FA thinks Birmingham `bung' was hoax

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The Football Association, responding to claims yesterday that a Birmingham City player was offered a bribe to "fix" last month's FA Cup replay at Liverpool which the Second Division club lost following a penalty shoot-out, believes the club may h ave been victims of a hoax.

The Birmingham goalkeeper, Ian Bennett, told a newspaper that two men claiming to be journalists from Singapore approached him before training at Solihull on 13 January. Bennett said that during the subsequent photo session and interview, he was offered £20,000 in cash if he agreed to "throw" the match at Anfield by two goals. By the time he fetched the manager, Barry Fry, the men had fled.

The FA, which was informed of the incident by Birmingham, forwarded details to Hampshire CID, but an FA spokesman said last night: "The information we passed on to Hampshire police and Scotland Yard has been dismissed and sent back to West Midlands, who have told us there is nothing to go on."

He added: "It could well have been a hoax. The information is certainly very sketchy. For someone wanting to get involved in corruption, a training ground seems an extraordinary place to go and approach a player. The player can't even tell us what publication they were representing. It doesn't add up."

Superintendent Roger Conway of West Midlands police said: "We have no information concerning the identity of the persons alleged to have made the approach, and at this stage there is no evidence available which would help us."