FOOTBALL OPINION: ‘We can’t be naive about the danger of match-fixing’

However, rather than be hooked, I felt sad. What my mate had revealed is that many games played in his homeland years before had been fixed. He told me in particular about one match in which, with just a few minutes to go, the score was exactly as the fixers had planned. All was well, the Bulgarian mafia would make a lot of cash and the players would have earned their fee.

However, the plan was dealt a knee-high tackle when unfortunately, for the fixers at least, from a corner, the ball accidentally hit the back of a head belonging to a player trying to avoid it at all costs. The ball ended up in the back of the net and the comedy own goal changed the result of the match.

Apparently the mafia were less than impressed with his mistake and while they didn’t rough him up, their displeasure was made known. Now while there is a hint of farce in there, the fact is the fans there that day were cheated and deprived of an honest game and contest by the greed of the mafia and players.

According to my team-mate that match wasn’t a isolated incident. Apparently lots of games were fixed back then in Bulgaria. I was as shocked then as I was this week, when I read that there’s evidence 380 matches across Europe have been fixed.

During my time as a player I was never approached and don’t know of any team-mates who were tapped on the shoulder during the same time. I am not even sure how you’d go about fixing a match, you’d need at least five to six players involved but even then it might be tough. If it’s just the goalkeeper, as is being reported in the Liverpool v Debrecen case, I can sort of understand, but I’m sure it still wouldn’t be as easy as it seems.

I remember the talk in the dressing room back in 1994 when Bruce Grobbelaar, Hans Segers and John Fashanu were all charged with fixing matches. We were completely taken aback as the idea of cheating the fans for money just wasn’t on our radars. It was a big relief when they were later found innocent.

With the huge wages the top players now earn I cannot understand how it can be part of the top-level game today. However, I am not naïve about the danger. Cricket’s just one of many sports that’s been contaminated with rigged matches and I’m sure football’s no different. You only have to look at the recent scandals in top-flight Italian football to realise that. Wherever there’s a lot of money there will be both wrongdoers and greed. And together they are a potent mix. If all the 380 matches are proved to have been fixed, the guilty parties identified should be banned from football for life. No half measures, no slapped wrists and warnings – just an outright life-time ban. Anyone caught cheating their team and the fans deserves the book being thrown at them, and thrown hard.

It’s the only way you’ll have a chance of stamping the scourge out.

LEGENDS READY TO PUT ON A SHOW
Growing up I always remember the excitement of watching my beloved Scotland take on the Auld Enemy, England. It was the one match to watch. Back then the crucial clash was played every summer. However, the big rivals haven’t faced each other since 2000, which is why you should get yourself along to the Scotland Legends v England Legends football match. Taking place at the Jebel Ali Centre of Excellence on Friday, March 1, you can see the old rivalry in all its exciting glory when Peter Reid, Trevor Sinclair and Des Walker, among others, will be out to roar for the Three Lions. Out to stop them will be Scotland’s finest golden oldies Gary McAllister, Scott Booth, John Wark , Andy Goram and, of course, me! We’ll be managed by a certain Alex McLeish, fresh from his 40-day stint as Nottingham Forest boss.

It should be a great day for all the family with tickets priced at 60dhs for adults and 30dhs for kids. And there’s a chance to win a pair of tickets and two flights, courtesy of Virgin Atlantic, to the England v Scotland clash at Wembley this August. There’s a dinner and the chance to chat to all the players the night before the Legends clash, and if you and a group of mates want a table then call, 048830828 or visit www.jacentreofexcellence.com

DEREK’S PREDICTIONS
Tottenham Hotspur v. Newcastle United – 2-0
Chelsea v. Wigan Athletic – 2-0
Norwich City v. Fulham – 1-1
Stoke City v. Reading – 1-0
Sunderland v. Arsenal – 1-2
Swansea City v. QPR – 2-0
Southampton v. Manchester City – 0-2
Aston Villa v. West Ham United – 1-0
Manchester United v. Everton – 3-1
Liverpool v. West Bromwich Albion – 2-0

FOOTBALL OPINION: 'We can't be naive about the danger of match-fixing'

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