|Sinning Saints: Matt Le Tissier and Claus Lundekvam|
IT was way back in May, 1997, I witnessed my first clear case of spot fixing in sport. Not in a county cricket game watched by a few dozen hardy fans, but in a Premier League football match between Manchester United and West Ham.
The game at Old Trafford was just two seconds old when West Ham’s Paul Kitson received the ball and, inexplicably, launched it over the touch-line for a throw-in.
The Hammers manager that night as they slipped to a 2-0 defeat? A certain Harry Redknapp, surprisingly overlooked for the England job and ejected from the Spurs hot-seat last month.
At the time Redknapp, found innocent on tax evasion charges last year, said: "I must admit it was a bit of a poxy kick- off. We were supposed to hit Iain Dowie but Paul hit it straight into the stand.
"It's a very dodgy bet and I suppose it could be open to manipulation. But having said that, what if the other side kicks off?"
Well, now we know. According to The Sun in London this morning, the clubs would have agreed all that before the start.
Claus Lundekvam, who played for Southampton from 1996 to 2008 and won 40 Norway caps, reveals: “We would make a deal with the opposing captain about betting on, say, the first throw or first corner. It’s not something I’m proud of. But for a while we did it almost every week.”
Lundekvam, now 39, admitted that such bets could also involve yellow cards – and even penalties.
Yet he insists: “Results were never on the agenda. That is something I would never have done. We were professional competitors. Even though what we did, of course, was illegal, it was just a fun thing.”
Yes, just a bit of fun for some of the most highly paid sportsmen in the world.
But tell that to the now-infamous band of Pakistan cricketers captain Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir. All three were jailed last year for what has become known as “spot fixing” when they bowled no balls to order against England at Lord’s in 2010.
Those Pakistan players were on a fraction of a Premier League star’s salary – but no doubt football will just sneer: “It was a while ago, no problem, the lads were just having a laugh” and carry serenely on without sanction. And all that despite Wayne Rooney’s father and uncle being arrested last year over a similar scandal during a Scottish Premier League match and rumours surrounding Joey Barton’ ridiculous sending off for QPR against Manchester City on the last day of last season.
Apparently it’s fine to jail Pakistanis for spot-fixing, but English Premier League players are exempt, even if they admit fixing.
But how does it work? Why put the ball out of play after just two seconds? It’s simple. At the time, spread betting was a new phenomenon. Originally invented for bored stock market traders, sport was the obvious growth market for the new form of gambling. City Index sponsored my trip to South Africa for the 1997 Lions rugby tour, and at the time, it looked like good harmless commercial symbiosis to have have their logo on my columns in the Sunday Mirror.
But by the time I returned from that tour, match fixing was becoming a dirty word in sport. And the full depths of in-game gambling were emerging. Wally Pyrah of Sporting Index confessed that there had been "concerns" about the United-West Ham match, “because there were a lot of rumours".
As it happened, the “spread” on a first throw-in at the average football game – when it normally happens – is between 70 and 85 seconds. But Kitson’s action meant United took the first throw-in after just seven seconds, meaning that anyone 'selling' at 70-85 seconds would have won 63 times his stake – 63 seconds at, say a fiver a second. That’s not a bad return.
Since then of course, all “novelty” wagers and bets on throw-ins have been abolished with City Index spokesman Paul Austin saying: “The clear inference is that they were desperate to strike a bet.”
Of course they were striking a bet! In his biography “Taking Le Tiss”, Southampton’s only superstar Matthew Le Tissier recalls a game against Wimbledon in 1995 when he and friends stood to make 10,000 for an early throw in. He says: “Spread betting had just started to be popular. I’d never have done anything that might have affected the outcome of the match, but I couldn’t see a problem with making a few quid on the first throw-in.
“The problem was Neil Shipperley knew nothing about the bet and when I tried to put the ball out, he headed it back. I charged around desperately trying to kick the ball out. We stood to lose a lot if it went much longer than 75 seconds.
“I had visions of guys coming to kneecap me. Eventually we got the ball out on 70 seconds. The neutral time meant we had neither won nor lost. I have never tried spread betting since.”
He might not have, but clearly other footballers carried on doing it for years, even after the Football Association banned all players from gambling in late 1997. Ludekvam admits: “There were often several players who put money in the pot — several hundred pounds each, sometimes a thousand each.
“We would then give the money to one of the staff who would put the money on for us, so we didn’t have to do it ourselves and so create suspicion.”
So for those who point the finger at Pakistan cricketers and shadowy middle-eastern betting syndicates, think again. Back in 2008, Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger called for life-time bans for footballers caught fixing, saying: "It's the English culture. It's an addiction. Some players become crazy and are ready to sell their wife, their furniture."
He’s right of course. English football has been hit by betting scandals repeatedly since 1965 when Sheffield Wednesday trio Tony Kay, Peter Swann and David Layne came out to play in South Africa after being caught match-fixing.
So will the FA do anything about this morning’s revelations in The Sun? I wouldn’t bet on it.