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Tom English: Ian Black betting punishment mystery

Net loss: Rangers Ian Black scores his sides third goal in their 4-2 victory at East Stirlingshire, a result which scuppered his own accumulator bet. Photograph: Rob Casey/SNS

Net loss: Rangers Ian Black scores his sides third goal in their 4-2 victory at East Stirlingshire, a result which scuppered his own accumulator bet. Photograph: Rob Casey/SNS

  • by TOM ENGLISH
 

IT IS unlikely that Ian Black is going to sit down any time soon – if at all – and explain what he was thinking about that day he struck a bet on East Stirlingshire to get a draw against his own team, Rangers, at Ochilview on April 27.

That’s the first question you’d like to ask him. Not about the 159 other bets he placed that contravened the SFA’s betting rules, but that one wager, as part of an accumulator, on Scottish football’s most hopeless senior club getting a draw against the newly crowned Third Division champions with Black himself at the heart of their midfield on the day

If you leave to one side the fact that any such betting on football was against the SFA rules, how did Black come to the conclusion that that was the wager he wanted to place? What weird rationale made him opt for a draw?

East Stirlingshire were not only bottom of the league but they hadn’t had a draw – not to mind a win – in any of their previous eight games.

In fact, they ended up losing their last ten games of the season conceding 39 goals in the process. In the games leading up to Black’s bet on a stalemate, East Stirlingshire had lost 5-1 to Queen’s Park (the week before the Rangers match), lost 2-1 to Annan, lost 6-0 to Peterhead, lost 2-0 to Clyde, lost 2-1 to Montrose, lost 2-0 to Berwick and lost 9-1, yes, 9-1 – to Stirling Albion.

Where was the form-line that suggested they were capable of holding Rangers?

East Stirlingshire had conceded 101 goals in their 41 games leading up to Rangers match. Black had already played against them three times that season. On none of those occasions was there the slightest bit of evidence that the worst team in Scottish senior football was capable of getting a draw against Ally McCoist’s side. In the first match, Rangers beat them 5-1. In the second, Rangers won 6-2. In the third, Black’s team won 3-1. Three games and an aggregate score of 14-4 and then Black goes for a draw?

Does that make sense?

Black has been found guilty of betting on football, and betting against his own team, but is there no suggestion of anything more sinister, such as deliberately underperforming in that East Stirlingshire game in order to make the draw a little more likely.

Black scored the goal that put Rangers 3-2 ahead, thereby helping to sink his own bet. In that regard, he was a bookmakers’ dream. A punter who deliberately stymied his own wager? That’s nirvana for a bookie.

All of this is weird and demands explanation but we won’t get it because Black won’t talk (not for a while at any rate, you’d have to imagine) and the judicial panel won’t publish their findings.

None of this is helpful. Here is a footballer who has admitted to betting against his own team and yet, effectively, he will serve the same suspension as a player found guilty of a bad challenge.

On Friday, Rangers manager Ally McCoist said that he had no issue with Black or his betting and that, too, is unsatisfactory.

How could the Rangers manager not have an issue with one of his players taking the field having had a bet on his team not to win the match he was playing in?

McCoist’s words are actually a betrayal of sorts. Imagine McCoist trying to explain himself to a Bill Struth or a Scot Symon? Imagine those gentlemen trying to get their head around this business of Black betting on Rangers drawing with East Stirlingshire before going out to play against them?

Amid all the hoopla surrounding the Black case, there was one point on which nearly everybody was agreed and that was that a player should never bet against his own team. Black has admitted to doing precisely that at the end of last season. The Rangers man has been fined, in essence, little more than a week’s wages and is banned, in effect, for three games, the same punishment doled out to Dundee United’s Gavin Gunning a few weeks ago for having a sneaky kick at Virgil van Dijk of Celtic.

At times like this the easy thing to do is to give the SFA a shoeing for a verdict that makes little sense to most people but what has to be remembered is that it was their judicial panel which handed down this sanction on Black and that that panel is independent. It stands alone but it is the SFA that must deal with the fallout.

Three matches, with seven more suspended, does not amount to zero tolerance of players’ gambling on football.

Players gambling isn’t really the nub of the Black affair, of course. Players have a punt. Managers have a punt. Many people in the game have a punt on football even though they are not supposed to. But they don’t bet on their own team not winning. That’s crossing the line.

Quite frankly, you won’t stop players betting.

It’s instructive to note that Black’s punishment only relates to betting on games involving the club he was registered with at the time. For more than a hundred other breaches, all admitted by the player, he received nothing more than a slap on the wrist.

What is the point of a rule if there is no sanction when it is broken multiple times?

From the outset of this case, the major question was whether Black had bet against his own team in a match in which he was playing.

He did and he deserved a bigger sanction than the one he got.

He certainly deserved harsher words than his manager was prepared to offer in public.

McCoist didn’t have to sack Black, although Rangers fired Fran Sandaza for a lot less under the pretence of disloyalty. Isn’t betting against your team the very essence of disloyalty?

We still don’t know why he did it. That’s the truly mystifying part.

The panel discounted match-fixing and ruled out any notion that he tried in any sinister way to influence the game to bring up his bet. Once he stops breathing his sighs of relief at such a lenient punishment and the undeserved support of his employers which followed in its wake, Black might want to explain what he was thinking.

The bet, as part of the accumulator, flew in the face of form and logic and integrity, it was against the rules of the game and against the spirit of the dressing room.

For breaking the one rule that most football people (McCoist excluded, it seems) say cannot be broken, Black will serve a three-game ban.

Hard to fathom, just like his bizarre wager at Ochilview that day.

 

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