By Tony Attwood
From before the time I started this blog 10 years ago, I was fascinated with the way the British media dealt with match fixing. In simple terms, according to our media it was done by foreigners, and largely associated with Far East “gambling syndicates”. Somehow it seemed that we were back in the days of Empire in which a British gentleman knew how to behave, and only johnny foreigner who hadn’t had the benefit of a public school education could imagine that a match could be fixed.
And yet as far as I can tell football match fixing actually originated in England somewhere around 1912. There may have been some before that, and indeed there may have been some big scandals in foreign lands that I haven’t read up about, but what seems to me to have been the big original scandal raged from 1912 to 1915 – and that is something that by and large the media don’t like to remember.
I’ve written up the whole history of match fixing in the 1st Division, and the perfidious actions of Liverpool and Manchester United, the prime clubs involved, on the Arsenal History Society site. I certainly won’t go over the whole thing again, and if you want to see some of the main points this article is a fair place to start.
But as a quick summary, in the 1912/13 season Henry Norris wrote a newspaper article in which he suggested that a first division match between Liverpool and Chelsea that he had attended was fixed. The League came down hard on him, and made it clear that anymore talk like that and he would be kicked out of football.
Then in 1914/15 a second case arose, and before anyone could get to grips with that, a third case turned up that couldn’t be ignored because the bookies were refusing to pay up and court cases were threatened. And again this involved Liverpool. The League did investigate this game and concluded that there were “unusual betting patterns” (a phrase that has become commonplace since) and that as a result of the game Chelsea were relegated by unfair means.
This left the League in a difficult position. They had really told Norris in no uncertain terms, (the working class oik), to mind his p’s and q’s or leave football to good, and now his suggestion that Liverpool were up to no good was proven to be true. One absolutely and twice more seemingly very likely.
Eventually some players were found to be guilty but mostly let off, the clubs were exonerated (gentlemen directors do not fix matches) and Chelsea were given their place back in the first division.
There have of course been other scandals since, but these days the talk is all about unreliable foreigners and their naughty gambling habits. Englishmen don’t cheat.
The problem with this approach, it seemed to me as I started writing a regular column on Arsenal, was that it totally ignored the 2006 Italian football scandal known as Calciopoli in which it wasn’t the players and bookies wot did it, but the referees and very rich club owners. Eventually matters were resolved (although further scandals followed) and the structure of refereeing in Italy was changed to reduce the chances of it happening again.
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At the heart of the Calciopoli scandal was the fact that match fixing had become sophisticated way beyond the notion of persuading the players of one team not to try very hard in one match, and to explain this I devised a simple little chart of methods of match fixing which I am rather pleased to say I have seen referred to once or twice since.
Type I match fixing: Club A wants to beat Club B, so Club A arranges that, either by bribing Club B players or the ref. Nice and simple – in the Liverpool and Man U cases in the early days of the century that’s how it worked; the players fixed the game.
Type II match fixing: someone beyond Club A and Club B wants a particular result, so they bribe the some players not to try very hard. This might be a betting ring or someone from Club C, a club that will benefit if the result is a draw or if Club A lose. It is similar to Type I, but not a simple since the fixing could be arranged in all sorts of ways to gain any odd sort of result that might not be expected.
Type III match fixing is much, much more sophisticated, and this is what was found in Italy, and this is something that could be going on in the PL. To stop it certain safeguards need to be introduced – and this is what every other league seems to have – except the PL.
Here’s how Type III match fixing worked in Italy 12 years ago. An individual lets it be known to one or more referees that he would welcome any help in having Team X win where it might have drawn, or draw where it might have lost. Not in any specific game, but generally. So if Team X is drawing against Team Y, and Team Y is in a situation where it ought to get a penalty, the ref says no.
But if Team Y quickly takes a two goal lead, then the referee is instructed to let it go. This is not fixing an individual game, but benefiting a club across a whole season by having its rivals get certain results.
What makes Type III so hard to spot is that it is possible to have four clubs all doing it at once, and have the instructions changed as the season progresses. Team Z is looking to be a threat to Team X’s attempt to win the league, but as time goes by Team Z has a bad run and drop out of contention. The instruction is changed. Take Team Z off the list of clubs to knock back but try to stop Team Y (who are now up and coming) from winning.
In Italy Type III fixing went on for some time and gradually got more sophisticated, until it also involved seeking to influence how TV replays worked (have you ever seen one of those moments where you expect the replay and it just doesn’t happen, or happens from a wrong angle?), and the way reports were written up by journalists. The rewards were wonderful holidays, unexpectedly winning the local lottery, a fixed promotion…
In the end it was exposed via state run telephone taps and a major anti-corruption operation run by the financial police, and then the league sorted itself out, while introducing many more referees into the rota, so that referees even if corrupted would have far less chance of having an influence. The controlling body of referees became more open, and less secretive. It didn’t solve everything but it helped.
What frustrated me, and made me want to write a lot about referees in this regard was the fact that PGMO and the League seemed to be copying the old Italian model – few referees, highly secretive organisation, and with the press seemingly actively discouraged from discussing referees.
We haven’t changed that secrecy over the 10 years Untold has been running, and the newspapers absolutely refuse to discuss match fixing methods, except where it involves perfidious foreigners, but at least a few more people talk about the possibility that something is wrong. So maybe we’ve helped a little bit over the ten years.
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