Corruption in English Football: A Field Guide


Editor’s note: Brian, whose own marvelous Run of Play blog you really should be sure not to miss out on, will be bringing his brand of insight and irreverance weekly to Pitch Invasion.

In light of yesterday’s sensational arrests for fraud and corruption in football (scene: Police officers in riot gear swarm through the door of a modest Portsmouth home. MRS. HARRY REDKNAPP, clad in a nightgown, with curlers in her hair and a rolling pin in her hand, retreats with a shriek while her HUSBAND, flexing enormously, disappears under a mountain of policemen. Suddenly, a roar comes from under the pile, and Harry heaves them off, standing with a gleam of mad laughter in his eye as cops go flying) today seems like a good day to take a look at the state of the various corruption investigations in recent English football. I can’t keep them straight to save my life, but it doesn’t matter, because the first rule of any good corruption investigation is that you never worry much about the facts.

There are three basic levels of corruption in football: trivial, apocalyptic, and Italian. The lines of demarcation between these levels are extremely well-defined. Apocalyptic corruption becomes Italian corruption at the precise moment when a falling human body completes its descent from a seventh-story window. Trivial corruption becomes apocalyptic corruption when it happens within fifty feet of a reporter from the Daily Mirror. Of the three major corruption investigations in English football recently, all have involved merely apocalyptic corruption, although a full-scale Italian rating could still be achieved if someone makes Harry Redknapp angry at a sufficient height above sea level. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

1. The Lord Stevens/QUEST Investigation

What prompted it? The airing last September of “Undercover: Football’s Dirty Secrets”, a responsibly constructed and sensibly promoted BBC Panorama report which alleged, among other things, that football agents like money and so does Sam Allardyce. Any evidence that football agents and Sam Allardyce had pursued their shared interest beyond the limits of FA regulation remained purely in the realm of conjecture.

Who did the investigating? One John Arthur Stevens, Baron Stevens of Kirkwhelpington, the former police commissioner previously known for his unsporting attempt to quash conspiracy theories after the death of Princess Diana. Assisting him was QUEST Ltd., a specialist flooring contractor whose aim is to provide the complete flooring solution. Why the Stevens Report could not have been called the Kirkwhelpington Report is apparently down to a conspiracy to crush all whimsy in the universe.

What happened? The promise of fireworks did not result in a fireworks show. Lord Stevens investigated 39 separate transfers involving 8 clubs, but announced in June, to a great deal of hoopla, that there was “no evidence” of irregular payments to club officials or players. However, 17 transfers were flagged for “outstanding issues” involving agents. These included the transfers of Didier Drogba, Michael Essien, and Petr Cech to Chelsea. (Total value: £55.4million.) Somewhat less salaciously, they also included the transfers of Ali al-Habsi and Blessing Kaku to Bolton. (Total value: Less than I spent on lunch. And I didn’t eat lunch.)

Where are we now? Over and done with, essentially. Having tantalizingly crept up to the brink of concluding that football agents like money, the Baron of Kirkwhelpington adjourned, leaving the public to answer the question for themselves and the FA to pursue any disciplinary charges. So far the FA has seen no reason to bring Chelsea’s name into the mix so long as they can continue to pummel Luton (see below).

2. The Luton Investigation

newell.jpg What prompted it? The highly public meltdown between then-manager Mike Newell and the Luton board during 2005-06, during the course of which Newell winked theatrically at the press and elbowed them sharply in the side as he mentioned that the transfer dealings of the current board were entirely above board and would not bear looking into. Newell also spoke to the BBC Panorama program last September and heroically offered to expose anyone who had offered him money, ever, for anything.

Who’s investigating? The FA. High-profile members of the landed gentry are not that interested in League One clubs, evidently.

What’s happened? So far, the FA have handed down 55 charges, the majority relating to improper documentation of payments to agents made through Luton Town’s holding company…I know, you can’t bring yourself to care, and it’s brutal. Basically, Luton Town are owned by a parent company called J10. Various routine payments to agents during player transfers were made by J10 rather than by Luton. It’s sort of all the same thing, but if you don’t get your paperwork right the FA will crush you like a snake. (Two members of the Luton board have resigned and the club has gone into administration since the charges were handed down.) What’s worth noting, and what you probably missed in the hammering Luton took in the press, is that the payments themselves were largely not corrupt, only the way they were recorded. Burn in hell, Luton Town. Suffer the long night of the damned.

Where are we now? At an exciting moment, you’d think, as the parties have to respond to the charges tomorrow. But since everyone’s stopped paying attention to this story, it’s really anyone’s guess. As a piece of choreographed media frenzy, the moment has probably peaked.

3. The City of London Police Investigation

What prompted it? Mike Newell may have been doing some undercover work. It really isn’t clear. The scope of the investigation covers “allegations of corruption in football and its impact on investors and shareholders.” Striking a blow for the common supporter, then.

Who’s investigating? The Economic Crimes Unit of the City of London Police. It’s no Kirkwhelpington, but it will do in a pinch.

What’s happened? So far, a great deal of innuendo, a couple of high-profile raids, and the incredible arrest of Harry Redknapp. Because of the people involved in yesterday’s arrest, it’s believed that the investigation is focused on the transfer of Amady Faye from Auxerre to Portsmouth (where Harry was manager and his fellow incarceree Milan Mandaric was chairman) in 2005 and his subsequent move to Newcastle in 2006. Willie McKay, the agent who arranged both transfers, once bought Harry a racehorse called Double Fantasy. McKay was also arrested yesterday. Double Fantasy remains at large.

Where are we now? Right in the thick of it. Harry is somewhat bizarrely claiming that being arrested proves his innocence and Portsmouth are portraying the arrests (which also took in Pompey CEO Peter Storrie) as polite requests for assistance from the police. The Daily Mail (sorry) are claiming that “another high-profile manager” is being probed. It’s impossible to say whether this is all a media stunt by the police, as Harry has alleged, or whether anvils are about to drop on the heads of the rulers of Portsmouth. If you work as a travel agent, and Sam Allardyce wanders into your shop in the next few days to book a ticket for his long-dreamed-of vacation to Panama, please do contact this space.

Brian Phillips is accepting bungs all day long at The Run of Play.

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