From rolling around on the floor to shouting at officials, and sportsmanship to managerial mind games, there is an endless list of talking points and areas for debate in football before we even get to the actual beautiful part of the beautiful game. Then there is the small matter of VAR, which doesn’t even bear thinking about, such has been its negative perception by fans all over the world and especially in the English top-flight.
Modern-day football is, therefore, certainly no stranger to scandals, controversy and drama, but fortunately match-fixing isn’t one of these issues, at least not that we know of. But that doesn’t mean that the game has been free of fixed matches over the years, with a handful of prominent examples propping up all over the globe.
Fixed football matches throughout history
When remembering the highest-profile incidents of match-fixing in football, one perhaps thinks back to the scandal that hit Italian football in 2006 more than most other such controversies. Calciopoli, or Footballgate, was a huge mess, with countless individuals and clubs facing severe consequences for their actions.
Things all kicked off when Italian police uncovered evidence that top-flight clubs Juventus, AC Milan, Lazio, Fiorentina and Reggina had all been involved in fixing matches with favourable referees.
It’s difficult to say who came out worst after all the evidence was given, with Serie A champions Juventus stripped of their title and relegated to Serie B, while Milan were forced to begin the following campaign with a 30-point deficit. Initially supposed to be relegated to Serie B, Fiorentina and Lazio instead were forced to miss their European 2006/07 campaigns in the Champions League and UEFA Cup respectively, with Reggina president Pasquale Foti fined €30,000 and banned from football for two-and-a-half years.
But he wasn’t the only individual in trouble; far from it. Juventus general managers Luciano Moggi and Antonio Giraudo were sentenced to five years and three years imprisonment respectively, with both receiving five year bans from the sport. A long list of other individuals receiving similar punishments in a scandal that rocked Italian football.
Further Italian scandals
While the events circa 2006 are perhaps the most recognised in terms of match-fixing in Italian football, it certainly wasn’t the first time the country was impacted by such issues. Milan were once again implicated in a match-fixing scandal back in 1980, with president Felice Colombo receiving a lifetime ban for his part in selling matches for money. Lazio were also involved, with both clubs relegated to Serie B, with players such as Paolo Rossi and Enrico Albertosi also hit with bans.
The year 2000 then saw eight players charged with match-fixing by the Italian Football Federation, after a suspiciously large number of ultimately successful bets came through in an Italian Cup match between Atalanta and Pistoiese. Three players were involved with the former, and five with the latter. Just five years later, Genoa got their very own scandal for reportedly bribing Venezia to throw a league match. The club were relegated for their actions, with president Enrico Preziosi banned for five years.
French, German and Belgian controversies
Italy’s struggles in this area may be the most famous, but that’s not to say that other major European football leagues haven’t had similar problems. Marseille stole all of the headlines in France in the late 80s/early 90s, when the club won four successive league titles and one French Cup under new president Bernard Tapie. The side also clinched the first-ever Champions League, with the competition rebranded from the European Cup in 1993.
But such success was short-lived, with Tapie found guilty of match-fixing and financial irregularities within the club’s books. The scandal came to light when players from Valenciennes came forward with the news that they were contacted by a Marseille player to let the latter win a match between the two sides, while also being told not to injure any players before their all-important Champions League final against Milan.
The French outfit lost their latest league title, as well as the right to play in the following Champions League, European Super Cup and Intercontinental Cup, with Tapie sentenced to two years in prison.
Just before this, it was Belgian football at the centre of controversy, as Standard Liege manager Raymond Goethals reportedly told his players to throw a league match. The boss, along with several players, was banned from football in Belgium for life, with the club itself only receiving a small fine.
More recently is the German match-fixing scandal of 2005, with prominent referee Robert Hoyzer at the centre. Reportedly involved with Croatian gambling syndicates, Hoyzer was found guilty of fixing several matches that he was involved in, as well as implicating other referees in the scheme. He was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison for his crimes, and was banned for life by the German Football Association.
Is British football to blame?
Often quoted as the birthplace of football, Britain may indeed also be linked to the start of match-fixing in the sport, when in 1964 Scotland-born Jimmy Gauld was sentenced to four years in prison for his role as ringleader in a nationwide betting scandal. The former forward used his connections within the game to persuade several players to bet on the outcome of matches, including England internationals Peter Swan and Tony Kay, who were incriminated when Gauld sold his story to the Sunday People. A total of 33 players were prosecuted for their involvement.
Whatever your view on the matter, it will be near impossible to ever figure out the scale at which match-fixing takes place within the sport, such is the covert nature of elite football. If it does indeed happen, it’s certainly well hidden. But much more probable is an upset supporter doing all they can to avoid the harsh reality of their club losing in hugely surprising circumstances, or a disappointed punter looking for an explanation as to why their sure-fire bet didn’t come through, and thus creating a conspiracy theory about match-fixing that just doesn’t add up.