The shocking news that Singapore gamblers appear to have corrupted dozens of matches including apparently at least one in England casts a shocking pall over the worldwide game. A credit to the investigators who have unearthed the scandal but just what to do about this is another preoccupying matter.
As we know corruption of one kind or another in football is alas nothing new; we also know that such gamblers will bet on anything and everything. A few seasons ago I attended a couple of London matches which were called off because the floodlights were not working. It much later transpired that the reason they weren’t working was because the operatives at the ground had been bribed by Far Eastern gamblers to sabotage the lights, to win bizarre bets that the matches will not take place.
Match fixing alas is nothing very new. In Italy notoriously we had the so called Toto Nero scandal, the wonder of which was that the two crucial operatives were small time Roman crooks, one of whom worked in a market, but both of whom notoriously were found to have had easy access to the so called ritiri, pre match hotels at which away teams were lodged, where no mere journalist could gain entry.
Yet English football historically has had its bribery scandals; as far back at the early 20th century, and ask not just how Arsenal, who had finished only fifth in the Third Division in the last season before soccer shut down for the Great War, gained promotion to the First Division when football officially resumed in 1919. Liverpool’s wily chairman helped Arsenal. But at least Liverpool are guiltless now.
David Beckham, welcomed as a kind of football Messiah at Paris Saint Germain, owned by the enormously rich and preoccupyingly influential Qatari – can they really, against all odds, logic and suspicion, keep the 2022 World Cup? – remains a bafflingly exotic figure. Why the enduring allure. Why one asks yet again did Fabio Cappello give him all those cheap caps, until, farcically, he had actually drawn ahead of the sainted Bobby Moore who gained 108 of them fair square and over 90 minutes with the more than honourable exception of the World Cup final of 1966, which went into extra time.
The allegedly sophisticated Parisians seem as vulnerable to what I call Beckhamitis as any fans elsewhere; expensive shirts are selling it seems in their thousands. Yet what did Beckham do in World Cups? It was in France, playing that 1998 World Cup match against Argentina that he petulantly kicked out while on the ground at the admittedly provocative Simeone. Thus reducing England to ten men and a gallant, grinding resistance which dragged on into extra time before they ultimately and so narrowly went out.
Beckham’s later World Cup final appearances, bar the odd free kick, admittedly a notable speciality, saw him keeping out an infinitely more effective immeasurably quicker Aaron Lennon till late in the tournament, when once he graciously dropped back into defence. In all modesty he admitted in one of his Parisian interviews that he never did have much pace. The inevitable concomitant of which was that he could have no hope of the classical winger’s ploy of beating a full back on the outside, going to the line and pulling the most dangerous pass in soccer back into the goalmouth.
The Peter Odemwingie affair has been saddening as well as farcical. Especially for those of us who so strongly sympathised with him after the appalling way he was driven out of Lokomotiv Moscow by racist fans. (Yet racist Russia still has the 2018 World Cup.)
True, there was no other motive than money, lots more of it, which literally drove Odemwingie down to Shepherds Bush. BUt it was distressing to see a gifted player make such a fool of himself. Lokomotiv’s racists will be pleased.