East Thurrock United star Lewis Smith has been hit with a £23,ooo fine after pleading guilty to breaching betting rules. But is the punishment too harsh?

In todays edition of The Non-League Paper, it was reported that Smith had admitted 27 out of 28 charges levelled against him by The FA, which include betting on games he was involved in. He has subsequently been banned from playing  until the 2017-18 season – provided he can afford to pay the fine.

I don’t know Smith or his personal circumstances. Maybe he has got thousands of pounds under his bed. Twenty Three grand could be a mere drop in the ocean to him. But to me, it seems like an extremely heavy punishment for his transgressions. Some reports suggest that it is a record fine for a Non-League player. So why exactly have the Football Association handed down such an extraordinary sanction? Unfortunately, the official reasons won’t be known until the governing body publish their response next week.

Personally, I think that The FA want to make an example of him and this type of offence. We have all seen the scandals in sports such as Cricket, where three Pakistani players were given Jail sentences and lengthy bans in 2010 for match fixing, slightly different from betting on the outcome of matches. We have also seen the ongoing saga at FIFA; the organisation which is supposed to represent the game internationally and uphold the morals and ethics of the beautiful game. Instead, the footballing brand has been tarnished and confidence in the game has waned.

Now The FA aren’t stupid. They don’t want to be tarred with the same brush. They needed to act quickly and by fining the former East Thurrock United hitman, have gone in some way in avoiding any criticism that could have directed their way. But I think these things need to be taken into context and judged against other incidents  in which the FA have meted out punishments.

In April 2015, Hull City midfielder Jake Livermore tested positive for Cocaine use and was looking down the barrel of a two year ban and a substantial fine. However, he was spared all of this due to extenuating circumstances, namely the death of his new-born son. Obviously I have sympathy for anyone who has lost a loved one and the death of a baby would no doubt tear you apart. But the FA could not prove he had been a habitual user and so he was not punished. Make of that what you will. Nothing has been mentioned of Livermore bing a role model to youngsters and that fact drugs possession is a criminal offence.

In 2013, Newcastle United winger Andros Townsend, then a Spurs player, fell foul of the regulations. He was fined £18,000 and had his ban SUSPENDED until 1st July 2016. That fine would take a couple of weeks for Townsend to pay back. Was his ban suspended because he was about to break into the Spurs team and national squads? We will probably never know.

I understand that people need to be punished. There are clear rules and regulations around betting, which are very clearly defined by The FA. As they say, ignorance to the law is no defence. But a £23,000 fine and a year’s ban? That just smacks of The FA flexing their muscles and making examples of players who aren’t internationals or don’t play for Premier League teams.

I would have liked to see Smith banned. He has after all committed the crime and as they say, must now do the time. But the fine is massive and unjustifiable. That amount of money is ridiculous. Where will the fine go? Will it be pumped back into the Non-League game and grassroots football, which hold the future of our national sport? Or will it be swallowed into The FA’s coffers, never to be seen again.

Either way, let’s hope Lewis Smith won some of those bets to pay off his fine.

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