In the second of this series, our undercover player discusses his experiences of corruption in Non-League football and reveals that it isn’t just professional players who get caught out.
Sam Allardyce losing his job on the grounds of corruption didn’t surprise me. Not one single bit in fact. The point that he has had previous in this area is irrelevant. What I’m saying is that corruption in Football happened and happens in every area, it’s just scrutinised more the higher up the ladder you travel. Allardyce himself admitted he had made an “grave error of judgment” and that “it was a silly thing to do” but by no means is he the first to make such a mistake and you can guarantee he will not be the last. He has been an unfortunate victim of British Gutter Journalism and he has to hold his hands up.
Now let’s make this relevant. Picture the scene. The year is 2011 and the Step 4 side I am playing for are on their way to an FA Cup 2nd qualifying round tie. For a club of the magnitude I am playing for, this is a big deal, a real money spinning tie, with potential to make the club an extra 12 grand. We travel to a fellow step 4 side in search of glory or so I thought. Now buses to an away game are a privilege so we were fucking milking it. Card games in the back, feet up on the seats, we were loving life. That is until the captain of the team comes over and relays that “Boys, the opposition are evens to win this.” The side we were facing were struggling in the league and had recently lost their manager for reasons I can no longer recall so the odds were from what I gathered, pretty decent. That information was like a red rag to a bull. Five or six lads bought into the idea (no pun intended) that if we placed a substantial figure against ourselves, we could make a tidy return. Now the chairman had already offered us a bonus if we won but as we know in Football there is no guarantee of success. So as the story unfolds, the lads all quickly agree to bet against ourselves. The total amount was staggering, with it reaching close to £700 between 6//7 players. They stood to make a £100 each if we lost. Now that’s a fair whack for some players who are playing either for free or expenses. Unsurprisingly we lost the game 3-2 ( after being 2-1 up) and the boys got their winnings. Safe to say, the bus on the way home weren’t too bothered. As a 20 year old relative rookie, I had had my eyes opened to the harsh realities of non- league football. “Win at all costs but if you can’t, then at least make some money out of it”
The above tale isn’t an isolated incident either, it’s one of several anecdotes I have experienced as a player. As recently as March 2016, Lewis Smith was suspended from all football and football related activity until 1 August 2017 with immediate effect after breaching The FA’s Betting Rules. The 28 bets he placed relate to football matches played between 7 April 2012 and 23 April 2013.Smith was deemed to have bet on 8 games including his own team. Having played against him twice last season, his absence is sure to be felt, although his club have made a strong start to the season without him. He was also fined £22,865 and warned as to his future conduct.
Ashton United were recently rocked by scandal too with several of their 2014-15 squad being investigated by the game’s governing body. One of their players Martin Pilkington received a four year ban from all football related activity following an FA investigation. Pilkington himself was no amused by this, taking to social media “Not enough done to help and it’s like just being thrown out in the trash, no help off the FA”
For those unaware, it is illegal for any player from step 4 upwards to bet on anything related to football. Whether that be a Premier League game or a game in their division. That blanket ban has been imposed for several seasons now. Quite frankly it’s a load of bollocks because you can’t monitor it. More to the point, what influence can a step 4 player have on the outcome of a Premier League game? The FA rolled out this rule with no education as to potential penalties and no support to the players that have been found guilty. Handing out harsh sentences to make an example out of players isn’t education, it’s communist. Martin Pilkington summed up with “I signed a form which I didn’t really read about gambling and nothing was solidly made aware of the consequences. I hope that other players will learn from this and if I am the example that it works for these lads” I feel for those players caught, especially when they are in a culture where majority of their team mates will probably be guilty of similar breaches.
Non-League Football will always remain a hotbed for breaches of betting regulations because it is so hard to monitor. Ian Ridley, former chairman of Weymouth perfectly states the reasons as to why
“Given the sums of money players earn at the top level, bribing them ( league players) to influence incidents and results is almost certainly too expensive. Lower down, footballers (Non league) earn fractions by comparison.”
It is difficult to influence games at a high level due to the money the players earn and the scrutiny the games come under from various media outlets. Players aren’t under contract (some will be) so have no loyalty to the club or its fans. Games in non-league aren’t scrutinised by TV Replays and social media. Incidents cam occur without any coverage. Couple that with the fact that there are 13 divisions from step 1-4 with at least 24 teams in each division. You are looking at approximately 3880 players playing across one season, assuming the average of 20 players used by a club, which as most people know, is generous.
I’ll finish on one more personal anecdote.
My first season at step 3. The ‘Non League know it all” ( every dressing room has one, some have two) comes in and says “ Club X’s players haven’t been paid this month so aren’t playing until they have been”. We all knew what this meant, even if nobody said it directly. You could see the pound signs light up in people’s eyes with this information, myself included. People almost in tandem, got their phones out, that’s how it easy it is in this modern era, and placed money on Club X to lose which they promptly did. Inside information has a massive part to play in betting. Regionalised leagues often lead to you knowing at least one player from every side in the division you are playing in, so it makes it easy to share information. That coupled with the fact, it literally takes 30 seconds to pace a bet and you’ve got a situation which won’t be going away anytime soon.
So don’t be fooled by Allardyce being caught out, those type of conversations about how to get around rules and regulations happen regularly, he is just an unfortunate casualty of a journalist trying to make a name for himself.