Football hails the end of its `trial of the century'

Match-rigging verdict came as a big relief for the sport's hierarchy
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The Independent Online
When it finally came - after two

trials and 79 days of courtroom drama - the verdict was a massive relief for English football authorities. Last night's announcement of an inquiry by the Football Association into betting in football shows there is concern that a syndicate could recruit Premier League players into the legal "forecasting" of results, as admitted in court. However, the allegation of illegal match- rigging was emphatically rejected.

The verdict was also a triumph for former Gladiators presenter and businessman John Fashanu and his co-defendants Hans Segers and Heng Suan Lim. The prosecution's case had certainly been sensational, for once justifying tabloid hype that this was the "Soccer Trial of the Century.

The former Aston Villa and Wimbledon striker Fashanu, a former Dr Barnardo's boy, said to be worth pounds 6m, had been accused of being the "middle" man between a gambling syndicate in Indonesia and two English-based goalkeepers, teammate Segers and former Liverpool and Southampton `keeper Bruce Grobbelaar.

It was claimed the syndicate had channelled up to pounds 500,000 to their alleged fixer in London, Mr Lim, who passed the cash on to the footballers via Mr Fashanu in return for helping to fix Premier League matches.

The scam, said the prosecution, was that the syndicate could use inside knowledge of likely scorelines to make fortunes on big stakes in Jakarta.

On one occasion Mr Grobbelaar was said to have received pounds 40,000 for throwing a match in which Liverpool lost 3-0 to Newcastle United, a claim rejected by the jury's verdict.

The prosecution had claimed a record of phone calls, many on mobiles, between the accused pointed to their involvement in the conspiracy to fix matches. The calls showed Mr Lim calling Mr Grobbelaar and Mr Lim or vice versa, sometimes just before and just after matches said to be the subject of fixing by the Far Eastern syndicate. The fatal flaw for their case, as shown by the jury's verdict, was that this pattern of calls also fitted the case made by the defendants - that the quartet had been involved in forecasting the results of the matches, a legal practice, and not the fixing of games.

Mr Grobbelaar and Mr Segers, who unlike Mr Fashanu gave evidence at the trials, admitted they had given their professional advice on the likely outcome of English Premier League matches as well as, in Dutchman Segers' case, those in the Netherlands.

Moreover, a string of unimpeachable witnesses including the 1966 World Cup goalkeeper Gordon Banks, and his former colleague Alan Ball, who was Mr Grobbelaar's manager at Southampton, said there was no sign of any attempts to bend results in video of matches they saw. Yesterday the jury agreed with them.

The allegations became public in 1994, when the Sun published transcripts of taped conversations between Mr Grobbelaar and his former business partner Christopher Vincent, in which he is apparently heard admitting match-fixing in the past and is seen apparently taking pounds 2,000, which Mr Vincent claimed was from a separate match-fixing syndicate. Mr Grobbelaar told the court that he was only stringing Mr Vincent along.

The article sparked a police investigation, culminating in the trials. Although the jury cleared Mr Grobbelaar of involvement in any pervious conspiracy with Mr Fashanu and Mr Lim, they have yet to rule on a charge that he took the pounds 2,000 to influence the results of games.

The men who faced trial

John Fashanu was a Dr Barnardo's boy who became a television celebrity after a career which gave him an FA Cup winner's medal with Wimbledon. Dubbed Fash the Bash for his physical approach to football, he is also a successful businessman worth pounds 6m. As co-host of Gladiators, alongside Ulrika Jonsson, he commanded pounds 100,000 a year.

Hans Segers had a seven-year career with Wimbledon which saw him become a key member of their so-called "Crazy Gang". Although not a spectacular keeper he had a great rapport with his fans and was a Wimbledon folk hero. The Dutchman moved to England in August 1984 after Brian Clough signed him for Nottingham Forest. He later joined Wimbledon.

Heng Suan Lim was brought up an orphan in Malaysia and found an identity through football. He played for the Malaysian under-18 team and he also said he applied for a trial with West Ham. Lim, 32, arrived in the UK in 1986 to study accountancy. A high-rolling gambler, Lim said he was a member of several London casinos and would gamble up to pounds 7,000 a night.