Stan Hey: A betting footballer is a dead cert

Bookies and football go hand in glove as a player admits throwing a match
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The Independent Online

You earn more than £300,000 a month. You have a big house with the mortgage paid off, and you have four or five upmarket cars and an indoor swimming pool. The wife spends a bit on clothes and jewellery but you still have about £250,000 a month to play with.

If you're a modern footballer, the chances are that, apart from playing golf, you will have a few bets on the races. And you know a bookie anyway. He's likely to be a working-class lad like yourself, who's earned himself a few bob. The nobs who rule the game warn you about dodgy associations, as if they themselves are paragons of behaviour. So what's the problem if your bookie mate offers you the best odds? So what if you lose, and he asks a little favour from you?

The revelation at a seminar last week by the Sporting Chance Clinic, a support group for athletes with a gambling or drug addiction, that a footballer's gambling debts had obliged him to obey a bookie's wishes by getting himself sent off and three colleagues booked to enable the bookie to win a "card-count" bet, has prompted a moral outcry, with much of the bile aimed at over-paid Premier League players.

The suggestion is that gambling addiction and dangerous liaisons with bookmakers are rife, and that a higher percentage of footballers are problem gamblers than the general public itself. So we are asked to accept this modern portrait of footballers with too much money and too little to do with it.

The assumption here is that there existed in football a prelapsarian age in which players were oblivious to financial reward. But as early as 1912 there was a case of what turned out to have been a fake letter from a "goalkeeper" offering to "throw" a 1912 cup tie in exchange for £15. The conspirator proved not be a player, but the fact that bribery was thinkable rather debunks the "age of innocence" theory. Petty scandals have dogged football since, but the real shock to both authorities and fans came in the match-fixing revelations of the early 1960s. Three Sheffield Wednesday players were convicted of taking bribes, jailed and banned for life. But all reports of the time suggested that another dozen might have been involved and that there was insufficient evidence to bring charges.

The theoretical basis of this corruption was that the players were vulnerable because they did not earn enough, the complete counter-argument to the current malaise which is that they earn too much. It is true that the mechanisms of spread-betting and the "win on losers" culture of the exchanges make modern betting more hazardous, and that it is much harder to keep private.

But betting was rife during the 1970s, when one England international engineered a transfer to pay off his debts, while another regularly collected a few grand at his agent's office on his way to the racecourse. Social drug-taking and heavy boozing afflicted the 1980s and 1990s.

Now we have all three: access to easy money, mingling with the wrong people and footballers with a lifestyle that leaves them with time on their hands and little knowledge of how to use it. That a few should fall foul of this is alarming, but it's as old as the hills.