Mark Steel: World football's legal fixing just as bad

February 17, 2013

According to a report by Europol, hundreds of football matches across Europe have been fixed by betting syndicates, which must surely leave all genuine supporters of the game delighted.

Because this is so much fairer than the current method of fixing matches, in which three clubs owned by trillionaires buy all the top players, making it impossible for anyone else to finish even close to them.

Bribing a referee and a goalkeeper is much more democratic, as it can be done for a few grand, a fraction of the sum Manchester City spent on buying the Premier League.

As long as the bribery is regulated, this could make the game competitive again, especially if both teams have been paid to lose the same match. The referee would be surrounded by players holding their heads in disbelief, squealing: “I KICKED him, don’t be fooled by the way he got straight up, he’s hardly breathing, send me off, I’m possessed by the Devil.”

The fixing could bring in extra revenue if it was sponsored, with announcements such as: “Today’s kickback has been kindly paid for by Wickes garden sheds — breaking the rules and protecting your tools.”

There may be some quibbles about morals, but it wouldn’t be as unethical as the present system, in which continents are stripped bare to fund the top clubs. If Syria's President Bashar al-Assad was more astute, he’d buy Arsenal. Then Alan Hansen would explain on Match of the Day that the fans must be thrilled as the money frozen in Swiss banks after a series of massacres has been released to buy a central defender, while the fans sang: “He shot Aleppo up, he’s gonna win the Cup.”

Every club in the Premier League has its designated position, according to its wealth, and it’s almost impossible to end a season more than three places away from it. Commentators shriek: “What an unpredictable season, with Norwich expected to finish 16th but currently 14th. It just goes to show what a crazy game this is.”

The only way round this is the method of clubs like Leeds and Portsmouth, who borrowed millions more than they could ever pay back, before going bust and expecting to be bailed out by the government. You can see why this enraged people because imagine the mess we’d be in if the banks ever behaved like that.

So by comparison, players and referees throwing matches is a fountain of purity. The money made from Far-East betting syndicates could be shared round the fans as they made up songs for their favourite players, such as: “Oh Jimmy Jimmy, let it in on purpose now we’re 10 grand up.”

Eventually the players who were best at losing deliberately would be bought by the richer clubs. Score 25 own goals in a season and you’d be bought by Chelsea for 20 million quid and we’d be back where we started.

[First appeared in The Independent.]

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