News   |    April 11th, 2022

IT’S GOOD TO TALK

The amount of money bet on UK football matches each week runs into billions of pounds worldwide and where there are vast amounts of money involved there is always a risk that corruption may follow.

When I worked at Charlton Athletic, I was tipped off by a member of staff that an individual member of the night security team had been approached by a far east betting gang to allow them access during the early hours to the power intake room at The Valley. The plan was to break into the main supply cable and insert a cut out switch that would be operated remotely from an individual sitting in the crowd. At the time the betting rules in the far east were that in the event of the abandonment of the match the score at the time of the abandonment applied. I was given the time they intended to break into The Valley, and we mounted an operation with the Police. The plan was to allow them to complete the task so the authorities could assess how they did it. I can tell you that it was a very professional piece of electrical work, and you would never have seen what was wrong at the game they planned to target. All those involved were arrested including the member of staff and all duly received custodial sentences.

I would like to think that our national game is clean but the reality is that many of the decisions in a match are quite subjective so you can never be 100% sure and there are many examples around the world where corruption has reared its ugly head and it is always linked to betting.

Take as an example the West Ham Utd v Lyon Europa League Quarter Final match recently. Aaron Cresswell was sent off for denying Lyon’s Moussa Dembele what the referee deemed an obvious goalscoring opportunity. My initial impression was that there was a minor contact, but Dembele was going away from goal, so it was a yellow card at worst. The German referee Felix Swayer decided otherwise and issued a red. Several replays didn’t change my mind that this was a wrong decision and the fact Dembele was caught on camera winking told its own story.  The usually mild-mannered David Moyes thought it was wrong because he stayed on the touchline to confront the referee and duly received the customary yellow card for querying the decision. The referee was not interested in explaining his decision.

Generally, you would just put it down to being a poor decision but then after the match it subsequently became clear that Zwayer was no stranger to controversy. Earlier in the season he was described by Erling Haaland as an arrogant individual and England player Jude Bellingham was highly critical of the official particularly regarding the award of a penalty in the Bayern Munich v Borussia Dortmund match that he considered to be highly dubious and Bellingham raised the fact that Zwayer had been involved in a match fixing scandal earlier in his career. Bellingham was fined for his comments.

Zwayer was handed a six-month suspension from refereeing back in 2005, having assisted Bundesliga 2 official Robert Hoyzer who accepted bribes to fix several matches. A report in the German press claimed Zwayer accepted a 300 Euros bribe from Hoyzer, but he and three other officials informed the German Football Association about Hoyzer’s illegal activities. Hoyzer was banned for life, while whistle-blower Zwayer was handed a short-term suspension.

I am not suggesting for one minute that Zwayer did anything but make what he thought was the right call on the night at the London Stadium but I think it would help the game if referees were to explain a contentious decision post-match as silence allows people to speculate. The fact is most people thought that Dembele was going away from goal so why shouldn’t the referee explain why he disagreed and thought it was a clear-cut denial of a goalscoring opportunity and a red card. The game would be the better for it.

Peter Varney - Chairman, Integral Sports Management.

back to news