Football corruption: The only surprise is the surprise

The beautiful game has always had a dark side - but since the financial boom that started in the Nineties, it's become a target for Asian gambling syndicates

Share

Europol investigators have uncovered a massive campaign of football match-fixing instigated by Asian gambling syndicates, which may have involved more than 400 players, match officials, club officials and gangsters. And all I can say is, “What took you so long?” Football has always been a game of skulduggery, dodgy dealing, used notes in paper bags and all manner of men willing to do absolutely anything to get the result they want. And the massive financial boom that followed the arrival of satellite TV in the early Nineties, combined with the huge growth of Asian gambling markets has created a perfect storm of corruption.

In 1995 the Liverpool and Southampton goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar, the Wimbledon striker John Fashanu, the Wimbledon goalkeeper Hans Segers and a Malaysian businessman Heng Suan Lim were accused of conspiracy to fix matches on behalf of a Far Eastern syndicate. After two criminal trials the four men were all acquitted of all charges against them.

There the story would have ended, but for Grobbelaar’s desire to make The Sun pay for printing the stories that had first exposed the alleged conspiracy. After a libel trial and two appeals, going all the way to the House of Lords it was ruled that the only reasonable explanation for Grobbelaar’s confession, actions and monies received was that he had indeed been involved in a conspiracy. But there was no proof that he had actually let in any goals on purpose, even in games he had allegedly agreed to fix.

Some would say that this proves that football matches can’t be manipulated, but that’s missing the point. On tape, Grobbelaar said he found it impossible to override his competitive instincts. Other players may not have the same problem. There’s also a long tradition of referees being paid to give penalties to one side and deny them to the other. But when massive amounts are wagered on apparently trivial issues, like the number of free kicks, or the time of the first throw-in, the final score isn’t always the key issue. A known associate of Grobbelaar’s co-defendant Lim, called Ong Chee Kew, was one of a group of men who deliberately sabotaged the floodlights at a number of Premier League matches, thereby ending the games and ensuring that bets in Asia were settled on the basis of the score at the time the lights went out.

Ong Chee Kew went to jail but men like him are operating now, running ever-more sophisticated scams. Plenty of footballers like to gamble and it’s not hard to imagine one or two getting in too deep and making themselves vulnerable to criminal persuasion. Referees are only human and far from overpaid. And plenty of clubs are owned by men whose billions were not all earned in the most salubrious fashions. I wish Europol good luck with their investigation. But try as they might, the lights aren’t going to go out on football corruption any time soon.

David Thomas is the author of ‘Foul Play’ about the Grobbelaar match fixing allegations and trials

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron faces the press as he arrives in Brussels for the EU leaders summit on Thursday reuters  

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas