By Simon Farnsworth
Money. In all walks of life it has the devastating power to corrupt the morals and conscious of many. Footballers are no different.
Today’s Telegraph investigation revealed how six people, including at least three current players, have been arrested by police investigating a betting syndicate involved in fixing football matches in England.
The newspaper’s investigation includes video footage of meetings with the fixer who claims he can fix games in the lower leagues of English football for as little as £50,000. The fixer states how he pays one player an extra £5,000 to get booked near the beginning of the game to signal that the game is likely to be thrown. The fixer further claims how he looks after the players involved. He states: “sometimes I have extra money, I just send them some money … because sometimes they need money or they call me so I just leave them some pocket money.” The Singaporean fixer is also recorded stating how he can buy referees for £20,000.
This is potentially the tip of the iceberg in an issue that football in England has long since worried would arrive on these shores.
How did it get to this?
We have created such a vast economic disparity within football that it has created an environment in which match fixing can flourish. Whereas a Premier League footballer might be deciding on whether to buy the latest Ferrari or Lamborghini, a lower league footballer is struggling to pay his rent or mortgage. It is this financial insecurity that match fixers prey on.
The disparity in wealth between the Premier League and the Football League widened ever more with the recent £3bn Premier League TV deal. In comparison, the Football League will be paid £195m from its TV deal with Sky with the Premier League giving the Football League a further £240m in solidarity payments- which is a yearly increase of 20 per cent. However, of that £240m, £177m will be put aside for those clubs relegated from the Premier League in the form of parachute payments.
Parachute payments not only rewards failure on the pitch but also rewards the boardroom for speculating on survival and not planning ahead. These payments further increase the financial disproportion of clubs up and down the football pyramid.
What the Premier League and the lower leagues of English football do have in common, however, is betting accessibility. Any adult, anywhere can log on and bet. From the top of the Premier League to basement non-league clashes, from first corner to the last yellow card- the betting possibilities are endless and so are the opportunities for fixers.
The Premier League’s excessive wealth can help solve the match fixing virus that is infecting the lower echelons of English football. A more even distribution of wealth, we’re not talking a massive percentage increase but enough to stop the lower leagues resembling a shanti town on the edge of a luxurious gated community for the lucky few would go a long way to help alleviate the problem. The Premier League and FA can fund an increased education programme warning players of the dangers and pitfalls.
How to punish those found guilty?
The individual, not the club should be punished. A club is often the lifeblood of a local community and often struggling to survive. It should not be punished for the actions of rogue players. A club is, and always will be, bigger than any player, manager or chairman. A lengthy ban for those found guilty will act as a deterrent.
Football in England faces a challenging time ahead.