Football: One phone call and the game is up: Six weeks after becoming the first French club to win the European Cup, Marseille are at the centre of one of the biggest scandals in football history. Richard Williams reports

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THE NIGHT before the match, she had sacrificed a lizard. 'I did as I would have done in Senegal,' Genevieve Boli said. 'It was for Basile. To bring him luck.'

The offering seemed to work. A few seconds before half-time in Munich's Olympic Stadium, Basile Boli rose to meet a corner kick and cracked it with his forehead past the hands of the opposing goalkeeper. An hour later, he was holding a golden trophy aloft. His goal had won the European Cup for Olympi

que de Marseille, for the club's owner, the politician and media tycoon Bernard Tapie, and for France.

The nation had waited 38 years to acclaim a winner of a trophy invented by a Frenchman - Gabriel Hanot, the football editor of L'Equipe - but captured successively by Spaniards, Germans, Italians, Scots, Englishmen, Portuguese, Romanians, Yugoslavs and Dutchmen. The next morning, L'Equipe knew there was only one possible headline: 'Le jour de gloire]'

But Madame Boli's spell didn't last. Last Thursday, five weeks to the day after her husband had woken from his night of celebration, he was being led away from Font-Romeu, the club's training camp in the Pyrenees, to be questioned by the police, along with 11 of his club-mates. By the end of the day, all had been released. But the Marseille scandal, rumbling all week, had finally erupted. At stake now was the prestige not just of a controversial businessman and his club but of French football as a whole. Not to mention Bernard Tapie's hold on the cup that he had spent millions to win.

THE SCANDAL broke 10 days ago, when French police dug up 250,000 francs - about pounds 30,000 - from the garden of the parents of Christophe Robert, a forward with the French First Division club, Valenciennes.

The money, Robert later explained, had been picked up by his wife, Marie-Christine, from an hotel in Valenciennes at which the Marseille team were staying. He said that before the league match between the two teams on 20 May - six days before the European Cup final - the Marseille midfielder Jean- Jacques Eydelie and managing director Jean- Pierre Bernes had offered him and two other Valenciennes players, Jacques Glassmann and the Argentine World Cup star Jorge Burru

chaga, money to play badly. Marseille won 1-0 and went on to take a record fifth successive French league title. Valenciennes were relegated.

Eydelie was detained last Sunday and taken to the Palais de Justice in Valenciennes, where he was questioned by the examining judge, Bernard Beffy, and taken to prison, denied bail. Beffy's attempts to question Bernes were halted when police arrived at his house in Cassis to discover that he had been taken, only a few hours earlier, to the psychiatric ward of a hospital in Marseille, suffering from exhaustion. Tapie explained that his managing director had been under treatment for depression for several months, as a result of family problems.

After being detained for questioning, Robert and Glassmann were placed under investigation for 'passive corruption' - the standard French prelude to the formal placing of charges. Glassmann insisted he had refused the cash offer and had told his club's officials about it before the match. Robert, though, was soon describing his version of events to a journalist, Damien Ressiot of the weekly magazine France Football.

'It all began on Tuesday 18 May,' Robert told Ressiot. 'We were at home. The phone rang. It was Eydelie. Marie-Christine answered. Jean-Jacques asked her to give me an important message. He asked that on the next day, the evening of the match, me, Jorge and Jacques should be at the hotel where Valenciennes were gathering to prepare for the match. He gave me an exact time. I said okay.'

On the Wednesday, Eydelie called the hotel. 'I picked up the phone,' Robert continued, 'and I listened. He offered us 250,000 francs to throw the match. Then he handed me over to Bernes, who said the same thing. I passed them on to Burruchaga and Glass

mann. They spoke to him for longer than I had.' Despite Glassmann's denials, Robert claimed that the three of them had agreed to Eydelie's suggestion, and described how he had sent Marie-Christine to the Novotel at Valenciennes, where Eydelie handed her the money in cash in an envelope. The next morning, according to Robert, the three players changed their minds. Robert called Eydelie and told him the deal was off. 'OK,' the Marseille player is said to have responded, 'do as you like.'

Glassmann told of informing his coach, Bruno Primorac, of the offer. Primorac in turn told the club's directors before the match. Glassman said he was shocked by Robert's allegation that he had initially accepted the deal. 'I am the only one who has told the truth from the start,' he said.

When Burruchaga returned from holiday in Buenos Aires late last week, he too was questioned and placed under investigation. Later he confirmed Robert's story. 'All three of us accepted the offer,' he said after emerging from a four-hour interrogation by Beffy. 'But then we thought it over. We changed our minds the next day. We intended to give the money back. There never was a formal acceptance. We had just agreed to see what this could lead to. It was a mistake. The next day we played the match and gave all we had.'

Robert, in fact, was injured 10 minutes into the match and went off. But why had he kept the money? 'The problem, in effect, was that it was always me who had the envelope. It soon became obvious that I was going to take the rap. And I didn't want to take the rap alone.'

THE STORY took a darker turn on Tuesday when Uefa announced its intention to investigate claims by Gennady Kostylev, the coach of CSKA Moscow, that representatives of Marseille had tried to bribe his players during the mini-league stage of the European Cup last season. Both CSKA-Marseille matches were played in March, the first game - held in Berlin because of adverse weather conditions in Russia - being drawn 1-1, while Marseille won their home leg 6-0.

Kostylev repeated his allegations, first made to the Russian magazine Sport Express, that several strange telephone calls had been made to his team's hotel before they played in Marseille. 'The person, or people, who rang the assistant coach and three of the players offered them money to lose the match to Olympique,' he said. 'Our players and trainers refused to discuss the subject and immediately told the management. But to this day I can't say for sure that these were people from Olympique and not hoaxers.'

He also claimed his players felt ill after the half-time break in Marseille. 'Something happened during the break,' he said. 'There must have been something wrong with the players' tea. Many of them went out to play with upset stomachs, and (Yevgeny) Plotnikov wasn't fit to keep goal at all.'

In Italy, ears were pricked. If Kostylev's claims could be proved, Marseille would have to be stripped of their title. And perhaps Uefa would order the final to be replayed, between Milan and Rangers, who finished runners-up in Marseille's mini-league. 'We are not taking any action as a club at the moment,' said Silvio Berlusconi, Milan's president. 'Certainly we would not accept the cup if Olympique were stripped of it. If the allegations are proven, then we would ask Uefa to repeat the cup final, this time against Glasgow Rangers. It would be a fair solution.' Milan's centre-forward, Jean-Pierre Papin, once of Marseille and on holiday there during last week's events, told the Corriere dello Sport: 'As captain of the French national team and a former captain of Marseille, the whole story makes me very sad. It's a frightful thing for the image of French football.'

From its headquarters in Berne, Uefa announced an investigation to be conducted in Moscow and Marseille. 'We'll need to be quick,' a spokeswoman said on Friday morning. 'The draw for next season's European Cup will be made on 14 July. And we must leave time for an appeal.' Both as the holders and as champions of France, Marseille have an automatic entry into the competition. If they were stripped of either title, their position would surely be untenable.

In Glasgow, they could only wait and see. 'We can't prejudge it,' said Archie Knox, Rangers' assistant manager. 'If they're found guilty, and if it meant another match, then of course we'd play it. But I've no idea if the accusations are true. It sounds a bit far- fetched to me. Certainly nothing happened when we played Marseille.'

ON WEDNESDAY, about 100 Valenciennes supporters travelled to Paris to demonstrate outside the offices of the French league, calling for their defeat by Marseille to be annulled and the club restored to the First Division. In Marseille, about 1,500 local fans marched along the Canebiere chanting 'Free Eydelie]'

Meanwhile Judge Beffy and six police officers had arrived at OM's headquarters on the Avenue du Prado, where they spent several hours searching Bernes' office. According to a report in Le Monde, they discovered envelopes and a stapling machine of the type - 'not of a standard or a current design' - identical to those containing the money dug up in the garden of Christophe Robert's parents.

The next morning, prosecutor Eric de Montgolfier announced that security had been stepped up around Beffy after threatening calls had been made to his office. He too had received threats, he said, and had taken extra measures.

When Marseille's players arrived at Font- Romeu at lunchtime on Thursday, the police were waiting. But instead of settling into the first day of their pre-season preparations, 10 of France's best known footballers - Boli, Durand, Angloma, Di Meco, Thomas, Desailly, Deschamps, Casoni, Ferreri and the German international Rudi Voller - were taken in a van to a nearby holiday centre run by the Ministry of the Interior. Two late arrivals, Boksic and Barthez, were taken to join them during the afternoon.

After three hours, eight of them were released, returned to the camp, and began training. The remaining four had been kept behind for a variety of reasons: Eric Di Meco because his foul had caused the injury which led to Robert's substitution in the Valenciennes-OM game; Didier Deschamps and Marcel Desailly because they had been team-mates of Robert and Eydelie in their days at Nantes; and Jean- Marc Ferreri because he had shared a room with Eydelie at the Novotel in Valenciennes. Eventually they too were returned to Font- Romeu, where they joined their team-mates for a quiet dinner.

'We're already half a day behind with our preparations,' remarked Jean-Louis Levreau, OM's vice-president. 'That's not too serious, but we have to make up for lost time. The players are uneasy, which isn't surprising. I hope we'll be left in peace now.'

SOME HOPE for M Levreau and his players. As the week drew to a close, there was good news and bad news for Bernard Tapie, the former Minister of Urban Affairs in Francois Mitterrand's socialist government, whose ambition to become the mayor of Marseille in the 1995 election was given a boost when his football team brought home the European Cup.

First, Gennady Kostylev withdrew his accusations in a letter to Uefa, which nevertheless said it would pursue its investigation. Then Jean-Pierre Bernes came out of hospital and was taken straight into police custody for an interrogation by Bernard Beffy which lasted until 3 o'clock yesterday morning, at which point the police doctor ruled that he was no longer in a fit state to be questioned. Bernes was driven back to hospital for a five-hour rest, after which he was returned to the police headquarters for a resumption of the grilling.

Yesterday, Jean-Louis Levreau accused the police of harassing Bernes, and said that there was a campaign to discredit Tapie. 'I'm not worried about my club,' he said, 'because I know this mountain will turn out to be a mole- hill. But it's true that I'm worried when I see what's happened to Jean-Pierre. As far as I know, we are no longer living in the age of torture and Jean-Pierre has always repeated the same thing: the truth. In fact, this whole affair is an indirect attack on Bernard Tapie, which is starting to look like a bad episode of Dallas.'

As the interrogation of Bernes continued, France's Justice Minister, Pierre Mehaignerie, issued a statement expressing confidence in the conduct of the investigation by the magistrate and the prosecutors. 'The Minister intends to allow justice to take its course until the whole truth is known,' the statement said.

Tapie himself told the daily newspaper Liberation that it was all the result of a conspiracy organised by 'a journalist, a politician and the public prosecutor' - although he later withdrew the allegation against the journalist, an agency reporter. He also told Paris Match that Christophe Robert and his wife had acknowledged asking Eydelie a month before the match to lend them 200,000 francs to help buy a restaurant.

'I am happy to see that money planted in a garden can grow,' Montgolfier remarked, when told of Tapie's explanation, adding: 'La justice garde ses atouts.' Justice keeps its trump cards up its sleeve.

For Bernard Tapie, the sacrifice of a thousand lizards might not be enough to avert the consequences of this affair.

(Photograph omitted)