Panorama Fallout: Evidence? Your turn, Lord Stevens

Over-hyped trial by television more a drip, drip of innuendo than a flow of hard proof
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The Independent Football

Long, long before Sir Alan Sugar was informing some hapless, self-promoting wannabe that he or she was fired, he introduced the concept of the "bung" into the lexicon of professional football slang. In 1993, during a libel case, the Amstrad chairman, who was then also the Tottenham chairman, claimed that Terry Venables, Spurs' chief executive at the time, had told him that the proposed transfer of Teddy Sheringham to Nottingham Forest would be expedited more smoothly if cash exchanged hands. Brian Clough, the court was told, "likes a bung".

I recall the moment vividly, because I was there. In that courtroom, an intake of breath was followed by a ripple of amusement, the reaction a response to the term employed and the profile of the characters involved, not because anyone had hitherto believed that the game was exactly dishwasher clean. It merely confirmed what everybody had always believed; not merely about Clough, but about football. Sugar, never regarded as a true "football man", was quite content to blow the game's credibility out of the water. It brought a response, the 1993 bungs inquiry, and, two years later, George Graham was banned for a year.

Then all went relatively quiet until Mike Newell, a highly regarded former player and successful manager at Luton, turned whistle-blower in January this year. It was not only a courageous act, but one which encouraged some of his counterparts to raise their voices.

Newell said he had personally been offered "backhanders" and added: "If George [Graham, who remains the only high-profile figure found guilty in the English game] was the only person guilty of taking a bung... I would be absolutely amazed."

It had a galvanising effect. The Premier League set up their own inquiry under the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Lord Stevens, and that is due to report tomorrow week. It is expected to make recom-mendations on how transfer dealing can be better supervised in the future.

Meanwhile, the BBC's undercover men have been at work. In Tuesday's Pan-orama, it was evident that the euphemisms that have replaced "bung" are not so gloriously evocative, but they still abound. There were expressions like "sort of give him a Christmas present". When one character suggested that "he likes to do things properly" it actually meant quite the opposite.

With its secret filming, the cinéma vérité quality of its production and the pre-programme hype, the producers were determined that their revelations should be regarded seriously. But as we waited in vain for the major players to crash headlong through the frozen lake of entrapment, they skated on thick ice.

Probably the most obvious dubious practice revealed was when one agent, Peter Harrison, was filmed touting Middlesbrough's wing prodigy Nathan Porritt to Chelsea and Liverpool. Harrison could have his Fifa licence revoked.

The drip, drip, drip of innuendo is unlikely to enhance the career of the Bolton Wanderers manager, Sam Allardyce', either. It was not what "Big Sam" said - he was never filmed, other than on the touchline - but what others said of him; principally agents, including his ex-agent son Craig.

Afterwards, there were denials from everybody secretly filmed, claiming the excerpts used were highly selective and out of context, and anyway, they had not meant what they said. But their proclamations were not convincing.

Individually, Newell's accusations, and Panorama's, could be ignored. So could Sven Goran Eriksson's claim during the "Fake Sheikh" affair, which ultimately did for his England career, that the English game was riddled with corruption. But together, they add up to something significant. The fact that much of the evidence is circumstantial doesn't mean that corruption doesn't exist. But detection and bringing suspected wrongdoers to account is no easy matter. It is like policemen armed only with whistles and truncheons attempting to apprehend shadowy suspects flitting through a Victorian London smog.

Horseracing has suffered from a similar problem. That sport confronted it by employing a former commander of the Metropolitan Police, Paul Scotney, as its security chief. His endeavours have been followed by a number of jockeys, including the former champion Kieren Fallon, facing trial on race-fixing charges. But there is a difference. In horseracing, punters and bookmakers tend to scream loudly about perceived corruption.

The problem, or part of it, in football is that while it is not a victimless crime, there is indifference from too many victims; those supporters of clubs who already help maintain the lavish lifestyle of not just handsomely rewarded players and managers but their coterie of coaches, psychologists and fitness gurus, as well as parasitic agents.

It is neither here nor there to too many followers of clubs if, amid all this scooping of the honeypot, certain managers and dubious characters on the periphery gain an extra spoonful, so long as their club acquire a star player and prosper in the League table.

The suspicion is that there will never be sustained pressure on the organisations who run football - the FA, Premier League and Football League - to commit themselves to real transparency and to outlaw excesses until there is an angry reaction from the game's customers through that most effective voting method of all, the ballot box of the feet.

Yet, even among the many who do care, there remains cynicism that football's leaders have neither the wit nor the willingness to act; particularly when the FA have been guilty of handing over the biggest bung of all, the £25 million they parted with to sustain an association with Eriksson. The more one reminds oneself of that, the more outrageous the sequence of events becomes. Notice, not a hint of any inquiry into that.

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