They say that match-fixing is a bad thing, but frankly it may be the only way the England football team will ever win a major tournament – and even then there would be no guarantee that they wouldn’t mess it up and fail to put the ball into an empty net. This week we have been mostly hearing about the ethical grey areas in the beautiful game. Fortunately, none other than Robbie Savage was on hand to sidestep and shimmy through the moral minefield on the Beeb’s World Cup Match of the Day (BBC1, Wednesday) in the aftermath of the Suarez bite.
“You can understand the handball on the line four years ago,” he said, comparing the Uruguayan striker turning into a goalkeeper against Ghana to stop them getting to the semi-finals of the last World Cup, for which he was sent off. “You can see ‘I’ll take one for the team’. But not that [bite].” Of course Savage, as the name suggests, would routinely take opponents’ legs off with a chainsaw if necessary.
At least the only thing Suarez needs to get fixed are his teeth. Poor old Ghana, for them life is more complicated than dog eat dog. Three days after Dispatches: How to Fix a Football Match (Channel 4, Monday) revealed how some “officials” from that country offered to fix matches, they were on their way home from the World Cup after a chap called John Boye booted the ball into his own net against Portugal. It’s not even his real name, surely – more like something out of Little House on the Prairie.
On the day Ghana were knocked out of this World Cup, their football association were flying out £3 million in cash to belatedly pay the players their bonuses. Presumably for that kind of money you get a double seat and as much free booze as you want. They almost crossed in mid-air, certainly in the case of two players who were sent home on the day of the game for abusing their football chiefs. After the revelations in Dispatches they probably deserved the bonus more than most.
It was a shocking programme. One man claimed to have fixed five friendlies before the last World Cup in South Africa by suggesting to the country’s federation that he would pay all the fees and expenses of the referees and linesmen. Hmm, nothing dodgy about that at all.
But that was just the start: we heard of matches with no fans; games involving fake national teams; fixing entire tournaments at Under-18 level with the gangs shouting instructions to the players from the stands; and even betting on games that simply didn’t exist even though a stadium would be hired and a commentary team commissioned.
Strangely, however, the idea of pundits talking a load of old nonsense about nothing in particular sounds quite familiar.
* The second thrilling climax of the Test series against Sri Lanka (Sky Sports 2) was as surprising as the first given the attritional nature of what came before and once again underlined the superiority of the five-day Test over all other formats.
And yet it curiously resembled one of the lowliest as well, playing for the draw in a village friendly. With 20 overs left, out came Jimmy Anderson, his stooped trudge to the wicket making him look even more like a stroppy kid than usual.
But no runs off 50 balls is a fantastic achievement really – he should have raised his bat.
In the end he was undone by a short delivery at the ribs with just one ball left, and he slumped beneath the weight of his failure.
England lost the series, and should perhaps have used the age-old village tactic of sending out a real 12-year-old at No 11 so the Sri Lankans would have felt bad about bowling too fast or too short at him.
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