The Scottish Football Association today launched a whistleblowing hotline designed to help eradicate corruption from the game. The ‘Keep It Clean’ campaign is designed to help Scottish football “stay one step ahead of the growing threat of match-fixing”. The hotline is open to anyone within the sport in Scotland who may have knowledge of corrupt practice within football; players, coaches, officials etc.
The issue of match-fixing in professional football has plagued the sport for decades. Stories of players, referees and officials willing to accept a variety of bribes in return for affecting the outcome of matches are not uncommon and range from allegations relating to single matches to entire tournaments; from hearsay to full convictions.
Late 2013 saw match and spot-fixing creep back into the conscience of professional football in the UK to a significant extent, with the arrests of six individuals in relation to offences carried out in League One matches and below. Such an instance so far up the English league pyramid has caused great concern within professional football, but it should be remembered that this is not the first or even most serious occurrence of an attempt to influence results or incidents on a football field.
Match-fixing in British football actually has a rich history, dating back over one hundred years. One of Britain’s most talented players of that generation, the former Manchester United and City forward Billy Meredith, was found guilty of attempted bribery on the final match day of the 1904/05 season whilst at City. Meredith was suspended for one season by the Football Association and later admitted his crime.
The 1964 British betting scandal is perhaps the most high profile example of an extensive and systematic match-fixing syndicate on these shores. Former Plymouth Argyle and St Johnstone player Jimmy Gauld was sentenced to four years imprisonment for his role in the fixing and subsequent widespread betting on of matches in English league football. Thirty-three players were prosecuted, with ten eventually jailed for offences relating to this period, including then England international, Tony Kay.
As recently as 2008 and 2011 we have seen player indiscretions relating to match-fixing or betting in British football. In 2008, five players were charged with betting on a match they were involved in between Accrington Stanley and Bury FC, whilst in 2011 ten individuals were arrested in connection with betting patterns relating to the sending off of then Motherwell FC midfielder, Steve Jennings, although the case against the player was dropped.
Spot-fixing may be a greater concern to sporting and government authorities than anything else; attempting to influence a single incident in a match – a red card, throw in, corner etc. presents much fewer obstacles for any one individual or syndicate to navigate past. Suspicious patterns throughout a ninety-minute period would be much easier for the authorities to notice rather than a mistimed tackle or an over hit pass. Having said this however, issues of spot-fixing would not be directly linked to legal betting markets. Betting websites in this country will tend to have a maximum pay-out limit on bets relating to occurrences such as a player being issued a card; SkyBet for example, set their limit at £1000 pay-out for yellow card bets; hardly an amount of money that would tempt a corrupt better.
Where the threat to Scottish football lies within this minefield is a difficult question to assess. The sport in Scotland isn’t afforded the same amount of scrutiny that their cross-border neighbours are, or many other leagues in world football for that matter. Eastern Asia has long been rife with illegal betting syndicates preying on local leagues that are starved of interest due to the fanfare surrounding the English Premier League and La Liga BBVA. This month, Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption announced the arrest of nine individuals – including professional players – after allegations of ‘bribery in rigging the results of football matches involving a local football club’. The Hong Kong Football Association has confirmed that an investigation is currently underway. Could Scotland potentially fall foul to a similar threat due to their modest footballing stature?
According to some, it already has. Former Queen’s Park and Clyde player, Gordon Parks, made allegations in August of last year that several lower league matches in Scotland had predetermined outcomes, with players betting against themselves to lose and reaping the rewards. Considering the paltry salaries that the majority of lower league players are one – many as part-timers – it isn’t difficult to take such claims seriously. David Brand, the former SFA Security and Integrity Officer is another who is greatly concerned with the prospect of match fixing in Scottish football. He cites the recent arrests in English football; including the claim by one individual that they had influence within Scottish football to corrupt results and on-pitch incidents. Brand, who only recently left his post, is a strong advocate for a proactive attitude within Scottish football towards tackling match-fixing and the need to accept such a problem as a contemporary issue for the sport.
Fortunately for Scottish football, there have been no proven cases of match-fixing or corruption of its kind as of yet. Unlike other European countries of similar footballing stature, such as Turkey and Greece, Scottish football has yet to suffer from a player or club being prosecuted for said crimes. However, this should serve as little comfort to Scotland’s football and crime authorities. There is no country in world football that is immune to such attempts at player and official exploitation. A zero-tolerance policy as a foundation, before any instances can manifest themselves has to be the attitude of the SFA and SPFL. Scottish football has enough on its plate with financial mismanagement, involvement clubs and a weak national team to afford taking any chances with an issue as serious as match fixing.
For further reading, visit these links:
FIFA and Interpol to conduct two-day workshop on perils of match-fixing in New Delhi
Billy Meredith: a biography
Background to Calciopoli 2006