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The Invisible Threat to All Coaches

You've trained with your team all week, blood, sweat and tears. Your reputation rests on this result and your family relies on you. It all comes down to the 90 minutes, where the team most deserving to win on the day, will take home the three points..... But that just isn't true!

Asian Title Winning Manager, Steve Darby, says;

'Match fixing is not a black and white issue. It's complex and not easy to understand. But I believe as Declan Hill, Author of 'The 'Fix' and the expert on the subject, stated... 'it is the greatest threat to sport that exists'...

A few salient points have to be stated first.

1. It's not a recent phenomenon, it was happening in the 1900s eg Liverpool and Manchester Utd

2. It effects every country including England, Italy Spain Germany as well as Asia

3. It's been driven by gambling, especially Asian gamblers. Online gambling causing a boom.

4. There are many reasons why people fix and many ways how to fix.

I played and began to coach in England and Australia, when a major feature was that it was pre internet and hence no online gambling. This made me believe naively, that when I first encountered match fixing in SE Asia that it was a black and white issue. You were either a cheat or you were honest.

An honest player explained some of the realities or the complexities of the subject. He told me 'you get a call, and the caller knows your salary and usually knows if you haven't been paid. The bookies have access to all confidential information, it's their business. So for example, they know you earn 3000$ a month and maybe are 2 months behind in wages. They offer you 10,000$ to help fix a result. You say No!! Then they ask, does your daughter still go to this school, or does your mum shop every Saturday at 10am? The player then agrees to take the money. You get it, but next time, and there is always a next time.... You get offered less as they know you have nowhere to go'.

Again my naivety kicked in. I asked why not go to the FA or even the Police. It took him a while to stop laughing as he said ' don’t know how high this goes and who is pulling the strings'.

Also what do you do if your father is in debt to the Bookies? Your daughter needs an operation? It is very easy to take the moral high ground, but there are situations that make players bend their principles.

This summed up the most realistic issue for me. Why should an often uneducated player have these wonderful ethics and values, when the Police and Politicians and Administrators who are meant to be pillars of society are often corrupt. The further sad issue is that the players who are at the bottom of this food chain, are often caught and banned for life, whilst the layers above, the runners and the money men at the top get away with it.

My first experience of fixing (that I know of) was when a foreign player from the opposition walked past me at half time and said you are going to win 2-0. I asked how he knew and he said he understood more of the local language than local players knew. Sure enough, we scored in the 84th and 89th minute so we had no time for a third and they were never going to score. But, when you are winning you don’t see the fix, you think it's down to great coaching!

Though another game that my team won, I realised during the game and confirmed on the video. Their keeper never made any big blunders (the good fixing keepers don’t) but their keeper was slightly out of position and any saves he made were palmed back into dangerous areas.

Overall, I am convinced I have been involved both winning and losing, in 11 games. Some publicly confirmed such as Kelantan v Ninh Binh when the Ninh Binh team was banned after the game. Plus others were confirmed in the book Kelong Kings by Wilson Raj Perumal, the convicted fixer. He speaks about games I was involved in at International level but were fixed by Referees.

The other naive view of fixing is that it is a win/lose scenario. Not with the Asian handicap system or simple spot fixing e.g. a red card in the 2nd half. You can win and still make money! It almost compensates the immorality.

My last coaching role was with the Laos national team for the 2018 World Cup Qualifiers. After the qualification was over and I had left, 4 of my team were banned for life. Two I had suspicions of, but they were easily in the best eleven and trained well and played well in the World Cup games. But apparently they earned their money in friendlies - Usually away from home so there was less pressure of exposure on them.

The other two I would have put my house on being honest, and I would now be homeless! Though I am convinced one is still innocent and sadly the fixers who are well known in Laos football are still free and operating. A trusted player said to me, Coach think about it, we don’t get paid to be in the national team, some even lose money. We are on about 200$ a month from our club. We go into a match knowing we will lose as the other team is better so we may as well lose by a set score. It's a logic, a different cultural logic, but if it means they buy their Mum a house they justify it. Or the less altruistic ones buy a car.

How do we stop it? Sadly I think it will never be stopped while there is money to be made by somebody somewhere. All I think you can do is reduce the incidents;

a) Pay the players on time. Poverty is a wonderful tool for the bookies to exploit.

b) Education programs in schools/academies. It's too late when players are full professionals.

The fixers are now going after youth players as they are cheap and you have them for life. An AFC representative came to my national team. Said the right things and left a shiny leaflet with hotlines for whistle-blowers. After the session there were 22 paper aeroplanes flying about. The pamphlet was in English, the players couldn’t understand or read English so the education has to be locally driven.

c) If someone is genuinely guilty and fixed for pure greed then bans must be for life, from all forms of the game. Not allowed back as a coach or an Administrator.

d)Catch the Big Boys, the money men.

Though perhaps that's my naivety kicking in again'!

A British Coach in the Middle East ran into some 'unfortunate luck' whilst needing a win to push on with their promotion hopes....

'I had been coaching a team in the Middle East and we were very close to gaining promotion to the 1st Division. We had to win our last 2 games and we were playing the team in 2nd place. We had a few players who used to play for our rivals and two days before our match, two officials from our rivals came to our training. I told them to leave, but they waited to speak to our players at the end. I didn’t think of it as a big deal and didn’t ask the players what they wanted. They said they were like fathers to them before and they just wanted to say hi.

On the day of the match, one of the most important ones of their careers, I noticed a couple of my players were not quite themselves during the warm up and asked if everything was alright and they said they was fine, I knew they wasn't as all coaches know, we know when our players are not ok. I thought it was just nerves. Anyway the game started and we were awful. Our right back, who had been one of our most consistent players all season was playing terrible and after three balls went over his head, the other team scored. Our CM was also having a shocker, along with our winger. Again, I thought it was just a case of us being nervous.

At half-time, I gave them a passionate speech and asked if anyone had anything to say..... not one player responded. In the second half, things didn’t improve and I couldn’t put my finger on why five of my best players were playing so bad. Our rivals scored a second goal after a long ball over the top and comical defending by both CBs. I took off my winger and he didn’t even seem bothered. The third goal was a farce and my assistant actually turned around to my winger and asked ‘how much did they pay you’ ? I told him to be quiet, but then it dawned on me that these were the same players who were speaking to the guys after training.

I was totally stunned! In all the situations I had been thinking about that could happen, I didn’t see this one. One of our players actually asked two of his teammates if they had been paid and they just said no. In the aftermath and the next day I was so angry that they had done this, but after reflection I wanted to forgive them and actually teach them that there is a bigger picture.

This is probably the only thing they know and have been brought up in this toxic culture. I feel that it is my job to educate them but unfortunately, I have not been able to meet with the players since then due to the ongoing issues in the world. I will still have this meeting and hopefully move on and learn from this experience, hopefully not needing to use it any time soon'!

And finally, some funny old business going on in two completely separate continents in Asia and Africa, from a British Coach who says;

'Knowing what I know now, the previous two countries I had coached in before these, were probably at it (fixing) as well. It would have been even easier to stay undetected due to the officiating being terrible and amateurish to begin with. Meaning, there was never any expectation from the refs so a bad call would be put down to them just being crap as normal.

Because of this, I naively went into my next role looking forward to the honest game we know as football and then within the very first match I was involved in, the alarm bells started ringing!

Within the first 20 minutes the home team must of had four or five dangerous free-kicks around our penalty box and although this could well happen in a normal, every day match, it was the nature of how the free-kicks were awarded, with them being obviously biased. This didn't let up in our next matches and a regular pattern would show these free kicks and even penalties, to start happening in favor of the home team. As time went on, it started to get outright ridiculous, almost child like, where we were pre-warned by our local staff which teams were renown for paying for their wins.

These certain teams with this reputation can sometimes be spotted by looking at recent form guides or checking the league table in a Home and Away format. More likely than not, there will be teams who are winning most of their games at home but getting destroyed when going away and if you look even deeper, you will also see an increased number of penalties and red cards awarded in their home matches too. As I was doing a lot of our team's analysis, I started looking into greater detail at these things in isolation, leading to unraveling consistent patterns between certain match officials and a combination of clubs and the match officials they would like to use.

Here are four main matches which will always stick in my mind in this league:

1. We went 1-0 up in an Away match against a team we shouldn't be beating at home. They pulled a goal back and then was awarded an invisible penalty to go 2-1 up. Still controlling the game, we pushed on to equalize in the last seconds only for it to be called offside. It was all a farce, even from the bench you could see our lad being kept onside by at least two defenders and the ref didn't even look at the linesman (who had his flag up even before the cross went in), he raced towards play like his life depended on it and instantly cancelled the goal.

Following that, chaos erupted and our whole bench charged down the touchline, due to protecting our players who were being harassed by riot police, match officials and the oppositions staff. It all kicked off and the strangest thing which followed, was that not one of our players or staff was charged by the association... which we easily should have been. After the match, back in the team hotel we viewed the videos and we was quite right to be disgusted - our goal ruled offside was the most onside goal you could ever see from a cross!

2. Another away match, we traveled already knowing that this team had a reputation for buying off the ref. It didn't take long for this to be confirmed when one of our team officials told us that the ref had offered us the 'win' first, but we was only offering him an iphone and the other team was putting up around $5,000.....Not a great start before the match had even started! When we did start, we had a player sent off within 9 minutes, they scored from the resulting free kick outside of our box and then they got a man sent off themselves in the 90th minute. To the naked eye if you was just looking at the result and hadn't seen the match, you would see that the home team won a hard, fought battle 1-0 with both teams receiving a red card. In reality, it was a total scam.

3. The scam from the match mentioned above was later confirmed when the same team came to our home ground close to the end of the season. The pre-match 'offer' was again offered to us first from the ref, which we declined. We should have known better, it was the same ref as we had faced when we played this same team at there place! Almost following a pre-planned script, this same ref gave us a red card within the first 12 minutes into the match - it was for a reaction by our striker after having his dreadlocks pulled back right in front of the ref. We went on to lose by the same score line, conceding another free-kick from outside the box, and they again, got a token red card in the final minutes of the game. It was a carbon copy of the first match against them.

4. It's not often that you can go Away and be leading 3-1 only to lose 4-3, but this is what happened with us. Before the match we had four players sick from food poisoning from the local hotel which didn't help, and even so, we were controlling the match, away, against title contenders. Then came the phone call..... our General Manager came to us and said that our owner was watching the game on tv and said we needed to change our centre back wasn't a request! The change was made, we conceded more goals and lost the game. To top off an imperfect night, we had a man sent off and it was the same referee we had in story no.1 mentioned above, who cancelled out our last minute equalizer. It really does start to get tiring.

That's not to say that the evil powers were always against us. We also had some wins where we played great, but certain players from the opposition would have a bad game also - often those with past connections to the club. One thing which will always remain an unsolved mystery, is why we always failed to win our 3rd match in a row which would trigger a triple match win bonus.... we failed to win this 3rd bonus match on three separate occasions and each occasion, some very strange happenings occurred!

On moving to Africa, it was even more of a joke. Due to matches not being given high exposure and not being viewed on tv, referees we'rent even trying to hide it. They would literally do what they wanted and again, it was childlike behavior which you was helpless against. Red cards were given, penalties given and all for the price of a few quid and a nice hotel to stay in for the night. It wasn't all one sided either, there was some matches were we would get a penalty out of nowhere and one match we got two penalties from nowhere which I at one point, looked across to my opposite number in his technical area and I actually felt bad for him.

During my time there, I had sat at the same table with people talking on the phone with officials, asking for their money back because the ref hadn't followed through with the plan. I've been in a car which needed to take a detour to meet a referee behind a secluded restaurant car park for envelope exchanges, and each time, these incidents would happen like it was normal life and I was the strange one for thinking otherwise. Also, each time these incidents happened, it took another piece of my soul away and my love for the game would dwindle even more. The funniest time was when we took a Football Association official with us to an Away match, thinking it would stop the shenanigans we were about to face.... it didn't and in fact, that was the worst Away match we played in!

It wasn't only match officials who were the targets. Players were also susceptible due to being owed sometimes up to a season's worth of salary. This especially made it easy for the fringe players to make some money when they was put into the team - they may as well get something out of it right?

Players would genuinely still have deep laying connections with their old clubs and this too was easy access to lay some seeds, but I must say, there was one refreshing incident when my first choice goalkeeper said he couldn't play because he felt sick. I later realised that we was facing his old club and he wasn't sick, he just didn't want to play and let us all down. Unfortunately that didn't stop us losing, due to the reserve keeper taking the pay off instead, which was confirmed by the match 4th official!

It's not right and it makes the game so far from honest that it's almost a mockery, but I understand it. If you are not being paid your salary and you have a family, what other options are there? Even if you get another job, your boss could also withhold your salary there too. Players need more support and protection, but whilst there is big money for everyone to make right up to the top of the food chain..... I can't see any changes happening any time soon.

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