MARTIN SAMUEL COLUMN: FA are as guilty as Sturridge in betting world

MARTIN SAMUEL COLUMN: The FA are as guilty as Daniel Sturridge in a twisted world of football betting

  • Daniel Sturridge is serving a four-month ban for breaching FA betting rules 
  • Sturridge has at no time asked betting companies to make a book on his career
  • Nobody is disputing Sturridge’s ban, but the FA are complicit in its cause 

There were only a few hours between Trabzonspor’s announcement that Daniel Sturridge’s contract had been terminated and the specific explanation, but Sky Bet had already made a book on his next destination.

A move to Major League Soccer was favoured: 2-1 Atlanta United, 3-1 Inter Miami, 5-1 LA Galaxy or Rangers, 6-1 Newcastle United, 8-1 New York City. And feel free to have a flutter, unless you know something. If you know something they’ll refuse to pay out and try to get Sturridge nicked by the FA for conspiracy.

Only if you are betting blind, basically having a guess, do the bookies seek your money.

Striker Daniel Sturridge is currently serving a four-month ban for breaching FA betting rules

This is how the FA want it, too. They do nothing to protect those who play the game from predators, but they’ll hire the finest legal minds to keep bookmakers from harm. Sturridge is currently serving a four-month ban for breaching FA betting rules by passing on information for gambling purposes. He did wrong.

Nobody is going to defend him over that. Yet the fact Sky Bet continue to blithely court publicity by making sport with his career shows how twisted football’s sense of right and wrong has become.

Sky Bet demonstrate no consideration for the mixed messages around gambling, for potential entrapment. They are brazen about the way markets are manipulated to the advantage of the house. And the FA are their accomplices.

While purporting to act for the good of the game, they are in league with the creators of the problem. Sturridge has at no time asked betting companies to make a book on his career. He sees no profit from this market.

His crime was to talk or exchange messages with friends and family, guiding them on his future. Even though no winning bets were made, and in some cases no bets placed, Sturridge was found guilty of divulging sensitive information in four instances. In one of them the recipient was based in New York, where at the time it was impossible to get a bet on, due to America’s gambling laws.

As for the infamous £10,000 bet, Sturridge was found to have no influence over that, and mystery surrounds it still.

The Football Association won an appeal against last year’s verdict that Sturridge broke gambling regulations by giving family members inside information on impending transfers

But this we do know. At 2.11pm on January 17, 2018, Paddy Power issued a press release saying thousands had gone on Sturridge signing for Inter in the last few hours. His odds had been slashed from 10-1 to 1-14. 

The release, signed from ‘UK PR and mischief champion’ Amy Jones was written with the affected chumminess and laddish vernacular that is the bookmaker’s trademark.

‘Studge — remember him? He has been bench-warming at Liverpool but it seems he’s off to sunnier climes.’

Leaving aside the ignorance of a typical northern Italian winter, one possible motive was clear. If bookies regard Sturridge to Inter Milan as a certainty, so does the media, and it has to credit Paddy Power as the source. Is national publicity worth a liability of £17,000 — the £10,000 bet being placed at 17-10 — or did someone simply mess up by taking it?

Accepting a huge stake on a punt of that nature is irregular. Maybe by then the betting patterns had failed the sniff test and Paddy Power knew they would not be paying out, even if the wager came in. Ultimately, it lost.

The Football Association’s verdict last year states that Sturridge (left) ‘instructed his brother, Leon (right), to bet on a possible move to Sevilla’ in the January transfer window in 2018

Still, a lot of money was being made off dear old bench-warmer ‘Studge’ that day.

Not by gamblers, obviously. By bookmakers. They are the ones who can take over the life of a player and make it so he cannot even discuss his career with his family, in case a neighbour finds out and places a bet.

There is no defence of Sturridge here, but the precedent the FA has set to protect the sanctity of bookmakers’ fun markets is the greater outrage. It is not up to any footballer to make this defective, corruptible game work.

The reason there is so much scepticism around the £10,000 wager is that transfer bets invariably have liability limits not far north of £200, because they are so vulnerable to inside information. Sky Bet currently have transfer specials on all the most anticipated summer moves: but try to bet £10,000.

Forward Sturridge has at no time asked betting companies to make a book on his career 

Paddy Power’s website tells gamblers their limits. Want to put 10 grand on Jadon Sancho joining Juventus at 10-1? Unlucky. You can have 25 quid. So whoever took £10,000 on Sturridge to Inter either knew the file was being handed to the authorities, or wasn’t the brains of the operation. Maybe it was the same person who packs a sarong for Milan in mid-winter.

As for champions of mischief, bookmakers don’t want any of that. To the layman, mischief might be hitting Paddy Power up for a nice few quid on something you know is a certainty.

But try that type of mischief and they cry foul. The mischief they like is creating a market in which only those having an uneducated guess can participate. So not mischief at all, really. Daylight robbery, in fact.

A new job is exciting. It is also disruptive. In football, it could involve changing cities, even countries. Arrangements will have to be made, personal options considered. Of course, footballers should be able to discuss career moves with family and friends without fear an unguarded whisper will get them banned.

The striker has eight goals for England, including this one against Scotland in November 2016

It is the bookmakers who should be censured, because there should be no market. Want to make one, then you do so at your own risk. It is not up to any player to prop up this dubious process.

The FA will argue that their rules on gambling are very clear. How come, then, it has taken at least three QC-led legal teams to define and rule on Regulation E8 in the case of Sturridge?

How come the FA had to appeal against the verdict of their own panel for being too lenient?

A precedent has been set in which a bet does not even have to be placed, and even an innocent conversation, unwittingly passed on, can be turned against a player — and for what? To make sure the mischief makers, the cynics, the grubby little opportunists can continue to siphon their cash from the game, and from those who play it.

Nobody is disputing Sturridge’s ban, but the FA are complicit in its cause. They are not on the high moral ground here. They are waist-deep in the worst of it.

What gender conspiracy?

When Storm Ciara forced the cancellation of the Women’s Six Nations fixture between Scotland and England last month, the solution was to play the game behind closed doors two days later. The reaction was negative. Imagine that happening to the men, it was said. 

Now it transpires contingency plans for coronavirus would see many elite standard men’s fixtures across all sports fulfilled in empty stadiums. Valencia v Atalanta in the Champions League will take place that way next week. Sometimes it’s not conspiracy. Sometimes it’s just all that can be done. 

Give Bruce some credit, he’s delivered in the Cup

By winning at West Bromwich, Steve Bruce has led shot-shy, boring, dismal Newcastle to their first FA Cup quarter-final since 2006. This ends a run outside the last eight that stretches back to Glenn Roeder’s time as manager, when Newcastle were eventually removed by that season’s champions, Chelsea.

To be fair, some Newcastle managers since then never got to manage in the Cup. Others, like Sam Allardyce, were removed while still in it.

Yet Bruce has gone deeper into this competition than Kevin Keegan, Joe Kinnear, Chris Hughton, Alan Pardew, John Carver and Steve McClaren. 

As for the sainted Rafa Benitez, he had three swings and was knocked out by Watford at home and Chelsea and Oxford away, each time in round four. Drawing Chelsea at Stamford Bridge is always a rotten break, as Liverpool discovered, but losing 3-0 at Oxford in 2017 was massively disappointing, particularly as Newcastle were in a comfortable position on top of the Championship at the time.

Bruce has no more or less pressure in the Premier League than any other Newcastle boss. He has said from the start, though, that he would target cup success and has been true to his word.

He is a far better manager, and a far better fit for Newcastle, than he is painted.

Steve Bruce is a far better manager, and a far better fit for Newcastle, than he is painted

Virus isn’t Platini’s fault but the mad schedule is!

Michel Platini can be blamed for a lot of things, but not coronavirus. When the decision was taken to hold Euro 2020 across the continent, nobody could have foreseen the arrival of a pandemic.

It is a fact, however, that the more locations involved in any competition or strategy, the more vulnerable it is to random events such as volcanic ash clouds or key worker strikes.

In France in 2016, pilots and air traffic control played up. It was a pest, but there were alternatives by rail and road. Not so easy if match two is in Baku and match three in Rome, as is the case for Wales, or match one is in Bilbao and match two in Dublin, which is Sweden’s itinerary. And it was Platini who caused this. 

It was his clumsy handling of the bidding process — announcing on day one he would be voting for Turkey, which caused the majority of candidates to pull out, before Turkey did, too — that saddled the tournament with the pan-European option. 

If Euro 2020 falls victim to coronavirus, and it is now odds-on to be postponed, it will be his last great gift to football.

 If Euro 2020 falls victim to coronavirus, it will be Michel Platini’s last great gift to football

For justice on racism, FA have to aim higher

In 1989, having won their first title under George Graham, Arsenal travelled to Florida to play Independiente of Argentina in an exhibition match. Actually, it was labelled the unofficial World Club Championship — although as there was an official World Club Championship taking place later that year between AC Milan and Atletico Nacional, of Colombia, nobody was quite sure why.

Arsenal’s version took place at the Joe Robbie Stadium, home to the Miami Dolphins, and was memorable for a truly horrendous performance by local referee Paul Dominguez, capped when he sent off Arsenal physiotherapist Gary Lewin for encroaching on to the pitch to treat a stricken Gus Caesar. Lewin thought he had been summoned, Dominguez disagreed.

This confusion would have been bad enough were referees allowed to send physios to the stands. They cannot due to fairly obvious issues around player welfare. What the officious Dominguez did overlook, however, was the incessant racist abuse directed at Arsenal’s black players by their opponents.

‘They only knew one English word,’ David Rocastle, scorer of both goals in a 2-1 Arsenal win, said of Independiente. ‘It began with N.’

So a large pinch of salt is required if we are to entertain Leeds goalkeeper Kiko Casilla’s defence that, at 33, the first time he had even heard this word was when he was accused of using it towards Charlton’s Jonathan Leko, an exchange that has earned him an eight-game ban. There is a 62-page FA report justifying this punishment, including credible witness testimony from Charlton’s Macauley Bonne.

Leeds United goalkeeper Kiko Casilla was found guilty of racially abusing Jonathan Leko

It was enough to satisfy the balance of probabilities and that is all the FA require in such cases. Leeds claim the burden of proof should be no different from a court of law: beyond reasonable doubt. Casilla is not the wronged party here but they do have a point.

The FA will argue that the balance of probabilities as a means of conviction is good enough for, among others, the General Medical Council and the majority of civil cases.

Yet it sets a staggeringly low bar of 51 per cent belief, were such a concept mathematically quantifiable, meaning even with a 49 per cent chance an event did not happen, the accused could still be found guilty.

When the stigma of such a verdict amounts to a lifetime sentence, is that right?

Disgustingly, Leko and Bonne have been subjected to further racist abuse on social media. Yet is this, in part, because the FA do not aim higher; to convict beyond reasonable doubt? Would Casilla’s plea of ignorance have stood up in a court of law?It was about as convincing as Wayne Hennessey’s claim to have never heard of the Nazis when censured for making an offensive gesture at a private party. 

It does not help that an FA court appears to be of the large Australian marsupial kind and immediately lacks credibility with its low burden of proof and high conviction rate. 

Casilla should have been brought to book in a way that left no room for argument. As FA justice stands, a case can always be made against the process, therefore undermining it.

Share this article

Source: Read Full Article