Football: Match fixing: European football: glittering stage or a licence to corrupt?

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Anderlecht's admission that they bought the referee in a European semi-final against Nottingham Forest 13 years ago is the latest in a series of match-fixing scandals to shock football.

Is it just another isolated example? Or is it indicative of a deeper malaise at the heart of the world's most popular game? As 10 British clubs prepare for this week's European action Glenn Moore examines their chances of a level playing field.

The 1984 Uefa Cup semi-final was not the first time Nottingham Forest have faced a club so desperate to win they resorted to bribery. They were once offered pounds 2 a head to "take it easy" by a Burnley team needing a win to avoid relegation. Burnley, having doubled the offer when 2-0 in arrears at half-time, lost 4-0 and went down. Jack Hillman, their captain, was suspended for a season.

As the sums involved indicate, that was a long time ago, 1900. Football matches have been rigged ever since - and probably before - but instead of it happening because there is not enough money to go round now it is because there is too much. As a result it is usually referees, rather than players, who are bribed.

In a recent interview, Len-nardt Johansson, the president of Uefa, the governing body of European football, summed up the problem. "It is very difficult for referees to officiate a match between 22 millionaires," he said. "If someone offers him 30,000 Swiss francs and a fur coat for his wife the temptation to take it is huge."

No one knows how much corruption there is in football, for obvious reasons people tend not to talk about it. One who did, the former referee Howard King, told salacious tales of being bought prostitutes and expensive gifts by European clubs but gave few details.

The Anderlecht tale has only emerged through a civil case 13 years after the event, even though there has been a long police investigation. More usually the press, or a bold whistle-blower - an opponent in the case of Marseilles, the referee with Dynamo Kiev - has exposed the situation.

One thing is certain: European club football has made the problem worse. One reason is money, another is culture. European football is a raging financial success, the Champions' League is one of the most lucrative competitions on the planet. A disallowed goal here, or a penalty there, can mean a difference of millions. Given the stakes involved it would be a miracle if there was no attempt to fix matches.

There is no miracle. European club competition began in 1955 and the whiff of corruption followed soon after with Italian and Portuguese clubs frequently accused.

More recently, East European clubs have been involved which is no surprise given their domestic situation. Match-fixing has been endemic in eastern Europe for decades. Initially this was political: Dynamo Berlin, the team backed by the East German secret police, won 11 championships in succession before the wall came down. Since reunification it has dropped out of sight. A similar fate has befallen Dukla Prague, once the pride of the Czechoslovakian army, now a minor team. Others, like Steaua Bucharest, which benefited from the personal support of executed Romanian president Ceaucescu, have adapted and remain a power.

The Iron Curtain has lifted but old habits die hard. Bribery is a fact of life in many countries. Traffic policemen are routinely bribed, so why not referees? In Russia it is has been alleged that both teams will often bribe a referee to ensure even-handed treatment. Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria have all had problems with match-fixing since the end of communist rule. The difference is action is now sometimes taken. Even so, it is not surprising these habits have spilled into the European arena.

Not that the English can be too superior about this. There was considerable match-fixing in the early Sixties, when a culture of corruption was exposed by the case involving Sheffield Wednesday's Peter Swan (see panel), while the means by which Don Revie attempted to secure success for his Leeds side have been frequently questioned. However, in the most recent case of match-fixing - involving Bruce Grobbelaar, John Fashanu and Hans Segers - the defendants were cleared of all charges.

Robert Reid QC, who led the Premiership "bung" inquiry, said they had found no evidence of match-fixing but added: "Where large sums of money are involved there will always be people who want some of that which is not theirs. A bank manager was arrested a couple of weeks ago for fraud. It doesn't mean all bank managers are corrupt."

Nor do the various political and financial scandals of recent years mean that Parliament and the City are irredeemably corrupt. What it shows is that venality intrudes in many areas of life. Only yesterday there were arrests in India over cricket match-fixing, while Valderrama secured the hosting of the weekend's Ryder Cup despite Severiano Ballesteros claiming he had been offered a large sum to support the course's candidacy at the time of the bidding.

The realist view is shared by the game's governing body. "Obviously we are not happy with anything that brings the game into disrepute," said Keith Cooper, of Fifa, the game's world governing body. "But when you bear in mind the scope of the game, without sounding complacent, it is bound to have some black sheep. In which walk of life do you not?

"It's hard to tell how much cheating there is but you can't avoid the feeling that as more money comes into the game the temptation to do something naughty increases."

While both Fifa and Uefa are in favour of full-time professional referees, Cooper said Fifa's prime motivation is improving the quality and consistency, not to counter corruption. Uefa, however, is keen to reduce the earnings gap between players and officials. The possibility of a levy of transfer fees has been raised. "Professional referees would take a lot of the deceit out of the game," said Johansson.

The Uefa president added: "We must improve the moral development of the game. I am extremely worried that many players, referees and coaches are being accused of bribes. We must not only preach fair play, we must see to it that everyone in football knows it pays to behave and if you don't you will pay for it."

Mike Collett, Reuters' European football editor, who interviewed Johansson, said: "I believe the authorities are determined to sweep out corruption and to be seen to be doing that but I'm also convinced there is a lot of it going on. There is so much money involved. It's not the players, it is the club officials."

When Kurt Rothlisberger, a Uefa referee, was banned Johansson admitted, "This could just be the tip of the iceberg." He added last week: "The more you dig the more you find." If it is serious about cleaning the game up Uefa could start by increasing the punishments. After being found guilty of attempting to bribe a referee in the Champions' League Dynamo Kiev were allowed back into competition the following season.

Despite the growing evidence it is worth stressing, as another European week gets underway, that the chances of a match being fixed remain slight.

The television pundit Mark Lawrenson, a European Cup winner and veteran of many crucial European ties with Liverpool in the Eighties, said he was once offered pounds 25,000 to give away a penalty but cannot recall ever playing in a game he believed fixed. He was not even sure if the offer, made in a hotel bar, was serious.

Nor did the coach, Graham Rix, who reached a European final with Arsenal and this week travels to Slovakia with Chelsea in the Cup-Winners' Cup, think he had ever been involved in a rigged game.

This may not be a representative sample but the general feeling is that very few games are rigged. Personally, I have reported on more than 40 European matches in the last three-and-a-bit seasons and cannot recall suspecting that any of them had been fixed. Indeed, the standard of refereeing has been very high.

But who can tell? In the infamous Sixties scandal Dick Beattie threw a game so impressively when keeping goal for Portsmouth against Peterborough that his victorious, and unsuspecting, opponents later signed him.

There are, clearly, a significant if small minority of bent games. As the rewards rise so will the number. Uefa and Fifa will have to be vigilant. Football is staggeringly popular at present but match-fixing strikes at the very heart of the attraction. As Fifa's Keith Cooper said: "If it took hold we might as well all give up and go home."