Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A very Scottish scandal

Hawick Royal Albert 0 – 7 Huntly

Not a result to raise too many eyebrows. Not, in fact, a scoreline I would ever have imagine myself writing.

Yet this Active Nation Scottish Cup first round tie is suddenly in the middle of a match fixing storm after it emerged a number of bookmakers had expressed concerns to the police about some of the betting patterns on the game.

Bets, allegedly including some made by Hawick players, had not only picked the exact score but also correctly predicted that a penalty would be conceded by the home side.

What do we know? Huntly went into the game overwhelming favourites and duly scored seven without reply (the goals coming in the 23rd, 44th, 53rd, 67th, 75th, 82nd and 88th minutes). The penalty arrived in the 23rd minute when a Hawick player handled the ball on the goal line and received a red card.

At the moment that’s about it. The club has launched an internal investigation and the SFA will act only after the police inquiry has run its course and they are presented with the irrefutable evidence that something naughty was afoot.

My own view is that this is a storm in a teacup. I don’t understand the vagaries of an international betting industry that has, allegedly, made match fixing much more common than we might think (you can read Lawrence Donegan writing about this in the Guardian here). My own golf betting experience stretches to a decade of putting each ways bets on Colin Montgomerie at the majors.

A small Scottish Cup tie might be the kind of game that appealed to the dodgy syndicates that are apparently behind such scams. But there seems to be no suggestion of anything as large scale as that.

So if there is anything behind this it’s down entirely to the players. Maybe some of them will turn out to be guilty. But it seems a bit risky to me. What if Huntly had eased off? If Huntly had scored an own goal? The penalty had been missed? One or more of their own players refused to join the scam?

Perhaps they did bet on themselves losing. If that’s the case they’ll need to face the appropriate sanctions and that would be fully deserved. If you take such little pride in the game then why not just give it up.

But the idea of the players of Hawick Royal Albert coming up with an idiot proof way of losing a match 7-0 whilst only conceding one penalty seems a bit of stretch. This is the same group of players that have lost six of their previous seven games this season. From everything I’ve read about them I don’t see how they can be good enough to ensure they lost 7-0.

A player of Matt Le Tissier's ability couldn't guarantee a corner in the first minute of a game. Yet we're to believe this lot were able to bend the whole course of the match to their evil will?

As the shadowy, sinister world of betting and match fixing goes this seems particularly haphazard, particularly shambolic. Particularly, I suppose, Scottish.