Leeds United “there is no more blatant an example of lack of transparency than the recent ownership history of Leeds United.”
Then what happened was that in the aftermath of the report the club was bought by Gulf Finance House via a Dubai company and transferred ownership to LUFC Holdings Limited in the Cayman Islands. Leeds was bought by Massimo Cellino, who was convicted in Italy of tax fraud. He was told to give up ownership. He eventually did, and then returned to take up ownership again. Then he was banned a second time again for tax offences, and promised the sell the club and didn’t and then was filmed offering to sell part of the company to a non-existent firm to get around other inconvenient rules.
And where was the regulatory office of the Football League? Having lunch most likely.
6. Scottish Premier League and Scottish FA
It is hard to see how the Scottish League can be said to have dealt properly with the Rangers tax case, its collapse, Rangers’ return as a new club which still claims the old club’s titles, and which still appears to have issues financially. Untold covered the issues at the time, and I won’t repeat them now, but the overwhelming feeling I got (and of course this is just me looking at reports from another country) was of either gross incompetence or collusion by the Scottish Premier League in the whole affair.
The people in the SFA who looked into Rangers financial disaster and who let it slip through their fingers are still in place.
PGMO, who employ Premier League referees and arrange their contracts is a highly secretive organisation which is accountable to no one. It deliberately follows an organisational style which is now unique in European football. It does however have a model – the Italian refereeing body which oversaw the Calciopoli scandal.
We can’t prove PGMO is corrupt in any way, but we can ask, why does it deliberately restrict the number of referees so that the same referee may get a PL team six or more times in a season? No one can ever weed out corruption totally, and so it is the duty of those bodies that oversee matters where corruption might exist to put in place systems that make corruption ever less likely to succeed. This is what in my estimation PGMO does not do.
The most obvious example of a step in the right direction would be making sure each referee never gets to referee a PL team more than twice a season. PGMO don’t do this, and because of their hyper-secrecy no one can find out why.
Really, need I say more…. except it is worth noting that, as the Independent recently reminded us, “As well as the FA’s lack of action over the Allardyce cases, Fifa declined to look at a number of transfers flagged as “suspicious” which related to the Israeli agent Pini Zahavi. It is understood that Fifa sent Stevens’ findings on Zahavi to the Israeli FA. Three sources have told the Independent that it did not pursue them further. The Zahavi cases were Collins Mbesuma’s move from Kaizer Chiefs to Portsmouth, Ayegbeni Yakubu (Portsmouth to Middlesbrough), Fabio Rochemback (Barcelona to Middlesbrough), Didier Drogba (Marseille to Chelsea) and Petr Cech (Rennes to Chelsea).”
9. The mainstream media
When Swiss law was changed in order to make it possible for Swiss police to arrest Fifa members at their conference, I wrote a little piece suggesting ironically that Fifa would be well advised to move its next meeting from Geneva to Peru.
Two things didn’t happen. One, Fifa didn’t, such was their overwhelming arrogance. Two, the press didn’t report this change in the law, such was their love of the world cup and engagement with Fifa’s endless jollies.
If the media really had been as interested in taking down Fifa they would not have been as surprised as they clearly were by the raid that saw the initial arrests.
But the media continue to give endless coverage to world cup and other international matches, promoting them as exciting, bidding to get coverage rights.
Fifa has been shown to be a crooked organisation run by crooks for crooks, and it is partly run by the sale of TV rights. If that money was withdrawn, Fifa would be in serious trouble. The TV companies could change football for the better by stopping funding Fifa tomorrow. But they don’t.
10. Star Players, star clubs.
Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Lionel Messi, Sergio Ramos, Iker Casillas, Xabi Alonso, Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and Gerard Pique – they have all been accused of or found guilty of, dubious dealings over transfers and/or tax.
In fact we might say, corruption is everywhere.
Below is an extract from an interview in the Telegraph between an agent and a Telegraph reporter about corruption in the English game.
“Here it’s even worse… I thought the Italians were corrupt.” Giving examples, he said of one manager: “We know him very, very well. We do a transfer to [named club], [X] has winked at us and said yeah, I want the player. Is there a little coffee for me, Pino? Yeah, that’s what he will say. “Yeah, course there is. I’ll negotiate that coffee as well.”
He added that the manager “will probably tell me, ‘OK I’ve got this guy who I work with a lot, he can put an invoice for consultancy, right, and he will do that. Nobody is stupid these days, they understand the importance of covering their tracks.”
“We will not make any payments directly to him. There’ll be a consultancy agreement with somebody who he trusts enough to let them do that and then he gets it back, that’s how it works.”
Corruption is there throughout the game. But the media that could really bring down corruption in football, have been very slack about doing so, because they also pay for the right to cover football matches.
But, let’s be fair. They have turned a little. Despite the Guardian’s awful three month long campaign to try and get everyone to stop talking about referees, the intensity of analysis of referees increases, as does the awareness that across the world things in football are not right.
It is, in my personal view, right that we focus on referees, on the FA, on the League, on the agents, on the government, the clubs etc etc. And now we see some movement we need to push harder. No one else is going to stop the corruption of our sport, and certainly not the people who are paid to go to games. Only those of us who care about it enough to pay to go to games (be it Arsenal, or a local team) can ensure that corruption is at the top of the agenda, and stays there.
ARSENAL: The Long Sleep 1953-1970 by John Sowman; foreword by Bob Wilson.
The Long Sleep recalls a time when professional footballers in England were inextricably tied by contract to their club and not allowed to earn more than the statutory maximum wage. It traces Arsenal’s fortunes through that era, as well as the stand taken by one man who went on a 141 day strike against his club – a strike which led to the creation of football as we know it today.
Now available to purchase on line as book or Kindle version at
- How a 14th monk described Arsenal’s failure to buy Moisés Caicedo and Mykhailo Mudryk
- The January transfer window moved few players around: but did any club benefit?
- Are Newcastle United really in financial difficulty? And what about Arsenal?
- Did Arsenal want Mudryk and Caicedo, and was it just luck that they didn’t sign them?
- Is the Premier League getting more exciting or simply ever more predictable?