The marriage once made in heaven that was football and betting is now slowly unravelling into an Eastenders-esque scandal with aging skeletons in the cupboard – all thanks to players and officials looking for a bit of extra cash. Now this affair is on the verge of being dragged out into the street for the neighbours to see.
This could be the season known for match fixing investigations, with two underway already in English football meaning the National Crime Agency (NCA) and the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) have been dragged in. Six arrests made so far, and the latest to go under the spotlight are free agent Sam Sodje, a former Portsmouth defender, and Blackburn striker DJ Campbell.
Back in February, Sodje received a red card for repeatedly punching Oldham Athletic’s Jose Baxter, leaving fans bemused. There was nothing causing Sodje to do something so rash. Nothing but a £70k cash incentive, that is.
The Sun on Sunday released the above footage yesterday, as part of the paper’s own undercover investigation, discovering that Sodje had been paid to purposely get sent off. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Sodje claims that he has access to a ‘network’ of players that would allow the ability of fixing matches in the Premier League, and at the 2014 World Cup. He said he could get his brother Akpo, a striker for Tranmere Rovers, and Oldham player Cristian Montano to force their own cautioning in games too.
Shocking and worrying words from a man who has no club, but could Portsmouth be his last experience of professional football? And could this be the case for all six players who’ve been arrested?
In my opinion, it should be. Players get paid a ridiculous amount of money as it is, and despite Sodje’s individual history of charity work, it makes sense for an unemployed footballer who is used to a more luxurious lifestyle to reach for income. For the others, who’s names will eventually be brought forward alongside Campbell, it may just be lower league players looking for some pocket off the field.
Guy Whittingham, Sodje’s manager at the time he received the card, said players intending to get themselves sent off is wrong, and can have a detrimental impact on their career.
“You’re letting the team down,” He urged, “because more often than not ten men lose a game of football, and if you’re in a tough situation, maybe a relegation dogfight, you could lose those three points – that could cost you a place in that league. I can’t fathom why he [Sodje] did it.”
The scandal is shaping up to look a bit like football’s own mini version of what lead to the Leveson Inquiry. Having a peek of what goes on behind closed doors, the biggest questions are how deep this runs into the game, and how many players are really involved? We might never find out.
For all we know, every time a Premier League footballer is booked or sent off, there’s some money behind it.
Until then, and until it affects your club, you might as well grab the popcorn.