Wednesday 7 December 2016

Comment: There's lots of things wrong with football but - nobody 'gives a s**t'

Published 03/10/2016 | 10:59

Harry Redknapp
Harry Redknapp

Of all the reactions to the Daily Telegraph’s ‘Football for Sale’ series last week, none summed up the pervading attitude from many of those within the game better than Harry Redknapp.

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When the allegation that he had failed to report his knowledge of Tottenham players allegedly betting on themselves, the response was simply “who gives a s*** about that?”

Who indeed? Nobody got hurt and the only losers in the event were the bookmakers, and there aren’t too many people who shed a tear if they got their odds wrong and were punished for it.

Even within journalism, there were plenty lining up to disparage the investigations which took plenty of time, effort and money – three things that aren’t always plentiful in the industry.

Much of journalism now finds itself in a scenario where, as one person on Twitter put it last week, CVs will soon read “16 reasons why you should hire me . . . And you won’t believe what number 14 is.”

And yet, a newspaper following up on several leads in an attempt to expose corruption wasn’t met with widespread acclaim.

Within football, it’s unlikely that much will change other than, perhaps, there might be a little more due diligence done by people when “businessmen” want to meet and start bringing up topics that are potentially damaging.

The Redknapp story wasn’t exactly Watergate but while he is unlikely to face too much punishment, the bigger question is whether the English FA will investigate the game in which the betting allegedly took place in an attempt to find which players were gambling – including one who allegedly told a football agent to “remortgage your house” because the odds were favourable.

Dax Price – an agent who was also present at the undercover meeting with Redknapp – said one player had “20 grand on it” and named two others he said had bet on the result. He added: “Even the (opposition) players were betting on it. I’ll never forget it.”

This may, of course, be nonsense from somebody embellishing a story while unaware that they are being filmed, but the suggestion that a player had £20,000 on any game should cause concern for the authorities.

Gambling is rampant in football – as it is elsewhere in the world – and the knowledge that players are betting on games which they are involved should be of far greater cause for concern and investigation than Redknapp not reporting it.

At one club, a captain ran up six-figure gambling debts and, even though his monthly salary would have covered it several times over, he contacted the bookmaker to offer a five-figure fee as a full settlement. This also came with the asterisk that, if it wasn’t accepted, the captain would see to it that no other player at the club would use that particular bookmaker. The offer was accepted.

Gambling on your own team is, effectively, awarding yourself a win bonus but it’s not a huge leap to think, depending on the debt involved, that players would take a punt against themselves, which opens up a whole other can of worms.

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If Andre Gray (above) can get a four-match suspension for a tweet he sent four years ago, the players involved in the game around the Redknapp story should be looking at a hefty suspension if the allegations were proven but, because they bet on themselves, it’s almost regarded as a motivating factor rather than a breach of the rules.

There doesn’t, however, appear to be much will from anyone in the game to pull on that particular string, meaning it gets thrown onto the tall pile of issues in the game that people pretend to care about, but don’t care about enough to put the resources into changing it.

Instead, the focus can always switch to Jose Mourinho’s latest pantomime rant, a debatable goal or an offside which wasn’t given which, like talking about the weather to a stranger, keeps everyone engaged while staying safely on a superficial level.

If there’s to be a clampdown, it can come – as it did this season – on shirt-pulling in the penalty box or verbally abusing a referee, which are both laudable attempts to clean up the game but are already being applied with an  inconsistency that suggests a gradual phase-out, particularly in high-profile games.

A genuine attempt to rid the game of diving would certainly see disciplinary panels sit in judgment on players in the days after the game or perhaps the introduction of the “on report” system used in rugby league where referees would get a chance to make amends for something they may have missed during the game.

More seriously, given the Fancy Bears revelations of rampant  Therapeutic Use Exemptions across other sport, football should be self-examining to establish whether something similar is happening in a sport which is becoming increasingly physically demanding while players miss fewer games.

Back in March, former player Curtis Woodhouse tweeted: “At one of the clubs I played for, the gaffa used to come in the dressing-room and say the drug squad are in today, if you’re on anything, go home.”

It was, at the time, suggested that this would prompt an investigation, but testing levels remain lower than they should be.

Yesterday, in relation to the Telegraph investigations, Woodhouse added: “If you asked 100 footballers if they were shocked by what was said, 95 would say ‘No’. Everyone knows what goes on, particularly players who have moved to different clubs. They’ll understand.”

The bottom line is that everybody knows, but nobody really cares. When it comes to the serious stuff, as Redknapp might say, nobody gives a s***.

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