Tuesday, September 19, 2006

All Bunged Up

Due to my shift patterns at work, I've not been able to update this week, when I had intended to. I had hoped to round up all of last weekend's excitement and a quick look at the midweek fixtures this evening, but the fact of the matter is that it all really pales in comparison with tonight's "Panorama" investigation into bungs in football. All in all, the programme was a bit of a disappointment, but it was always going to be considering the hype that had preceded it. We were told that there would be 6-8 Premiership managers collared, and that the revelations would "rock the game to its' foundations". But was this ever going to happen? Well, maybe. Suspiciously large amounts of the end of the programme looked as if they'd been hacked to pieces at the hands of an over-cautious editor, but let's have a quick look at what they did get.

Well, Sam Allardyce was the focus of the lion's share of the programme, and both he and the Bolton chairman Phil Gartside have some serious questions to answer. The issue of a manager's son being an agent is one that has been covered before (cf: Alex Ferguson and his son), but the extent to which everybody at Bolton appeared to have their snouts in the trough was amazing, to the extent of bypassing the FA's own anti-bung paperwork to ensure that the money ended up in the right hands. Of course, the fact that both the chairman and the manager have been fingered makes Allardyce's job more secure, and Allardyce Junior has since resigned his position as a licensed agent. Is it likely that anyone at Bolton will get any more than a mild wrist-slappingover this? Probably not. One question did enter my head, though: we all know what a closed shop football is. In what other possession could, for example, someone as incompetent as former Sheffield Wednesday chairman Dave Richards, who took his club as close to bankruptcy as any chairman did during the cashola free-for-all of the late 1990s, resign from his job and end up as the chairman of the Premier League? It strikes me as being like putting Nick Leeson in charge of the Bank of England.

On Harry Redknapp, they didn't quite come up with the goods. He turned up for a meeting with an agent over a player that was being touted illegally, but nothing more than that. It certainly casts doubts over Harry's own assertion that he is "one million per cent innocent" of any dodgy dealings. The question is this: Harry, if you're really a million per cent innocent of being involved in anything under the table, how did you come to find yourself in a position in which you were being filmed by an undercover "Panorama" team? I've long had my suspicions about Redknapp's dealings in the transfer market, and they haven't diminished as a result of tonight's programme.

My primary feeling is that football is completely awash with this sort of thing, but that it's now so ingrained into the culture that there's practically nothing that anyone can do to stop it. Clubs tap up other clubs' players, managers take payments under the counter to sign players, and they use unauthorised agents to do so. Football is just another bastion of free-market capitalism these days, and the regulators aren't just disinterested in doing anything, but they actually set up supposed paperwork chains that the underhand can simply bypass with little more than a modicum of sleight of hand. The FA is a law unto itself. The clubs are a law unto themselves. The agents are a law unto themselves. The managers are a law unto themselves. The players are a law unto themselves. It's a massive, unseemly mess, and we're too far down the line to do anything about it. To me, the biggest surprise about it all is, well, that anyone is actually surprised by any of it.


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