English football is facing difficult questions about its ability to tackle corruption after claims that professional players tried to get booked by referees during competitive games in return for tens of thousands of pounds from gambling syndicates.
The latest allegations, involving a former Premier League defender and three other players, came as one manager said he was convinced of the existence of widespread match fixing after reporting an attempt to corrupt one of his lower league players.
The National Crime Agency confirmed on Sunday that it had arrested six people.
The claims emerged after Sam Sodje, 34, a former Nigerian international and Portsmouth player, was filmed by The Sun on Sunday claiming to have brokered a deal to ensure that an unnamed player would get himself yellow-carded during a match in the Championship in return for £30,000 from a syndicate.
Mr Sodje also claimed he could rig Premier League games and was preparing to fix matches at next year’s World Cup in Brazil, the paper reported.
While a booking or sending off might not directly affect the outcome of a game, previous spot-betting scams have focused on the timing of individual events within a game.
Mr Sodje claimed he was paid £70,000 after being sent off for twice punching an opponent during a match earlier this year, according to the newspaper. “I had to do it because the referee wasn’t booking me,” he reportedly told an undercover reporter. He went on: “Someone kicked, tackled someone and I went, ‘Ah this is the chance’ and I just ran in there. The guy didn’t say nothing – I just started punching him. Everyone happy.”
The allegations mark the biggest investigation into shadowy syndicates since 1999 when a series of deliberate floodlight failures at grounds in England ensured that matches were called off when the results benefited powerful figures in the multibillion-pound sports gambling industry in the Far East.
The latest allegations involve strikers at third-tier League One sides, and an unnamed player in Championship, the second tier of professional football where players can be earning thousands of pounds a week. Christian Montano, 21, a Colombian player with Oldham, was captured on camera allegedly explaining how he tried – but failed – to be cautioned during the first-half of a match last month to secure payments for a gambling syndicate. He offered to take part in another rigging attempt the following week, according to the newspaper.
Marcus Gayle, the manager of the Conference South team Staines Town, claimed his players were offered match-fixing bribes three weeks ago. “I never thought match-fixing was possible but now I have changed my mind for obvious reasons; now I am convinced it’s all over the place,” he told BT Sport.
Football League chief executive Shaun Harvey said: “We treat any allegations of criminal activity in our competitions with the utmost seriousness.” He declined to comment further given the investigations.
The National Crime Agency had expanded its inquiry following earlier, separate allegations of match-fixing involving non-league football.
Two players with the Conference South team Whitehawk FC were charged last week with conspiracy to defraud. Two other men, including a 43-year-old from Singapore, have also been charged with plotting to defraud bookmakers.