But such things have been going on since sport became organised. It happened in the 1900s, and most notoriously in the early 1960s, when ten players were banned for life and jailed for throwing games. The biggest name was Tony Kay, an England international who would almost certainly have been a 1966 World Cup hero. The Fix (BBC1), written and directed by former World in Action man Paul Greengrass, gave an atmospheric, downbeat account of the story, from the money for the bookies being handed over in the Sheffield Wednesday dressing room, to Kay's tears as he contemplates the wreckage of his life. Jason Isaacs, who cut his teeth in Capital City and Civvies, portrays him as a tragic hero, his eyes troubled and haunted from the off. His nemesis, The People investigative reporter, Mike Gabbert, is played by Steve Coogan, better known for Alan Partridge and Pauline Calf. His Gabbert has a fixed frown of disgust, which is slightly puzzling as he seems to have no moral sensibilities beyond the Good Story. His deep-running cynicism is offset by his reluctant partner, football reporter Peter Campling (Michael Elphick), whose heart is increasingly heavy as the tale unfolds.
"You've broken my heart, you know that?" he tells Kay just before the story breaks. "Now go and break mine," Kay replies.
The film is as much about Gabbert and Campling and their world as it is about Kay and his cohorts, and there are several proleptic echoes of the current debate on the powers and responsibilities of the Press. At one point, as Campling types out a match report, Gabbert tells him that the days of the "anguished custodian" are over. One day there'll be a huge headline, "`Goalkeeper drops bollock.' It'll come." And when Campling remarks that people deserve a bit of privacy, Gabbert replies with a rattle- snake chuckle. Gabbert's future achievements are previewed, too. The script is peppered with references to his preoccupation with Mick Jagger, who, along with Marianne Faithfull, was Mars-Barred by Gabbert in 1967. "Make it up," he tells Campling. "Saves time. Saves money" - a philosophy he stuck to all his life. There's a nice touch at the end when the editor of The People is congratulating him. "I told you it was a great story... You might even make editor. If the papers get thick enough," he tells the future editor of the Sunday Sport.
Though the points contact between then and now are all worth pointing out, the story is strong enough to stand up by itself. It's filmed in the style redolent of the kitchen sink dramas in vogue at the time, with a melancholy jazz score by Dominic Muldowney that could have been lifted from Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. There's a gritty, grainy feel that becomes increasingly claustrophobic as the hacks tighten the noose. Footballers are depicted - entirely accurately for the time - as chattels. When Kay is sold to Everton against his will and threatens to bring in the union, he is told by the Sheffield Wednesday chairman, (an abrasive cameo from George Sewell) "The union be buggered. You'll do as you're told."
Where The Fix falls down slightly is in the motives of the wrongdoers. The film is essentially about greed, yet Jimmy Gould, the leader of the match-fixing wing, for instance, is given bitterness at his early retirement from football through injury. Even Gabbert is given a reason to hate football, having failed a trial at Portsmouth at the age of 14. It's surely not as simple as that. These are minor points, though, in an immensely strong film.Reuse content