As the Football Association today begins another investigation into irregular betting on a game in England – Sunday's Blue Square Premier match between Grays Athletic and Forest Green Rovers – The Independent can reveal that at least eight "suspicious" football cases in Britain since September 2007 have been referred to the Gambling Commission for scrutiny.
Four cases are in the public domain. Accrington's 2-0 home defeat to Bury in League Two in May last year has already led to FA charges against six players and may yet involve the police.
Non-league Weymouth's 9-0 home defeat to Rushden in February was referred to the Commission after a big local gamble. Weymouth's explanation – they fielded a youth side because the senior team were uninsured – means no further action is likely.
The third case involved Norwich's home defeat to Derby in the Championship in October, when unusual patterns were reported in Asian markets amid rumours of a fix. The FA conducted a short investigation but the Commission has privately conceded it has no jurisdiction to probe further.
The fourth case was Sunday's, which betting industry figures variously describe as "most unusual", "extremely dodgy" and "utterly outside the bounds of normality".
It is estimated that around £50,000, possibly more, was wagered in hundreds of bets of up to three figures each on the unlikely scenario that Grays would be losing at half-time but win. That was rated a 22-1 shot. The betting industry combined would normally expect a few hundred pounds on that outcome.
The match unfolded in line with the unlikely gamble, Grays going 1-0 down to a first-half penalty before scoring twice in 54 seconds in the second half to win. Coincidentally, Rovers' penalty was scored by Andrew Mangan, one of six players charged by the FA in the Accrington-Bury case. Mangan, a former Accrington player but on Bury's books when that match happened, allegedly bet £3,500 on Bury winning. They did.
Some bookies have paid out on Sunday's game. Most have not. If all the bets had been paid, the suspected sting would have cost the industry around £1m.
Neither the FA nor the Gambling Commission will confirm how many football cases have been or remain under scrutiny, but impeccable sources have told The Independent that the FA dealt with six "betting-related" cases last season, and has handled at least seven more this season. Five or six cases are ongoing.
A source said: "Some of these are minor infringements, like a player betting a few pounds on himself to score. It's against the rules but sometimes just a warning is a proportional response.
"Only potentially serious cases are referred to the Commission. That's why the FA has dealt with more than a dozen cases in two seasons but the Commission has seen only around eight."
While some Commission-referred cases have innocent explanations, as with Weymouth v Rushden, it remains likely there are other "serious" cases being pursued that have not yet been made public.
All the major bookmaking firms, including William Hill, Ladbrokes, Coral, Paddy Power and Blue Square, told The Independent yesterday they took "unusual" levels of cash on Grays being behind at half-time then winning. All firms suspended betting on Saturday.
Graham Sharpe of Hills said his firm registered single bets of up to three figures. David Williams of Ladbrokes voiced concerns that were echoed by all the other bookmakers, saying: "As soon as we'd priced the game, we had an unusual volume on this particular outcome, in our shops, online and by phone. To put it in context, we'd expect tuck-shop money, but when our potential liabilities started spiralling, it was a no-brainer to inform the FA and the Gambling Commission."
The spectre of match-fixing also overshadowed the Irish League at the weekend. Betting was suspended on most games last week by Paddy Power amid warnings to be vigilant by the president of the Irish FA, Raymond Kennedy. Yet strange combinations of results still came to fruition on Saturday, including an unlikely treble – on Glentoran, Glenavon and Newry – that had been suspiciously backed in Belfast shops from 16-1 to 4-1 last week. All three won.
In the spotlight The matches under investigation
At least eight matches with "irregular" betting have been under Gambling Commission scrutiny since September 2007. Four in the public domain to date:
*3 May 2008: Accrington 0 Bury 2 (League Two).
FA has charged six players with breaches in betting rules.
*4 Oct 2008: Norwich 1 Derby 2 (Championship).
Gambling Commission has no jurisdiction to investigate Asian markets.
*21 Feb 2009: Weymouth 0 Rushden 9 (Blue Square Premier).
Innocent explanation after cash-strapped Weymouth fielded a youth side.
*26 Apr 2009: Grays 2 Forest Green 1 (Blue Square Premier).
"Dodgy" bets, worth potential pay-out of up to £1m, on ht-ft combination.