By Tony Attwood
Modern day match fixing
This story that match fixing is arranged by gambling syndicates in the Far East is the everyday tale that the newspapers tell (when they bother with it at all), and is in fact an endless retelling of the tale that was put about by the footballing authorities in the early 20th century. Basically that story says, players might be susceptible to being bribed for match fixing purposes, but not the gentlemen who own the clubs.
And yes, in the early 20th century, with players earnings restricted by maximum wage rules in the league, the temptation of extra cash for helping to throw a match was obviously there. (It is a story I have covered in depth on the Arsenal History Society website).
But these days of course players earn far too much for it to be worth their while to risk a career by fixing a game, so the notion arose of devilish foreign gamblers (not English of course) fixing games in obscure leagues in foreign parts.
And very cleverly the UK media has maintained this stance: that there is no match fixing in England because
a) We’re British and we don’t do that
b) the players are paid too much to be interested in throwing a game
c) if there was anything wrong we’d notice, and
d) people who believe there is match fixing also believe the earth is flat, wear tin hats, and are just looking for a way to explain the failure of their club to win a match.
Now this has been a phenomenally successful campaign and this notion that the English leagues are completely clean has been maintained by the total absence of any discussion of anything to do with match fixing in the Premier League or elsewhere in English football.
Thus even when Uefa recently admitted that it could no longer control match fixing and started advertising for help in attempting to combat it, the issue was utterly ignored by the UK media.
Of course the argument that “there is no evidence so there is no match fixing” is compelling, for it is rather like saying “there is no evidence that the rogue planet Nibiru will shortly hit the earth and destroy all civilisation”. There is no evidence that Nibiru exists, and so the conspiracy theorists then suggest there is such a planet but you don’t read about it in the papers as there is a gigantic cover up.
But of course astronomers and astro physicists search the skies constantly for any new objects entering the solar system, and indeed have found one – Oumuamua – which passed by in 2017.
So to return to football my point is this: in most areas of life we rely on the freedom of the press, and the work of scientists and journalists to bring us information about anything odd happening. And by and large that works. Except in football in England, where it seems there is a widespread agreement not to discuss the notion that match fixing might ever exist.
And this lack of discussion of anything being wrong with football is increasingly common.
For example, we used to get wholesale criticism of refereeing on radio commentaries, while newspapers would criticise the way TV showed football, editing matches and hyping up commentary to make games look and feel more entertaining than they were. But then suddenly that type of comment was also stopped.
Worse, the organisation that runs refereeing for the Premier League (PGMO) has a policy of ultra-secrecy such that it doesn’t even have a web site, forbids referees from giving interviews, and pays huge inducements to referees not to give interviews after retirement. This is not common across Europe, and so I think it is a valid question to ask, “why does it happen in England?”
Indeed it is not the people who ask questions about whether matches are fixed who are behaving like the tin hat wearing conspiracy theorists. Rather it is ultra secretive PGMO.
Of course just because something like match fixing might exist does not mean it does exist in the 21st century game. And that was pretty much the position we were in until 2006 when details of the Italian match fixing scandal emerged.
And this was not because of the view that “if it happened in Italy it could be happening here” but rather that England and the PL with the ultra secret PGMO at the heart of refereeing had set up a system that looks as if it were designed to make match fixing of the Italian type much easier to implement in English football.
This brings us on to Calciopoli – the Italian match fixing scandal, and I will deal with that in the next article.
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