I will begin with one small point. FIFA are named in the header of this article and rightly so. They are the ultimate governing body in our sport. If this was rugby it’d be one of the two codes (Union or League). If it was amateur boxing it’d be AIBA. Cycling, tennis etc., they all have their ultimate authority to dish out laws and justice.
In soccer, we’ve got FIFA at the top of the treee, below them the Confederations are meant to oversee their Continents. So in Europe UEFA need to monitor and dispense to the national bodies, FAI, English FA, RFS and so on. And below these we have the various leagues, associations, competitions, all the way down to under-6 leagues.
There are lots of junctions when the rules can go astray, though the finger of blame goes to FIFA. We ape what we see at the top table, from the top down we have no control, consistency or coherency.
August 2009, Malta: Our head coach was not one of the more stable people I’d worked with and his honesty could at times be questioned, however he nabbed me before training to show a text he’d received by accident.
It was a reply from our Club Secretary to an agent we knew. Our Secretary, a “real club man”, was getting a €5000 backhander to have an Israeli footballer sign for our club so he could get a Schengen visa, thus allowing him go on travel to Europe for trial at other clubs.
The scam was so simple and many Maltese clubs were in on it. The player never even set foot on Maltese rock, yet his visa was issued from the country. It broke the law on many levels, though according to the Maltese FA, it was nothing to do with them. The local agent got a lump and our Secretary earned well.
It was a time when we were desperately trying to rescue a deteriorating situation at the club and sign two quality players to bolster our side. The money promised from a club big shot proved to be hot air and the €5000 backhander would allow us sign a highly rated Nigerian forward.
The Secretary asked us to keep it quiet and announced at a Board meeting that the money was immediately being entered into the club coffers, which he had planned to do all along. He remained on the committee. We signed the forward and he proved an inspiration as a player and person.
This was another little tweak I’d to make to the club structures so that we were run in a more accountable and legal manner. The new structure lasted until the end of the season when a new committee took power and turned the club into a virtual visa factory.
Documentation for African players arrived and were processed without any of the players even showing up at our training ground. With these fake deals and more than a touch of unreality descending on the club, I resigned.
It was painful to leave a club I’d spent three years helping. I’d grown close to the community, fans and yet was able to co-operate with other clubs without being tainted.
However by the end of summer 2010, I could see that those of us who were working for change were alone and with increasingly strange sources of finance turning up, it was right to leave. I should have trusted my gut when I was approached to look over them in summer 2007.
I met a former President in Croatia, where he was on business, and I was a bit dubious. I’d been warned that Maltese football was notoriously corrupt and heard a mass of stories from ex-players and coaches, but I was arriving from Croatia so it figured it was in the ha’penny place, I was wrong.
Months before I joined the club fully they’d a Brazilian coach. He came in to replace a Serb and wanted mew players to push the club up the table. This took place with the help of a local agent who was announcing himself as the club’s “Director of Football”. He did this openly in front of the Vice-President when I was visiting with the Shamrock Rovers General Manager.
It was news to me, the person tasked with gently developing structures for the club. A crocked German goalkeeper arrived, lasted one match and went off for an operation. A supposed Brazilian star joined and in his first game I saw him trip over the ball, miss from 5 yards and stub his toe making a short pass, then roll theatrically in order to be carried off.
The Paulo Rodrigo Da Silva signed by the club, was not the Paulo Rodrigo Da Silva who had been so impressive on video. But his name was Paulo Rodrigo Da Silva. The coach departed alongside the new signing as the assistant coach came in as caretaker until the season’s end.
The crocked keeper demanded the club honour his contract and ended up costing the club a near six figure sum. The Brazilian coach cost between €8000 and €15,000 to remove, while poor Paulo ended up playing for two more clubs in Europe before he disappeared from view.
Overall the second half of the 2008-9 season cost the club over €100,000, more than 25% of the annual budget. Ironically when I moved down full-time, fans and members of the club remarked it was very unusual for a coach NOT to have an agent in tow.
When he departed in December 2009 his replacement was the Serb who had left in the middle of the previous season (to coach in the Middle East). He got rid of the Nigerian, our top scorer and fan hero, actively destroyed a quality Russian striker who was signed from our partner club and despite bringing the club to a Cup final, seemed to lose in the most unusual ways to nothing teams.
And this is the final point of this depressingly common tale from football. Lots of words have been spoken and written in relation to match-fixing in football. Those dastardly Asian betting syndicates and corrupt professional players, those dodgy agents and disgusting referees.
Yet with all the numbers thrown up, with all the links to the betting industry, companies still offer odds on Russian youth matches and Louth Senior football championship fixtures. The truth is that match-fixing to rip off bookies or punters is only a small percent of matches where the result is already known.
And yet it is ignored by the media and governing bodies, simply because to take action means root and branch reform. Something neither FIFA nor the bodies it governs can or want to do.
Because our club was relatively safe from relegation, opponents in need of points approached the coach, who coordinated with certain players to make sure results were certain. Money changed hands and even the Cup final, with pride, history and money on the line, our opponents wanted the win more than us.
It was brought home to me the night before the Final when our new German attacker phoned me in a panic. He’d received a call from a Maltese international goalkeeper, who he’d played with previously, who had been asked to make the approach by a committee member – from OUR committee! Our committee member was distributing cash to key players who would be off their game.
In the morning I called the MFA, they laughed it off. So I called the police, they made our player feel like a criminal and told him that he had to file a complaint. The goalkeeper, when questioned, said he was on a wind up.
The Maltese FA changed guard that year but nothing has been substantially done. They have, recently, told media that the police need to step in. The blame, again, is on “betting syndicates” and while this has truth, it is ego and fear that drive these fixes.
We have seen it in Italy with Calciopoli, in Greece with Olympiakos and many more. And while it is laudable what Declan Hill and others do and reveal, the greatest issue of arranged results will always remain the same, without betting involvement.
Until FIFA start playing fair and eradicating this from the highest level, nothing will change. Nothing has moved in the more than two years since I wrote this article for Back Page Football – Match fixing in European football.
Coming soon – Part 3 – The sands of Arabia and a first lesson in how football works. Read Part 1 here.