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'This almost broke me' - Irish star Stephen Dawson tells of agony over match fixing allegations

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Stephen Dawson

Stephen Dawson

Stephen Dawson

AN EARLY-MORNING raid by police, an Irishman living in England is taken from his home, handcuffed, in front of his confused and crying children, his possessions bagged up and taken away as evidence.

That reads like a scene from In The Name Of The Father. Instead it's a true-life story for Stephen Dawson, a Dublin-born footballer who found himself thrust into the national spotlight for the first time in his long career in England, one of a number of footballers (three of them Irish) arrested in connection with allegations of spot-fixing.

This week has been a good week for Coolock man Dawson, now playing for League One side Rochdale in what is his 10th season as a first-team footballer in England. Not because of the team's results - though results are good as Dawson's side knocked Nottingham Forest out of the FA Cup earlier this month and they play Stoke City in a live TV game next week.

But because this week Dawson, 29, got some very important post through his letterbox. He was informed that all charges in relation to the spot-fixing allegations were dropped, case closed.

In conversations between journalists and pro footballers, words like agony, pain, disaster and bravery are thrown around all too easily. But Dawson's tale takes in all of those and the player is keen to speak about what happened to him last year.

IN SHOCK

"I think I am still in shock that I was dragged into this in the first place, but I want people to know what happened, I want my reputation back, because the last nine months have been hell, until I got the letter this week saying I was cleared," Dawson told The Herald.

"After all this I was just told two days ago that I was cleared of any wrong-doing and that no action will be taken but I still can't work out in my head how I was dragged into this mess.

"Anyone who knows me knows I would never even consider getting involved in something like that. I have had nearly 450 games in England, I am an honest player who gives his all, and to be accused of cheating was something that hit me very hard. I love the game and I would never risk something that could see me sent to prison and end my career.

"This whole experience almost broke me, I thought about quitting football, just getting on a boat or a plane home to Dublin and just going there to hide. That sounds like the coward's way out but I just wanted to get away from it."

Claims of spot-fixing, where bets are placed on of timing of specific events in matches (such as a booking, red card, penalty) has dogged the game worldwide for some time now but last year, Dawson found himself centre-stage.

"It all started on April 2nd last year, I was arrested, seven players were all arrested around the same time. The police came to my house at 6.30am. They searched the house, they took away a load of my belongings like my latop and phone," he says.

"They banged on the door so loudly I thought someone was trying to break into the house. Then I saw 10 police officers surrounding the house and, to this day, I get shivers thinking about it. To be led away in handcuffs, in front of my partner and my two young girls, is something I will never forget.

"I spent the next 18-19 hours being questioned, in and out of the cell, in relation to the spot-fixing claims, it was claimed that we were basically taking bookings in matches for money."

Dawson and the other players were bailed, and somehow his career carried on, Dawson playing for his club, Barnsley, in the Championship later that week. But the case hung over him. Barnsley supported him but at season's end he decided to move on from Oakwell and dropped down a division, to Rochdale, and Dawson is grateful for the support of manager Keith Hill.

For legal reasons, Dawson is unable to go into the specifics of the charges but he is able to say that he was questioned about yellow cards he received in three particular games in the Championship while at Barnsley.

"I was asked if I had taken money for a booking, had I been paid to get a yellow card in a game," he says. "Anyone who knows my character would know that's nonsense. I still don't know how they got their information and that's something that my legal team are looking into now.

"I can't just let this go and I will follow it up. If I had been found guilty my career was over, I'd have gone to prison for a long time. That is too serious for me to just forget about," he says.

"How was I even dragged into it? How did my name come up in the first place? I still haven't been given an answer to that and I will pursue that."

Nine months on, Dawson has still not been able to get back his mobile and laptop. But it's his reputation which is of more concern.

"They still have the phone they took off me, I will get that back next Monday. Until this all I ever did was maybe get a few points on my driving licence" says the midfielder, who had the support of his younger brother Kevin, also a pro in England with Yeovil Town.

BRANDED

"It still affects me. Your name is branded, Me and my family have had to put up with stick from opposing fans and players, I constantly had journalists turning up at my door. It's only now, that I have been cleared, that I can speak."

The club await the rest of the league season (Rochdale two points off the playoffs) and a Monday night date with Stoke City on TV in the FA Cup, smiles all round.

But for Dawson it's about redemption. "It nearly finished me," he says. "Even though I knew I was innocent I still thought 'why was I dragged into this?'.

"And to this day, I have been shown no proof or evidence or anything to suggest why I was brought to this.

"At least everyone knows the truth now. I have made a life here in England, I'm only 29 and I want to play in the Championship again, I want to do well, enjoy football, I want to go into coaching. But I want my good name and get this nightmare over with."


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