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Match Fixing in Football

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Match fixing is perhaps the most serious out of all the ways to cheat in sports. There’s a reason why baseball almost didn’t recover from the Black Sox Scandal (and needed a tyrannical commissioner and a once-in-a-lifetime type of player in Babe Ruth to do so). There’s a reason why the NBA went through great pains to limit the Tim Donaghy scandal to one person. There’s a reason why almost all sports discourage or even prohibit their players from gambling. Match-fixing undermines the integrity of the game, and ostracizes fans like nothing else. No one wants to spend his or her time or money watching a fixed game. We have professional wrestling for that.

1. Liverpool v. Manchester United, 1915

Overview: For those who thought that Liverpool and Manchester United would never cooperate with one another, you are mistaken. In 1915, Liverpool and Manchester United met at Old Trafford in a game that was so obviously fixed that even the Chicago Black Sox would have been impressed. United were fighting relegation and Liverpool were at mid-table and out of contention. As such, Liverpool players agreed to take a dive and bet on themselves to lose. Most observers felt that Liverpool went out of their way to avoid scoring, including missing a penalty shot, and United easily won, 2-0.

Result: Rumors abounded that the match was fixed, which forced the F.A. to investigate. A total of seven players (3 from United and 4 from Liverpool) were banned for life. Neither club was fined, nor were any points deducted, which meant that the result would stand. Chelsea would have been relegated instead, however with the F.A.’s decision to expand the following season, Chelsea and Arsenal were allowed to stay. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, there was a time when the Big Four did not control English football.

2. Dynamo Berlin, East Germany, 1979-1988

Overview: Winning ten league titles in a row is impressive. Winning ten league titles in a row when nearly all of your matches were fixed in your favor is also impressive, but for an entirely different reason. Under the patronage of Erich Mielke, head of the East German Secret Police (the Stasi), Dynamo Berlin became the East German equivalent of the Harlem Globetrotters and treated the rest of the DDR-Oberliga like their own personal Washington Generals. Mielke ensured that Dynamo won by making sure that crooked refs were assigned to their biggest matches, and arranged for unfair player transfers and intimidation of opposing teams. Despite their success, East Berliners weren’t impressed and refused to embrace their team. Moreover, Dynamo’s dominance didn’t translate to the FDGB-Pokal (the East German Cup) where they only won twice (in 1988 and 1989), or to Europe, where they failed to win a single honor (although they did make it to the semi-finals of the 1971-72 Cup Winners Cup and went to the Quarterfinals twice in the European Cup). In 1986, referee Bernd Stumpf was banned for life by the East German Football Federation for his actions in a match between Dynamo Berlin and Lokomotive Leipzig. Berlin were losing 1-0 for most of the match and needed a draw to clinch the title. Stumpf ensured they got it, first by issuing a questionable red card to a Lokomotive player, refusing to blow the whistle during stoppage time, and awarding a questionable penalty to Dynamo in the 94th minute. The Stasi, unsurprisingly, escaped sanction and Dynamo’s title stood.

Result: After reunification, Dynamo Berlin changed its name to FC Berlin in an attempt to distance itself from its infamous past. They are currently known as Berliner FC Dynamo and play in the 5th Bundesliga. The club stirred up some controversy when the DFB announced that teams would be allowed to add stars to their team logo based on the number of titles they had won. After some posturing, a compromise was reached so that the club could add a star with the number “10” emblazoned in it.

3. Bruce Grobbelaar Scandal, English Football League First Division, 1994

Overview: Liverpool keeper Bruce Grobbelaar was caught on videotape discussing match-fixing with members of a known gambling syndicate. He, along with the Wimbledon goalkeeper Hans Segers and Aston Villa striker John Fashanu, and a Malaysian businessman, was charged with conspiracy to corrupt. Specifically, he was accused of taking £40,000 to ensure that Liverpool lost to Newcastle, as well as trying, and failing, to lose a match between Liverpool and Manchester United (which ended in a 3-3 tie) that cost Grobbelaar £125,000. Grobbelaar’s defense was that he was simply gathering evidence to go to the police, and two separate trials resulted in hung-juries. Grobbelaar was ultimately cleared, but his reputation was so sullied that, when he sued the Sun for libel, the House of Lords ruled that he was not damaged by the allegations since there was enough evidence of wrongdoing on his part and was forced to pay for the Sun’s legal bills.

Result: The Grobbelaar case showed that it was possible for one player to fix a game, flying in the face of the prevailing logic that it was impossible to fix a match unless many players were in on it. Grobbelaar was forced to declare bankruptcy in light of the Lords’ judgment. He continued to play up until 1999, but was never as good as he was during his Liverpool days. Despite his notoriety, he remains very popular at Anfield.

4. Serie A Scandal, 2006

Overview: Nicknamed the “Calciopoli Scandal” (which is a pun on “Calcio,” which is the Italian name for football, and “Tangentopoli,” which is translated as “Bribesville”), Italian officials discovered tapes of Juventus’ general manager, Luciano Moggi, on the phone with Serie A officials, trying to secure favorable referees for Juventus’ matches. Juventus were not the only club ensnared by the allegations. AC Milan, Fiorentina, Lazio, and Reginna, as well as some lower division clubs, were also involved to varying degrees. Players were also implicated, with the most notable being Juventus and Italian national goalkeeper Gigi Buffon, who was investigated for gambling allegations.

Result: Individual referees were either fined or suspended, while AC Milan chairman, Adriano Galliani (who was also President of Serie A) was banned for 5 months. Teams were punished heavily, at least at first. AC Milan were deducted 44 points from the previous season and were kicked out of the Champions League. They appealed and got an 8 point deduction instead and were allowed to remain in the Champions League (which they ended up winning that year). Fiorentina were originally relegated to Serie B. They appealed and were allowed to remain in Serie A, albeit with a 15 point deduction and loss of a Champions League spot. Lazio were originally relegated to Serie B, but were allowed to stay in Serie A with a 3 point deduction and loss of UEFA Cup spot. Reggina were originally given a 15 point deduction, but saw that penalty reduced to 11. The biggest turnaround was Juventus, who were originally demoted to Serie C with a 30 point deduction (which would have, more or less, condemned them to two years in Serie C) and loss of their last two Scudettos. They eventually went to Serie B instead, took a 9 point deduction, and were back in Serie A by the following season.

5. Bundesliga Scandal, 2005

Overview: Germany’s Second Bundesliga was rocked by a match-fixing scandal in which referee Robert Hoyzer was accused of fixing and betting on matches in which he officiated, similar to the Tim Donaghy scandal in the NBA. Hoyzer’s officiating came under scrutiny after a questionable decision in the first round of the German Cup between regional side Panderborn and 1st Bundesliga club Hamburger SV. Hoyzer he sent off Hamburger striker Emile Mpenza in the first half and awarded Panderbom two questionable penalties as Panderbom pulled off the huge upset. Hoyzer was discovered to have had ties to the Croatian mob. He confessed and cooperated with authorities.

Result: All in all, Hoyzer was banned for life and got 29 months in prison. Three Croatian gamblers were sent to prison as well. Three Croatian players (Alexander Madlung, Nando Rafael and Josip Å imunić) for Hertha Berlin, who were known to be associates of the gambling ring, were taken into custody on suspicion of throwing a match in the German Cup that year, but the charges were not proven (although Madlung’s own-goal was pretty damning). Hamburger SV was compensated for its early exit.

6. La Liga, 2007-current

Overview: Sevilla winger, Jesuli, who was on loan to Segunda Division side, Tenerlife, was recorded admitting to Real Sociedad president, Iñaki Badiola, that he, along with a number of other players, had been paid 6,000 Euros to throw a match against Malaga CF, thereby ensuring that Malaga would be promoted to La Liga. Jesuli later claimed that he was joking and seemed to know that he was being recorded.

Result: The investigation is still ongoing, but match-fixing allegations aren’t new to La Liga. At the end of the 2006-2007 season, members of Athletic Bilbao supposedly paid members of Levante to take a dive so that Bilbao would avoid relegation. Celta Vigo went down instead. The Spanish Prosecutor’s office is investigating both cases.

Also See: Did Zenit St Petersburg bribe their way to the UEFA Cup title?

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Charlie is an accomplished journalist specialising in football, but with extensive interest across every and all sports, and their intersection with the betting industry. Previously published on leading brands such as 90min and Checkd Media, and formerly a first-class Sports Journalism graduate at UCFB Manchester.