Basket cases, point-shaving, and the use of third balls: these are some of the betting scandals that have rocked world football. In this article, we will look at the first three in detail – how they started, and whether they still represent a major threat to the integrity of the game.
The Early Years
“It was my first match. I just turned up at the stadium and found my seat. I didn’t have any equipment with me so when the match started, I put my hands in my pocket to feel the coins.” That’s how one of the great German sports commentator Hans-Georg Schwarzer described his first ever match, between Nordhausen and Paderborn in the German top flight in 1950. Two decades later, Schwarzer would go on to score more than 300 goals in more than 600 appearances for clubs like BSC Young Boys and Eintracht Frankfurt.
Back in those days, clubs would regularly engage in match fixing in an attempt to boost their league position. There would be a few bookmakers at the game, and at the end of the match everyone would crowd round to see who had won. Bookmakers would then use this information to determine the odds for the following week’s matches. This is how gambling in football started, and it’s an integral part of the game to this day.
Point Shaving And Its Effects
If you were to write a history of football corruption, point shaving would undoubtedly be one of the first things you’d want to discuss. In the early 1930s, the practice of deliberately losing a football match in order to avoid losing money began. This was essentially a case of “creative accounting”. Rather than reporting the actual result of the match, teams would try to agree a lower score in order to reduce the amount of money wagered on the game.
The practice soon caught on, and it wasn’t long before a raft of scandals rocked world football. In 1934, Dynamo Dresden players were accused of deliberately throwing games and shaving points – a claim which they vehemently denied. The following year, the French Federation banned any football club from registering for the national league if they had players involved in throwing matches. As a result, both the players and the clubs were punished, and several top flight clubs were disbanded.
In 1939, English football saw its first ever major betting scandal when Southampton threw a tie against Liverpool in order to allow their small London neighbours to become one of the top flight’s unbeaten teams. It wasn’t until the early 1960s that the scale of the problem became apparent – in that decade, more matches were decided by a single goal than ever before. To combat this, the Football League introduced a new rule: a match had to be decided by two points or more to be considered official. This meant more chances for the neutral referee to keep the peace and maintain the fair play ethos that the league was founded upon.
The introduction of this rule meant that if a team was winning 2–1, the opposing manager would sometimes have to ask for time to be called so that his side could eat some food and drink some water. During these brief stoppages, the opposing manager would discreetly approach the referee with a request to call off the match. The ball would then be deliberately rolled across the halfway line, and the match resumed.
This was easier said than done – the “eat, drink, and breathing” requirements of the Football League made it difficult to police the game. In 1965, Burnley were thrown out of the Football League for their involvement in attempting to bribe a referee. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the practice of throwing matches diminished significantly. This was thanks in part to the work of the game’s self-appointed “ombudsman”, Norman Chester, and the introduction of stricter anti-corruption measures. While such measures haven’t eliminated match fixing entirely, it has made it considerably more difficult. In the 2010s, we’ve seen more cases of smaller teams trying to beat the system rather than joining the elite – with some truly incredible stories, like Leicester City managing to complete a title-winning season despite losing more than half of their games.
In 2019, the scale of match fixing reached new heights when more than 80,000 tickets were thrown away and 40,000 fans had to be content with standing as one of the biggest scandals in football history played out in front of them.
Revolutions In Thinking
If you’re thinking about entering the world of betting, it’s important to keep in mind some important points. One of the biggest problems in football is the lack of education around the subject – less than 3% of people in the league are actively involved in gambling, compared to more than 7% in tennis and nearly 12% in American Football. This essentially means that there is a huge gap in knowledge when it comes to understanding the intricacies and psychology of gambling. Coaching staff, sports scientists, and even professional gamblers themselves can struggle to grasp what is actually happening on the pitch, and this leads to all kinds of challenges. If the head of a football club is found to have actively bet on games, it can result in severe disciplinary action – up to and including expulsion from the league.
This lack of understanding and engagement means that coaches, sports scientists, and even players themselves can be easily influenced by a poorly executed fix. The temptation to bend the rules just a little in order to secure that all-important win can be tremendously alluring. One team asked for a foul to be awarded in a certain game – the referee had no other choice but to award the free-kick as requested. In another case, a player was found to have injected himself with a substance that temporarily increased his muscle mass. The fact that he was discovered was due to the anti-doping rules applied in all sports being implemented in football, meaning that he couldn’t have his usual dietary supplements to help him perform better.
These stories are incredibly frustrating for everyone involved, but they also represent a significant opportunity to educate. To that end, UEFA have committed to increasing the salary of officials in order to attract and retain more qualified individuals, as well as implementing a mentoring scheme for young referees. The growth of social media and increased consumerism also means that there is a better chance of people finding out about these scams, and ideally, putting a stop to them before they even start.
The most important thing that we can learn from all of this is simply to be better. Throwing matches is wrong, and it doesn’t matter if it’s 50 years ago or this year. The fact is that it’s wrong, and it shouldn’t be done. The challenge for all of us is to continue to educate ourselves on the issue so that we can put a stop to it once and for all.