The recent publicity regarding the newspaper sting carried out upon the Pakistan cricket team during their test match against England and the ensuing debate over the completion of the test match between the two countries has led EJH to wonder why, when something similar happened in football, no action whatsoever was taken.
These are the things that people do not know.
They do not know because they are not told.
“Vince” Hilaire Belloc
There is, as you may have struggled not to know these last few days, a certain amount of media and public interest in “spot-fixing”, specifically as regards certain members of the Pakistan cricket team and their agent. The allegations against these men are, of course, both unproven and the subject of a police investigation. They will not, therefore, be the direct subject of this article.
What I would prefer to write about, instead, this being a football site, is the incident that came into my head almost as soon as I head about the cricket allegations, not long after close of play at Lord’s on Saturday. What came to mind was Matt Le Tissier’s confession, last year, to having done exactly what Mohammed Amir et al are presently accused of.
As widely reported, Le Tissier admitted, in his autobiography, that he had seen fit to bet on a throw-in taking place early in a game at Selhurst Park in 1995. If that event had happened early enough, it would have won him and his associates up to 56 times their sizeable stake. So, when Southampton kicked off and he received a pass, he tried to hit the ball straight into touch – only to underhit it and see it kept in by his teammate, Neil Shipperley, who was unaware of the scam.
This being a spread-bet, where losses were theoretically unlimited, Shipperley’s interception constituted a potential disaster: “I have never run so much in my life….suddenly it was no longer a question of winning money. We stood to lose a lot of cash if it went much longer than 75 seconds before the ball went out. I had visions of a guy coming to kneecap me.” As the Mail put it, Le Tissier admits to “charging around the pitch desperately trying to put it out”, which behaviour may not of course have seemed unusual to anybody watching football at Wimbledon.
Le Tissier wrote: “I couldn’t see a problem with making a few quid on the time of the first throw-in”, but insisted, “obviously I’d never have done anything that might have affected the outcome of the match”. Obviously not, but what interests me about his justification is – as with several aspects of the scam – how it reflects the one presently being claimed to have occurred at Lord’s. Early no-ball: early throw-in. No real impact on the game. So nothing to worry about. Nobody’s letting anybody down. One can imagine similar things being said to cricketers in hotel rooms and dressing-rooms: and by them.
At which point I would like to write: “as with the cricket, revelations of Le Tissier’s involvement in a scam provoked widespread controversy, police investigation and internal investigation by the football authorities which led to prominent figures being banned from the game”. Except that they didn’t. The controversy was small and short-lived, as was the police investigation, which was called off after discussions with the Crown Prosecution Service. In turn, the FA dropped their own investigation. Le Tissier retains a high-profile job as a pundit with Soccer Saturday, for a television station which shares its owner with the News Of The World.
Yes of course, the situations are very different in some ways. We are talking about an incident which had occurred fourteen years before. No current player was the subject of any allegations. There were no suspicions of any other misconduct by the people involved, nor was there a history of such allegations to be taken into account. The player confessed of his own free will. All these things are pertinent. Yet even so, there is something unsatisfactory about the ease with which the Le Tissier scandal was allowed to drop.
Partly, there is the absence of scandal, the apparent unwillingness of the authorities, the media or the great football-following public to perceive that anything bad had really happened. To me this sits uncomfortably alongside the justified outrage, the call for bans and investigations, which surround the Pakistan cricket team following the allegations. But more substantially, what bothers me is that nobody took the opportunity of Le Tissier’s revelations to do what has rightly been demanded in the world of cricket, which is to find out how widespread this sort of cheating is.
Betting is no harder today than it was in 1995. Footballers are not less interested in money. Human beings are not less foolish. So – in the fifteen years since a panicking Matt Le Tissier rushed around Plough Lane, how many other professional footballers have been involved in similar scams? How many games have been affected by people trying, unobtrusively, to make themselves a little pot of money? None? It’s possible. Hundreds? That’s possible too. The Matt Le Tissier confession was an opportunity to try and find out. One that wasn’t taken.
Perhaps, because Selhurst Park was so very long ago. Perhaps, because Matt Le Tisser was such a nice chap who gave such service to the only club he played for. Or perhaps because nobody really wanted to ask the question. Nobody wanted to find out the answer.
These are the things that people do not know. They do not know because they are not told.