Every new England international feels that cold chill of anxiety when first driving into the hotel car park to meet the squad. Steven Gerrard was so nervous that he nearly turned around the Honda his dad had lent him for the occasion and, having finally made it down the M1, had to call Jamie Redknapp from his room to ask for company on his anxious first walk into the England dining room at the Burnham Beeches hotel.
Andy Mangan, another Liverpudlian, had his own reasons to wonder how he might be received after his call-up for Paul Fairclough's England C side, comprising the best of the nation's non-League players, earlier this month. The first thing Fairclough asked him to do was stand up and say something about himself and his career. "I went: 'I'm Andy Mangan and I'm very, very proud that I'm here, probably a lot more proud than you, because I was banned by the FA. But now I'm here'," the 24-year-old recalls.
The call-up certainly marked one of international football's more remarkable rehabilitations, given that the most vivid memories of Wembley Stadium that Mangan has are those of the July day in 2009 when he walked into a tribunal room to be told that he would be banned from playing or training with a football club for five months, because of the bets totalling £1,500 which he placed on Bury – the club he was in the process of leaving – to beat Accrington Stanley, where he had spent much of his fledgling career. The bets contravened Football Association Rule E8 (a), which forbids players gambling on any game or competition in which they play.
Mangan's QC, Jim Sturman, had some hope that the fact the striker had neither played in the fixture and was, by his own testimony, already off Bury's books and with Forest Green Rovers gave him a chance of avoiding the bans facing four of his former Accrington team-mates. Forest Green's manager, Dave Hockaday, supported Mangan's testimony when approached by The Independent this week, though Bury said that he was still on their books when he placed his bets, had paperwork to prove it and the tribunal ruled against him.
"Mr Sturman said when we walked back to receive the verdict 'You've got a really good chance here, Andy'," Mangan recalls. "But the minute we walked back I knew there was no chance. I could just tell in the way that the gentleman who was obviously taking charge of it all [Nicholas Stewart QC] started talking. My heart started beating fast and I sort of got the feeling that I was about to be banned, you know.
"They didn't mention it straight away but then they said it – 'Guilty'. Straight away I got really hot. I was having to undo my shirt. It was horrible. I can feel it right now. I was thinking about my girlfriend, who was still pregnant at the time, and who'd been waiting outside for me, for five hours. I was sweating, I probably lost about three stone in that room. I was devastated, to be honest. I just can't describe the feeling. It was my whole world imploding."
It's a vivid picture Mangan creates – such a vivid reconstruction for any young League Two or Conference player who might also be tempted to gamble on teams they think they know to boost their £800 wages that you wonder why the Professional Footballers' Association didn't bite Mangan's hand off when he offered to go into lower-league clubs, telling of the consequences of letting a gambling habit get out of hand. Football certainly needs testimony like this, given the evidence from the world of cricket of how organised crime syndicates feed on the impressionable young players who have nothing.
The FA knows that the lower leagues are the ones they need to have concerns about, a belief backed up by the cases which have come before the Gambling Commission. An ordinary teenager on Accrington Stanley's books is no less vulnerable than cricket's Mohammad Amir.
Mangan is certainly not ordinary, as lower-league strikers go. The reason his ban did not halt his progress in the game is, quite simply, the burst of goals he scored after leaving Gigg Lane. His 30 goals in 49 appearances for Forest Green, whom he joined from Bury, made him the Conference's top scorer in the 2008-09 season. It meant that when Mangan's five-month ban ruled out the first half of the next campaign, the Forest Green chairman, Trevor Horsley, called him in and said that the club would continue to pay his wages if he kept coming in to the gym to train each day. "They said to just stay away from the rest of the players, which was part of my ban. I was really grateful for that," Mangan says. "They were sorting me out with money."
It was an outcome not afforded to the other members of the banned quintet but it meant that Mangan, who kept fit playing five-a-side games with his father-in-law at a Liverpool leisure centre, could prepare for a return to the game. Though Forest Green did not know it at the time, that would not be in their colours. The striker was due to make his comeback for Rovers on Boxing Day 2009, but a snowbound pitch meant that game was postponed and Wrexham's manager, Dean Saunders, had come in for Mangan before he got the chance to put his boots on in earnest again.
That came against AFC Wimbledon at the north Wales club's Racecourse Ground. Mangan found the net once again seven days later, at Altrincham, and his eight goals in Wrexham's current Conference campaign have seen the club to third spot. The fragility of employment prospects at this level is as apparent as ever, though. Amid rumours of financial crisis, the club's owner, Geoff Moss, yesterday moved to insist it was not at risk of imminent administration but said time was "of the essence" in the hunt for a buyer.
Mangan says he is well paid at Wrexham and the son, Louis, he now has is clearly changing his outlook on life. He is an engaging individual of boundless self-belief, who when "interviewed' in front of the England C squad by Luton Town's Amari Morgan-Smith, as part of a team-bonding exercise, declared that by 2042 he would be a leading European manager. "I genuinely believe that I'll go into it and be good at it," Mangan says. "A few people smiled at that. Paul Fairclough stopped and said: 'If he thinks that, then he'll be that.'"
But not every non-League player becomes an England C international and it is those on the margins who are more likely to fall prey either to gambling or to those who seek to fix matches. "The authorities work hard. They put on seminars and they go around clubs," Mangan concludes. "But you don't listen because you're only young. Some lads just think it's nothing. You're 20, 21, you think you're going to win, you have a bet, you win and you're drawn in, because you are only young.
"It would be hard to know how to get the message across. I wouldn't really know how to do it, really."
Infamous five: Where the other four are now
The former Liverpool trainee centre-back joined Fleetwood Town at the end of 2009-10 season following his eight-month ban and earned a contract for the current season. He has played 13 times for the Conference side. "I had a number of good offers to return to League football in addition to Fleetwood. But I chose Fleetwood as they stand more chance of success," he said.
Following the end of his ban, the midfielder went on trial with League Two's Morecambe and German third-tier side Unterhaching. The former Liverpool trainee signed for Blue Square North side Vauxhall Motors in October 2010.
The midfielder signed for Conference national side Southport following the end of his ban. He has been a key player for them, featuring 24 times this season. "We didn't realise what we were really doing and that we were not allowed to bet on the games. I don't really see this as a second chance because I've got nothing to prove at this level, all I want to do is put the last eight months behind me and concentrate on just enjoying my football," Williams said.
After the completion of his ban, Harris went on trial with Wrexham and played against a makeshift Liverpool side on his debut in a friendly. Dean Saunders, Wrxham's manager, said: "We know what happened with him before, he's been out of football for a year, so I'm going to give him a chance." He made his competitive debut on the opening day of the season and was named Blue Square Premier player of the month for January. He has played 30 times for the Welsh side this season, scoring four goals.
Fifa suspects corruption at top level too
Match-fixing remains one of the game's governing body's main concerns. Fifa is currently investigating an international double-header in Antalya on 9 February as seven penalties were awarded in two games. Bulgaria and Estonia drew 2-2 hours after Latvia defeated Bolivia 2-1 in Turkey. All seven goals came from penalties.
In the Czech Republic, police have just finished their investigation into allegations of match-fixing levied at Sigma Olomouc's goalkeeper Petr Drobisz who allegedly offered bribes to four Bohemians Praha players to throw a game between the two sides in 2009-10. The Bohemians president, Karel Kapr, has since become implicated and a decision on whether this case will go to court is expected by the end of this month.
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