Culture of backhanders exists at almost every level
Published 15/05/2011 | 05:00
S o some members of the FIFA Executive Committee are allegedly on the take? Many people are outraged at the suggestion of such corruption, but I would imagine there are few working in football administration that are surprised. People abusing their power for personal gain is hardly unique to football, but I know from experience the practice isn't confined to the very top of the game.
When I left Millwall, the club offered to organise a benefit game for me to soften the financial blow of early retirement and give me one last opportunity to play at the Den. The idea was first mentioned in a conversation I had with the CEO and the chairman in September 2003, but the game did not take place until July 2009.
There were several reasons for the delay. The FA Cup run of that year occupied the minds of everyone at the club, so I knew it would be hard to get anything arranged for the first six months or so. There were several changes in management in the following few years which didn't help at all (there were six different managers in charge of the club during 2005 and 2006). It actually took me 18 months to get the club to put their offer of the game in writing, and when it eventually came, the wording they chose was very disappointing to me. They offered to stage a benefit game for me, as opposed to organising it as they had originally suggested. Significantly, it was also down to me to find a team to play against. I had never played anywhere else, so had no allegiance to another club. It was time to do some cold-calling.
I won't name the managers I spoke to or those contacted on my behalf, but none would get involved. Most wished me luck, but not one manager seemed prepared to bring their team to play Millwall in a pre-season friendly on a date of their choosing. It was very frustrating, and it got to the point where I came close to giving up the idea of pursuing it any longer.
It wasn't until the summer of 2008 that I was made aware of what I was doing wrong. In a phone conversation with a leading figure in English football, I asked what I thought was a very straightforward question: "Is this the kind of thing you read about where you have to offer someone a brown envelope or something along those lines?" His response was immediate: "Seriously mate, what do you think? Of course it is." I asked why he hadn't said this to me in the previous five years, and he said he felt he couldn't because of his position.
He went on to give me examples of the clubs who regularly benefit from such dealings and named managers who he knew personally were on the take. Some of the names surprised me, most didn't. It was time for a new approach in order to get the game played. I had no patience any longer for drawn-out discussions with anyone. What would this cost me and who must I pay?
We got very close on a couple of occasions to shaking hands with European clubs who were due to be in the country at the time, but we were also in negotiations with a load of clubs along the way. The fee varied depending on the opposition. On each occasion it was put forward as a legitimate fee for travel or hotel costs (regardless of their location), but it was always to be paid to a third party. I remember one example was a request of 30k from a third party acting on behalf of the manager of a club that wouldn't have brought in much of a crowd.
The allegations made last week against members of the FIFA Executive Committee should come as little surprise to anyone familiar with the politics involved at that
level of the game. In fact at any level of the game. I was far too naive for far too long when it came to organising my game and it cost me. If the process for awarding World Cups is just as Lord Triesman has made out, then maybe the entire English bid team could rightfully be accused of the same. Entering into an election without knowing the factors which win votes seems naive at best, but remaining in the race until the end while refusing to play dirty seems downright foolish to me.
In the end, we managed to get Middlesbrough to agree to play without having to resort to backhanders. We had approached an agent to find a club from somewhere, and for a fee of £8,000 the game was signed off within a week. I have no reason to believe any of the money went to anyone else, as he was paid for the specific service he provided.
Whether he can supply sufficient evidence remains to be seen, but Lord Triesman was right to speak out. The allegations may never lead to sanctions against anyone, but those accused wouldn't be the first in football to get away with it if indeed he was telling the truth. And Lord Triesman doesn't have to go all the way to the FIFA Executive Committee for more examples of that.
Sunday Indo Sport