By Tony Attwood
As I mentioned in my last little piece, match fixing in English football is never mentioned in the media. This could be because it does not exist, or because there is an agreement never to talk about it.
In the last piece I drew the comparison with the conspiracy theory that suggests the earth is about to be destroyed by a rogue planet heading towards us. My point was that this theory can be discounted because there is a constant programme of using telescopes to search space looking for intrusive objects, and that programme has found just one such object – and it was too small and too distant to cause us any concern.
But with the issue of match fixing there is no searching, no reporting, and not even a mention that it might exist, although we know perfectly well that it has existed on a massive scale elsewhere.
Thus the problem with the media’s current approach of simply ignoring the possibility that anything is wrong with English football is that it totally ignores the 2006 Italian football scandal known as Calciopoli in which it wasn’t the players and bookies that ran the match fixing, but the referees and media who were bribed by very rich club owners.
To explain Calciopoli Untold devised a simple chart of methods of match fixing which I am rather pleased to say I have seen referred to beyond this site since then. Indeed even our nomenclature it seems has caught on and been used by one or two others. Here it is…
Type I match fixing: Club A wants to beat Club B, so Club A arranges that outcome, 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 last century that’s how it worked; the players fixed the game and the referee turned a blind eye. Liverpool were expected to thump Man U but somehow contrive to miss open goals while Man U gets a dubious penalty and scores. That sort of thing. Nice and simple and easy to understand.
Type II match fixing: Here someone beyond Club A and Club B wants a particular result, and so bribes some players not to try very hard. This is not fixing a match to get it to end 2-0, but simply to reduce the chances of one particular team winning because players C and D have poor games and miss a couple of chances. Of course others in the team will be trying very hard so there is no guarantee a match will actually be drawn or lost, and if the same players keep failing to put in good performances they are eventually sold.
Thus Type II match fixing faded away and was replaced by…
Type III match fixing which 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 other leagues seems to have – but not the PL.
And what is particularly interesting at this moment is that in the big debate over VAR the Premier League and its referee agency PGMO had the chance to beef up the rules – but utterly failed to do that.
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 lose where it might have drawn, or draw where it might have won. Not in any specific game, but generally. So if Team X is drawing against Team Y, and Team X looks to have got a sure fire penalty, the ref says no. Team X draws, and the bribers (the owner of Team Z for example) is happy.
And this is very hard to spot because it doesn’t happen all the time. If Team Y quickly takes a two goal lead, then the referee is instructed to let the match take its natural course. So this has nothing to do with fixing an individual game, but rather is about benefiting a club across a whole season by having its rivals do less well than they might otherwise do.
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.
And remember this is nothing as crude as “Arsenal to lose 2-0”. Rather it is “see how it goes, and if it is 0-0, reject any late appeal for a penalty for Arsenal”.
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 – or the strangest thing where a goal is ruled out by VAR but no one knows why), 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. After that 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 that allowed match fixing to flourish – few referees, highly secretive organisation, and with the press seemingly actively discouraged from discussing referees. Indeed there is reason to suspect that the contract that all companies that get official rights to report on or film a match, also sign contracts restricting what they will say.
There is no benefit in the current system of a small number of referees and ultra secrecy, so why do we have it?
That’s the question no one seems to want to answer.
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