Non-league chairmen have accused the Football Association of a “dereliction of duty” after failing to question Billericay Town, AFC Hornchurch and Chelmsford about suspicious betting activity, as Dan Roan of BBC reports.
Bookmakers refused bets on certain matches involving the three non-league clubs in the Football Conference South last season.
The trio of chairmen in charge of the clubs all deny they have been approached over the alleged scandal, prompting Graham Bean, the former head of the FA’s compliance unit, to heavily criticise the FA. Roan shares Bean's quotes:
It is my belief that the FA tend to stick their heads in the sand at suggestions of match-fixing and tend to give a perception that they don't think it actually exists.
When I was at the FA, I once raised the idea of having an intelligence hotline where anonymous contact could be made to report wrongdoing.
I was laughed at for the suggestion.
The chairman of Billericay Town, Steve Kent, is now calling on the FA to launch a comprehensive investigation, per Roan:
How can they investigate alleged match-fixing involving my club when not a single person from the police, the FA, or the league made any kind of approach to us whatsoever?
I'm not saying match-fixing is rife or commonplace, but from the information I have been gathering it certainly warrants an investigation.
When I saw the names involved I was shocked. The names I was reading I was so familiar with. Last season, they were all playing at our level. We played against them. That's what shocked me the most.
Irregular amounts of money were gambled on Conference South games last season, including Billericay’s away match with Welling where hundreds of thousands of pounds were spent—despite just 408 spectators attending the match.
According to Roan, Lord Triesman, former head of the FA, said: "Match-fixing, which has been a huge problem in leagues around the world, is one of the most critical problems. It destroys the ethics of the game."
For some, the idea of match-fixing in British football seems far-fetched. But in the lower leagues players don’t earn the multi-million-pound salaries of their Premier League counterparts and, certainly in non-league football, often work part-time to support their football careers.
The FA must quickly act to prevent this alleged scandal embroiling the whole of non-league football, when the vast majority of clubs stand accused of nothing. Banning anyone found guilty is the only precedent that can be set.
But whilst the option to bet on matches continues to exist, particularly obscure lower league games, it's hard to see how the FA and police can truly wipe out match-fixing.
The rise of in-play betting, where you can bet on the next corner or yellow card, makes the problem even trickier to stop. For example, a player tells his associates he will get booked in the 31st minute. When the time arises all he has to do is swear at the referee, kick the ball away or commit a cynical foul. If the amount gambled is sufficiently small not to raise suspicion, then how can the FA possibly crack down on this?
Granted, in-play betting isn't widespread in the lower leagues. But it still appears pretty simple to fix the outcome of a match if a couple of players have a deliberate off-day, especially in non-league where video evidence is hard to come by. It might therefore be time to ban betting on non-league football until a way is found to properly police the lower tiers.