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Tom English: Black’s betting ignorance no excuse

John Hartson discussed his problems with gambling in his autobiography. Picture: SNS

John Hartson discussed his problems with gambling in his autobiography. Picture: SNS

  • by TOM ENGLISH
 

IF YOU wanted to delve into the world of footballers placing bets on matches then you had better set aside a year of your life in an attempt to document it.

Even then, a year would probably only get you a bit of the way through the alphabet, maybe as far as H for Hartson. Big John never made any secret of his fondness for a bet when he was a professional footballer, nor ever attempted to hide the fact that he was dealing in pretty big sums of money. It’s all there in his autobiography. Chapter and verse.

Hartson was lucky in that, although he gambled outrageous sums, he never seems to have been a problem gambler, never a man who couldn’t control himself when he needed controlling. The game was full of such people, past and present. They have a disease. Kevin Twaddle was in the papers the other day – and published a compelling book – about his epic struggle with his gambling addiction, a struggle that brought him to the point of suicide.

There are stories all over the game of high-profile players losing almost everything. Matthew Etherington, the Stoke midfielder, said he got on the team bus years ago and, by the time he got off it, he had lost £20,000. In his gambling years he estimated that he blew £1.5 million, mostly on horses and dogs but also on football. Dietmar Hamann, the former German international and ex-Liverpool player, lost £200,000 in one night. Dominic Matteo, the Scotland international, said he only came to terms with his own self-destruction when he experienced a moment of clarity about wasting his daughter’s inheritance. Kevin Kyle’s battle was well documented. Andy McLaren’s too. There’s no end of sad tales. It’s a grim business.

Mercifully, Ian Black, we believe, is not of these people. His gambling is said to involve small – if not tiny – sums, so the question of his betting being a curse in his life does not arise, it seems. That’s a relief. Black, of course, is one of many, many players who dabble in betting on football matches. Casual punters doing a coupon or two on the weekend. The fact that it is banned by the SFA clearly has no impact on footballers. So many of them have a wager and so few of them make a secret of it. Some of the lesser-known players even go on Twitter talking about it. They’re the fortunate ones in that they have not been charged, whereas Black has.

His followers can bang on all they like about him being made a scapegoat and the SFA opening up a can of worms and they can slam the SFA for being hypocritical if they like, for players are not allowed gamble but the association is only too glad to accept the sponsorship of a betting firm, William Hill.

There’s been a lot of noise around the Black subject. It was only a fiver. They’re all “at it”. The central charge is that Black not only contravened clearly-stated rules but that he went several steps beyond that by gambling on his own team not to win. That is the most serious charge you can level at a footballer. The allegation is that he backed his team not to win, so did he try to influence the result while on the field? It was only a fiver? The amount of money involved hardly matters. What matters is if it is true or not.

What is key is the charge that, on at least one occasion, Black played in a match in which he backed against his own side. He will face sanction on the other 157 charges if they are held up but he can recover from those even if found guilty. Players have recovered from a lot worse. An awful lot worse. The battleground is the three games and particularly the one – or more – in which he played. Ignorance of the rules is no defence. Nor is the old chestnut of them all being “all at it”. Did Black bet against his own team? That is the only seismic, potentially career-ending, question to be answered here.

Trust is the big issue at Ibrox now

Charles Green might have left the building but in offering the Easdale boys first refusal on the vast majority of his shares, when he’s free to sell in December, the question must be asked about the fine detail of any cosy arrangement between the former chief executive and the

Easdales. He’s gone in body, but will Green’s influence live on regardless?

The latest statement that came whirring out of Ibrox tried to strike a conciliatory note, offering a welcome to Frank Blin from the agitators in the shadows led by Jim McColl, Paul Murray and, of course, the supporters in great numbers. You could paraphrase the statement thus: “Okay, if we let Blin in will you shut up and mind your own business and will you, for heaven’s sake, stop banging on about the state of the accounts?’

Green may have “gone” but the need to carry on and bring real change to Ibrox is as pressing as it ever was. The fans are being told that there was £12.5 million in pre-share offer money lodged to the Rangers bank account along with £12m of season ticket money and £22m of share money and that, of the £46.5m raised in something like 10-11 months, only £10m is left. If that is true then it’s a crisis of waste. If it’s not true it’s a crisis of trust. Either way, Green or no Green, accountability and responsibility needs to visit Ibrox before it’s too late. In that sense, Green’s exit should change nothing.

No Spanish inquisition over Schuster doping comments

when the former German international and current Malaga manager Bernd Schuster spoke about performance-enhancing drugs and why he thinks their use is legitimate when helping a player to recover from injury you might have expected a major reaction from the footballing authorities in Spain. Doping deemed acceptable in certain circumstances by one of the game’s most high-profile figures? Imagine if somebody said the same in Britain. There would be an outcry and, most probably, a demand for the person in question to explain his comments.

In Spain, there has been virtually nothing. Because, in Spain, this kind of thing doesn’t really matter. Doping? Yeah, whatever. Schuster’s attitude to doping should have had the governing body in a flap. If he condones this kind of thing, has he ever allowed it to happen? Does he allow it now? To his knowledge, has any player under his stewardship ever taken performance-enhancing drugs for any reason? Do any of the medics attached to Malagahave any history in doping in professional sport?

Questions, questions, but no answers. Indeed, none of them is likely to be asked.

Back in February, Inaki Badiola, a former president of Real Sociedad told the AS newspaper that in the early years of the millennium, in a regime previous to his own, Real Sociedad employed the infamous doping doctor, Eufemiano Fuentes. Badiola stated that he discovered annual payments to Fuentes of almost €328,000 and that he sacked two of the club’s doctors when he realised what had been going on. The payments were repeated for a number of years and the products that were administered to the player were banned substances. The response of the authorities was to deny and then look the other way

“Thanks be to God, there is no doping,” the president of the Spanish FA, Angel Maria Villar, told El Pais. “Well, very little, so little that the cases given are just an anecdote to an anecdote. In Spain, players take many tests each weekend and nobody is found to be positive. That is the reality. The rest is just talk, talk, talk. . .”

“As long as it’s for recovery purposes, I have no problems with it,” said Schuster. “If a player can reach his full fitness level two to three weeks faster, then it makes sense.” It tells you much about the unquestioning culture in Spanish sport that Schuster could say such a thing seemingly without any fear of an inquisition.

 

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