9 Big Betting & Bribery Scandals in Footballing History

By on April 23, 2019

It’s tempting to spend lavish amounts of money when you’re a footballer. The temptation of betting grows as a way to pass the time between matches and training. But for some footballers, they’ve bent the rules and been caught doing so too.

It needn’t involve a few grand on a Champions League match or some money on roulette. William Hill were ordered to pay £6.2m for systemic failures regarding money laundering in 2018. These acts can involve match-fixing and the influencing of outcomes. Some go undetected, some become worldwide scandals.

This is a list of 9 high profile cases of illegal betting and bribery scandals in footballing history.

Paul Scholes allegedly breaks betting rules (2019)

The most recent example of illegal betting comes from ex-United star Paul Scholes. He was charged with “misconduct by the Football Association” for allegedly breaking betting rules. The alleged crime is placing 140 bets in a four year period until January this year while he was co-owner of Salford City. None of the matches bet on claim to involve Salford, FA rules effectively ban bets on all football matches in the league pyramid. That said, the rules aren’t as clear cut for owners as opposed to players so it’s unsure whether Scholes will face prosecution if proved to be guilty. 140 bets over 4 years is only about 3 bets a month but rules are rules I guess. It’s not been the best few months for old Scholesy!

Daniel Sturridge’s betting misconduct (2018)

liverpool daniel sturridge

Another ongoing investigation but with a current player this time. Daniel Sturridge was found guilty of misconduct for bets he placed in January 2018. Reports said Sturridge had bet on player and manager transfers using a third party. Sky Sports advised part of the investigation centred on a “family member placing a £10k bet on him moving to Inter Milan”. Of course that never happened. Sturridge denies the charge and has cooperated fully with the FA as the investigation continues.

Marseille’s bribery scandal of 1993

Marseille’s match-fixing scandal in the 90s was one of the biggest in European football at the time. The controversy centred on a Ligue 1 match between Valenciennes and Olympique de Marseille in 1993. The Cote d’Azur side were due to play in the Champions League final six days later and president Bernard Tapie wanted the team to be fresh. So along with general manager Jean-Pierre Bernès, they bribed three Valenciennes players including 1986 World Cup winner Jorge Burruchaga to “underperform”. A win in the league match would also give them the title. The match ended 1-0 and six days later, Marseille beat AC Milan in the Champions League final. They were stripped of their title in September, banned from playing in the Champions League, European Super Cup, and the Intercontinental Cup. To make matters worse, they were relegated to Ligue 2 in 1994/95 after financial difficulties after Tapie was banned from football for life.

Barton’s betting bonanza

Someone who knows a thing or five about bans and offences (as well as playing for Marseille) is Joey Barton. The former Manchester City player was suspended from football for 18 months in 2017 after he was found guilty of breaching FA betting rules. Barton had placed “1,260 bets on the result, progress, conduct or any other aspect of, or occurrence in, football matches or competitions in breach of FA Rule E8” during a 10 year period between 2006 and 2016. That effectively ended his footballing career and he now plies his trade as Fleetwood manager but for how long, who knows.

The Calciopoli scandal of 2006

The 2006 Italian football scandal rocked the nation when a number of Serie A and B clubs were implicated in a network of match fixing. The scandal included then-league champions Juventus, AC Milan, Fiorentina, Lazio and Reggina after phone conversations were intercepted. They revealed links to managers and referees who gave biased decisions towards certain teams. In the end, Juventus were relegated to Serie B, fined, deducted points, and had their title stripped while the other teams were fined and suffered points deductions. The ramifications are still being felt today as Juventus launched an appeal to a tribunal asking for Inter to have their 2005–06 Serie A title removed after claims they were involved in the Calciopoli scandal also.

The 2009 European betting scandal

This betting scandal is worthy of its own movie. At least 200 football matches were found to have been manipulated in nine European countries from early 2009. A number of players, coaches and officials were bribed to influence matches, allowing for bets to be won and defrauding bookmakers. The main culprits, Milan and Ante Sapina, were sentenced to 4 months and 5 years in prison and fined €10m between them. Ante was widely known as “gambling king” in Berlin before he lost his proverbial crown and kingdom.

Lights out, cash in for Malaysian betting syndicate (1995)

Another 90s scandal and about as outrageous as you’d expect. A match between West Ham and Crystal Palace was abandoned after the Upton Park floodlights failed. The same thing happened between Wimbledon and Arsenal at Selhurst Park. But a third attempt at a match between Charlton and Liverpool was thwarted. What was causing these malfunctions? A betting syndicate in Malaysia. Spot bets were placed on certain outcomes meaning the floodlight outage at Upton Park won bettors thousands. After a bribed security guard’s colleague alerted police when he was told of the plan, the operation was ceased and four men were jailed for between 18 months and four years.

Plateau United Feeders’ and Police Machine’s goal gorge

No, you’ve read that right. Seventy-nine goals to nil. Two matches involving Nigerian teams Plateau United and Police Machine ended with bizarre score lines like 79-0 and 67-0. No team can be that bad, not even Renford Rejects. So the Nigerian Football Federation stepped in and found a web of deceit involving match officials and commissioners for the two matches. Life-time bans were handed out as well as 10-year bans to the four teams involved.

A ghostly comeback in Belarus

From all the goals to none at all. In 2015, FC Slutsk faced Shakhter Soligorsk. From 1-0 down, FC Slutsk scraped a 2-1 win to a jubilant Slutskian crowd. Except there was no one in the stadium, not even the players. Why? Because the match never happened. Falsified match reports were uploaded to both teams’ official websites in a bid to defraud bookmakers. This was known as a “ghost game”. Four instances have been found over the last 20 years but its been deemed unlikely to happen in the big leagues.

As adverts for bookmakers and new casinos grow more popular during primetime television, the temptation never leaves. Money fuels football in a way never seen before and it continues to grow. The old methods of match-fixing may not work now but as data analysis improves and stakes become higher, it’s only a matter of time before another scandal arises.

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