BBC drama about soccer `bungs' hits a raw nerve

how a true tale of corruption has upset the FA
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The Independent Online
Cries of "Foul" can be heard emanating loudly from the hallowed headquarters of the Football Association. The reason? The BBC drama department won't allow the FA to sweep some of its grimier problems under the nearest carpet.

For just when senior FA executives were hoping that their latest soul- searching inquiry into soccer corruption would be enough to pacify the media, ghosts from the Sixties have returned to haunt them via the television screen.

From the days when star strikers still took double-decker buses home from the ground comes the BBC drama The Fix, a dark but witty real-life story involving three footballers who took cash to throw a match between Sheffield Wednesday and Ipswich.

What will make The Fix particularly uncomfortable viewing for the FA when it is shown on Saturday night is its reminders of more recent soccer scandals.

The year was 1963 and the Wednesday players Tony Kay (who later joined Everton), Peter Swan and David "Bronco" Layne ended up being trapped in print by tabloid investigative journalist Mike Gabbert and sports writer Peter Campling.

Swan and Kay were both England internationals at the time of their exposure in ThePeople.

Today Tony Kay is 60, working as barman and groundsman for a Sunday league team in south-east London. Following his release from prison he was banned from soccer for life.

He acted as a "consultant" on The Fix, which cost pounds 1.25m and is being shown on BBC1 soon after the final whistle is blown on next Saturday's Premier League games.

Steve Coogan, better known as Alan Partridge, host of the spoof chatshow Knowing Me, Knowing You, will play Mike Gabbert. Michael Elphick plays Peter Campling and Jason Isaacs portrays Tony Kay, who left Britain for several years after he ended his jail sentence and took on menial painting and decorating jobs in Spain until he was 50.

Some people who have studied the case believe that the talented Kay, who many thought could have become one of the great players of his age, was the scapegoat for widespread corruption within the game.

Viewers of The Fix, who have followed a string of soccer scandals in the Nineties, from allegations of match fixing to monetary gifts to teams and players, will find a resonance in the drama.

Paul Greengrass, who wrote and directed The Fix, is a former journalist and investigated soccer corruption twice for ITV's World in Action, including allegations of financial malpractice at Manchester United. He is sickened by what he sees as the lack of commitment from today's FA to act to clean up the game, and believes that the amount of money in football has harmed it.

Even the intervention and threats of the sports minister, Tony Banks, may not be enough to force the FA into constructive action to kick the guilty parties out of soccer, he believes.

"It is hard to feel anything but contempt for the FA," he said. "They don't want to act and, even though Tony Banks is pressing them, they will probably end up doing nothing about the dirtier aspects of the game. They are frightened people. They just look after their own.

"The new money has brought about a tidal movement. All the slime is under the surface. A lot of players are desperate to earn quick money before their careers end.

"Readies in a brown envelope in a car park means nothing if you are earning pounds 7m a year at the age of 18. "

Just how sensitive the soccer world is was illustrated by the attitude of the football authorities to the making of The Fix. The production team and the cast were barred from entering any of Everton's facilities - the club's late manager Harry Catterick "bunged" Yorkshireman Kay cash for joining the club.

The FA, according to one well-known official, quietly let it be known that it wished the BBC would spend licence-payers' money on "something more interesting".

Notable sports broadcasters including Desmond Lynam and John Motson have also distanced themselves from the friction between the BBC and soccer's ruling body.

"As always in these situations," a BBC sports executive commented, "our frontmen tend not to want to get involved in making comments about corruption in the game.

"That is usually left to the news department. There is a lot of camaraderie between our commentators and the players and managers."

Greengrass and Kenith Trodd, the distinguished producer of The Fix, who collaborated with the late Dennis Potter on many of his television projects, are now pondering a further Gabbert tabloid adventure in which he exposed the Rolling Stones' drug-taking exploits back in the Sixties in the News of the World.

A drama might feature the night when police raided a house and found Marianne Faithfull, the singer-actress and then girlfriend of Mick Jagger, in a state of disarray. The moment became the stuff of pop legends and is known as the "Mars bar incident".

Greengrass says: "I didn't intend The Fix to be campaigning. In fact, it's quite light- hearted.

"I am not on a soapbox either. But the FA is totally pathetic. In 40 years nothing much has changed ... apart from the size of the bungs."