While others have been keen to steer clear of the issues currently rocking English football, Hibernian boss Neil Lennon has spoken out unequivocally, saying it is high time that the game’s seedy underbelly was exposed.
Former England manager Sam Allardyce was the first to be caught out by some undercover reporters, his actions forcing him out of the high-profile position he had occupied for just 67 days. Caught on camera advising Daily Telegraph investigators on how to circumvent rules imposed by his employers, the Football Association, since 2008, and attempting to cash in on his role as national boss, he was the first of several managers and agents to be outed for unscrupulous dealings, with more revelations likely.
“I feel a bit of sympathy for Sam, but it’s time this was stopped,” said the Hibs manager, who has experienced a couple of spells in English football, as a player and a manager. “If you break the rules, it will eventually catch up with you. You hear whispers from players and managers and agents. There have been rumours for a long, long time about other people. High-profile people.”
Barnsley assistant manager Tommy Wright was the second person named by the Telegraph, who have, so far, claimed that ten unnamed managers have taken so-called “bungs” in transfer deals. Wright reportedly took a £5,000 payment from undercover reporters posing as representatives of fake investors from the Far East, the money allegedly accepted in exchange for convincing the Championship club to sign certain players.
The 50-year-old Scot has continued to plead his innocence but the South Yorkshire club moved swiftly to terminate his contract. And now another Scottish coach is fighting to defend his job and his reputation.
Eric Black, the assistant manager at Southampton, who was named in the newspaper’s investigation after being secretly filmed, attended a meeting arranged by Scott McGarvey, the football agent who was also responsible for arranging the Allardyce face-to-face.
At the meeting, the Telegraph claims Black and McGarvey explain to the undercover reporter, whom they believed to be a potential investor, how club officials could be persuaded to pass on information to a management company. Black denies the allegations.
FA rules state that intermediaries “must not give, offer or seek to offer, any consideration of any kind” to a club official “in return for any benefit, service, favour or any kind of preferential treatment”.
Southampton pre-empted the implicating of Black with a statement which said the club “intends to work closely with both bodies [The FA and Premier League] on this matter when the facts become clear. “Southampton Football Club is fully committed to investigating any situation that directly or indirectly relates to our club, employees or the wider community.”
After the allegations came to light, a spokesman for Black told the Telegraph: “[Mr Black] does not recall Mr McGarvey making suggestions that football officials should be paid during transfer negotiations – this was not the purpose of the meeting so far as our client understood it. Any suggestion that he was complicit in such discussions is false.”
McGarvey also denies the allegations with a spokesman saying he will “vigorously defend his reputation”.
In the wake of the latest revelations, the FA said it had yet to be handed full and unfettered disclosure of all available material from the Daily Telegraph, leaving the League Managers Association expressing their disappointment and frustration
at the paper’s teasing of the information and called on it to hand over all evidence in its possession.
Although not commenting on the Telegraph allegations specifically, Lennon, who was manager at Bolton Wanderers for 17 months, before parting company in March, says there are plenty of people who should be feeling uneasy under the bright light being shone on the sport south of the border.
“It’s people that you don’t see in the public eye. These people are doing deals that they shouldn’t be doing and walking away with thousands; millions of pounds at times.
“It’s these unlicensed agents that are making money through third-party ownership, doing deals with cash involved and giving the game a bad name. You have to look at the owners or chief executives who are speaking to these people and have been doing it for a long time.
“People are taking money out of the game and it leaves a really bitter taste. It’s high time that it’s been exposed.”
The City of London Police have confirmed that discussions have already taken place with the FA and the Telegraph, while QPR manager Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Leeds owner Massimo Cellino have also been implicated in separate controversies.
QPR issued a statement saying
that, although they are taking the accusations very seriously, they “will need to view an unedited version of the
video footage and full transcript of the discussions that took place.”
Despite footage of Cellino appearing to suggest to members of a fictitious Asian firm that they become shareholders in the club in order to receive portions of transfer fees, Leeds dismissed the allegations as a “non-story”.
“This is plainly not a suggestion as to how to circumvent the rules but rather an accurate, albeit concise, explanation of how to operate within the confines of the rules,” a club statement read.
Lennon insists that the story is one that has been needing told for a long time. He stressed he has never been tempted and never would be and revealed that, while rumours were rife down south, he was not aware of such a culture in Scottish football.
“In my time at Celtic, I spoke to agents, but when it came to negotiations, I left that to
other people and I’ve done the same thing at both my other clubs,” he said yesterday.
“I’m not aware of any issues in Scotland and I’ve been up here for a long time.
“I’m not sure clubs could afford to pay extra money to these shadowy figures in the background.”