English club involvement a shocker as match-fixing is now an epidemic

Europe’s police authority Europol have been promising to shock the football world for some time with their match-fixing investigations.

At their two-day conference in Rome last month they were already announcing impending revelations. So yesterday’s interim report will be no shock to Uefa and Fifa, who have been helping the police with their inquiries for the past 18 months.

It is more the scale and scope of the conspiracy that is a surprise, particularly its impact on top-flight football and the juicy revelation that an English match is one of two Champions League games involved.

Europol’s investigations owe a lot to the latest betting scandal in Italy, which was first exposed in 2011. It quickly became clear to the Italian police that this was more than the usual affair organised by local gangsters. It involved criminals based in Hungary and the Balkans, money laundering through Switzerland and finance provided from Singapore.

Countries involved in the investigation also include Turkey, Austria and Germany. Betting on rigged matches in Germany alone has come to €16m, with payments of up to €140,000 to those involved. At least 425 people — players, officials and criminals — have so far been implicated although only 50 have been charged so far.

Match-fixing is lucrative but it’s no longer easy money. The football authorities and betting companies have developed sophisticated computer programs to identify suspect gambling patterns and results. For these reasons fraudsters usually target lower league games or smaller countries steering clear of televised matches.

Naturally they also target players and officials who are more likely to be corruptible. International players union Fifpro last year published a survey of over 3,300 footballers in Eastern Europe which revealed that 41% were not paid on time, with a few having to wait six months or more for their wages. One in eight of those in the survey said they had been approached to manipulate a match.

Although there are relatively few top-flight games among the 380 now identified as fixed, Uefa and Fifa are evidently concerned Europol may be right to suggest their investigation is far from complete. That a Champions League game in a major European country could be affected symbolises the fear that the integrity of the sport could be seriously damaged.

Europol refuses to identify which Champions League game was involved beyond saying it was played in England and occurred “over the past three or four years”. Judicial proceedings are continuing but fans are bound to wonder which of their team’s matches might have been involved.

Taking an elastic timescale of three or four years then, and going back to 2007, there are 100 games involving English clubs.

Realistically, if a match involving one of England’s top sides was affected it is most likely to be a group stage match against the smaller sides, and possibly one with a strange scoreline.

On this basis one game that raises suspicions was in November 2007 when Liverpool played — and beat — Besiktas at Anfield 8-0. Liverpool put on a brilliant display but it was a freakish scoreline at the time, with the Turkish champions leaving goalkeeper Rustu Recber on the bench — and even more suspect when German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung alleged there had been “frenzied betting” locally on a large number of goals.

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