Imagine, for a moment, a match between England’s two most storied football clubs, Manchester United and Liverpool.
Imagine, moreover, that seven players from both teams are in-league to fix the result.
Imagine the outrage, the scandal.
Well, such a scenario has indeed played out; albeit way back in 1915, when The Red Devils were struggling to avoid relegation from the then-top First Division and The Reds were stuck in mid-table mediocrity.
Today, following an FA Cup tie between Oxford United and Arsenal earlier this week, the spectre of spot-fixing–cheating–is once again hanging over England’s national game.
Suspicions have been aroused by the 59-minute booking of Oxford left-back Ciaron Brown for fouling Arsenal striker Eddie Nketiah.
Investigators are probing allegations that heavy betting took place on the odds of Brown, a Northern Ireland international, being cautioned during the third-round tie.
It’s claimed that a WhatsApp message–“My mates playing for Oxford tonight he’s going to get booked he’s 8-1. Ciaron Brown’’–was widely circulated before kick-off.
Thanks to two goals from Nketiah, a former Under-19 England international, and a powerful header from their Egypt international defensive midfielder Mohamed Elneny, The Gunners won the match 0-3 against their tier-three opponents.
“Oxford United can confirm that they have been made aware of a specific allegation of irregular betting around our Emirates FA Cup game against Arsenal on Monday evening,” the League One club said in a statement.
“The club will co-operate fully with any investigation and while this is ongoing, we are unable to make any further comment.”
Spot-fixing, which doesn’t necessarily determine the final result of a sporting contest, is by no means confined to football.
Indeed, if anything, it is much more widespread in cricket; most notoriously in a 2010 test match between England and Pakistan at Lords.
Pakistani pacemen Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir were found to have deliberately bowled no-balls at pre-arranged moments during the match.
They–and Pakistan captain Salman Butt–were banned by the International Cricket Council (ICC) the following year for five-years each. Along with a Pakistani, Middle East-based, bookmaker called Mazhar Majeed, all four were subsequently arrested by Scotland Yard and given prison sentences, ranging from six- to 32-months.
At one time more than 80 cricket matches, some involving Australian and South African players, were under investigation.
As recently high-lighted in these pages, illicit gambling in the vast unregulated market that is India is worth some US$60 billion-a-year (£49.25bn/€55.48bn); much of it orchestrated by fabulously wealthy South Asian gangsters, or “goondas”, who are based in The Gulf.
While not denying that cheating, regrettably, is widespread in many sports–two Algerian tennis players, Mohamed Hassan and Houria Boukholda, for example, have just been found guilty of match fixing–, top UK bookmakers contest that “significant sums” being placed on specific bookings, and similar in-play incidents, would immediately be “flagged”.
In 2018 Bradley Wood, a defender for Lincoln City was banned for six-years after being found guilty of twice getting deliberately booked during FA Cup matches.
Wood admitted 22 charges of betting on matches and one charge of passing on information.
As for the result of that dodgy 1915 tie between Manchester United and Liverpool, Man U won 2-0, both goals scored by their centre-forward George Anderson.
Liverpool missed a penalty and hit the crossbar in the dying minutes of the game.