Thursday 17 August 2017

FAI steps up probe into more Athlone matches

Athlone Town fan Padraig Shine, from Athlone, at the match against Cobh last night Photo: Steve Humphreys
Athlone Town fan Padraig Shine, from Athlone, at the match against Cobh last night Photo: Steve Humphreys

Johnny Ward and Robin Schiller

The Football Association of Ireland plans to widen its investigation into Athlone Town FC to examine two other games at the club amid allegations of match-fixing.

The FAI launched an investigation into the First Division club on Wednesday, after it received a detailed report from Uefa highlighting irregular betting patterns around the club's SSE Airtricity League First Division game with Longford Town on Saturday, April 29.

Goalkeeper Igor Labuts warms up before the game Photo: Steve Humphreys
Goalkeeper Igor Labuts warms up before the game Photo: Steve Humphreys

Six-figure sums, believed to be in the region of €400,000, were wagered on the game between the two sides on the Asian betting markets last weekend. Athlone lost the game 3-1 and it is believed a late goal scored by Longford is one part of the investigation.

The FAI is now widening that investigation to examine two other games after getting confidential information yesterday.

Sources said there was concern about alleged wagering in the match on April 9 against UCD, which an insider described as a "carbon copy" of the loss to Longford Town. UCD's last goal came after 89 minutes in the game played in Belfield.

"Outside of the activity that has been flagged up publicly now on the fixture last weekend, the UCD league game virtually mirrored the betting activity with hugely significant volumes of money being placed in the Asian betting markets in the final 10 minutes of the match," they told the Irish Independent. "This money and the direction the market took heavily suggested that another goal would occur in the game for UCD in the closing minutes."

Movement on international markets suggested serious volumes of money were placed, as the end of a game approaches normal betting patterns would dictate that another goal is less likely. The movements in the Longford match went the other way.

Uefa's report on the matter said: "Such was the overwhelming strength of this entirely one-sided confidence, that odds as late as the 89th minute implied that it was more likely than not that at least one further goal would be scored which simply cannot be justified under any circumstances."

That report spurred the FAI into action and it will conduct interviews in Athlone with players and staff next week.

Uefa's document also mentioned Athlone players Igor Labuts (a Latvian goalkeeper), Kirils Grigorovs (a Latvian defender) and Dragos Sfrijan (Romania) have previously been involved in matches that were scrutinised by Uefa but the trio have never been found guilty of any wrongdoing.

Last night, supporters of Athlone Town FC expressed their anger that the team had become the centre of a major match-fixing investigation, saying it could "finish the club".

Speaking ahead of the team's 2-1 win over Cobh Ramblers in the league last night, supporters said issues had been raised about the running of the club more than a year ago.

"This could finish the club. If it was the FAI investigating it by itself it would be a different story, but Uefa has no allegiances to anyone," supporter Ian Stacey said. "I went to my first game in 1994, and have been following the club ever since. You never forget where your bread is buttered."

Fears over the club's future were echoed by Padraig Shine, who has been following the club his entire life. "It's terrible what has happened."

Irish Independent

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