To most, football is nothing more than a hobby. An opportunity to grab a beer with a friend or relax in front of the television. Although, that isn’t the case for everybody.
For some, the sport is tied directly to their political or religious beliefs. Take Scotland’s Old Firm rivalry between Celtic and Rangers, for example, which has clear ties to the Roman Catholic and Protestant divide within Glasgow. Celtic and Catholicism are synonymous, as are Rangers and Protestantism - for a long time you couldn’t be the former without being the latter.
Likewise, for others football is a job, and that doesn’t only include the players and managers that dominate the media. Take the Goal Profits football trading community, for example. For many, as football traders, the sport provides a means for us to earn a living.
Football provides many opportunities to make money away from betting too. Club owners and agents generate huge profits through the sport, through the various transfer deals, marketing opportunities and television rights deals that see billions of pounds exchange hands year on year. Of course, with such riches on offer, you will always get a handful of people who wish to cheat the system in order to transfer some of that money into their (probably offshore) bank accounts.
Many people have been banished from the sport in the past due to corruption. While it is often shady organised crime units behind match fixing scandals, dodgy player deals and illegal payoffs, in a game where riches come so easily to those involved, these operations also need a number of referees, players, club owners, organisation officials and agents on board to get the ball rolling.
Corruption within football occurs frequently around the world, and not just in countries where their football associations aren’t run quite so professionally, either. The likes of Italy, Germany, and Brazil, some of the biggest footballing countries in the world, have suffered embarrassing football scandals in the past. Here are five of the worst:
Totonero - 1980, Italy
Italy in the 1980s are probably best remembered for their triumph at the 1982 World Cup, in which they beat West Germany in the final to claim the trophy. Azzurri striker Paolo Rossi was the star of the show, scoring six goals in four games to clinch the Golden Boot award.
However, 1982 could have been a very different year for the Italian national team, as Rossi came very close to missing out on a place in the tournament, due to his part in the Totonero scandal, for which he was initially banned from the sport for three years. This sentence was later reduced to two years to allow him to feature at the World Cup.
The scheme was initiated by two Italian businessman, Massimo Cruciano, 32, and Alvaro Trinca, 45, a fruit and vegetable seller and a restaurant owner, respectively - hardly the kind of people that you would expect to cook up such a plan.
While betting was illegal in Italy until the 1990s, largely due to the sheer number of attempts that had been made to fix games, the duo decided that they would bet on the outcome of matches via black market bookmakers, also known as ‘Totonero’. Trinca’s restaurant often attracted players from the Lazio football team, which provided him with the inside men that they needed to make their plan a success. However, despite their many attempts, it wasn’t. In fact, the pair ended up suffering losses of more than a billion lira, due to the number of attempted fixes that went wrong.
The corruption ring was eventually unveiled by Lazio’s Maurizio Montesi, who had refused to take part in the fixing of matches. Following an investigation, it came to light that a number of players and club staff had also been betting on the outcome of matches.
Before long, the Italian police had 33 football players in custody, as well as the two men behind the operation and AC Milan president Felice Colombo. The corruption scandal turned out to be a lot bigger than first expected, with seven clubs involved in total. AC Milan and Lazio were relegated for their part, while Avellino, Bologna, Perugia, Palermo and Taranto were each docked five points.
If you’re thinking that these harsh punishments were enough to teach Italian football it’s lesson, they weren’t. Six years later another scandal came to light, with Lazio once again at the centre of the allegations.
Calciopoli - 2006, Italy
Despite going 20 years without any issues, the 2006 Italian football scandal would throw the country back into the spotlight. In similar circumstances to the 1980s affair, Calciopoli (which translates to ‘footballville’) would occur around the same time that Italy lifted another World Cup trophy, with the news breaking just weeks before the summer tournament kicked off.
The scandal came to light after a team was put together by the Italian police to investigate alleged doping that was being committed by those within the Juventus camp. A number of club officials were subject to wire-tapping, which would soon make it clear that, while there was no evidence of doping, there was an illegal operation seemingly going on behind the scenes.
Tracking inbound and outbound calls, it came to light that there was an unusually tight-knit relationship between a number of team managers and referee organisations, which suggested that clubs must have had some influence in selecting referees who would biasedly award decisions in their favour. The scandal was found to involve five Serie A teams - AC Milan, Fiorentina, Juventus, Lazio and Reggina, which resulted in a number of inconsistent punishments. While Fiorentina, Lazio and Juventus were initially relegated to Serie B, an appeals process saw Fiorentina and Lazio avoid the tough punishment.
For Juventus, however, the law came down on them in full force. Not only were they relegated ahead of the 2006/07 season, but they were also stripped of the 2004/05 and 2005/06 titles. In total, the punishment is said to have cost the club more than €400 million. Not only did they lose out on the money generated by playing at the highest level, but there was also a mass exodus of key players, such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Lilian Thuram.
Bundesliga scandal - 1971, Germany
Just eight years into the newly formed Bundesliga, a huge story would come to light that would turn German football on its head.
A number of German football’s inner circle had gathered at the home of Horst-Gregorio Canellas, the president of struggling Bundesliga club Kickers Offenbach, shortly after the conclusion of the 1970/71 season, who was throwing a party for his 50th birthday. Canellas seemingly felt that the evening needed an event to make it a night to remember, as he produced a tape recording which would go on to expose a number of German football players to be cheats.
Among the listening crowd were German Football Association officials, German national team manager Helmut Schon and a number of journalists, who were quick to make sure that the story broke. Canellas had an inkling that things weren’t quite as they seemed as his side battled to avoid relegation. Despite picking up points along the way, it seemed that those competing to avoid relegation were always in marginally better form, which eventually resulted in Offenbach suffering relegation by a single goal.
Keen to uncover the corruption, Canellas decided to put together a sting operation, which involved telephone conversations with a number of those he suspected were involved. His suspicions were confirmed when he managed to get a number of Bundesliga stars to agree to throw games in exchange for monetary payments. Among those recorded was West Germany goalkeeper Manfred Manglitz, who could be heard agreeing to ‘let some things through’.
The German FA’s subsequent investigation deemed that a total of 10 matches involving relegation candidates had been fixed throughout the season, despite the players implicated in the case swearing their innocence in court. In total, the affair had seen more than 1 million Deutschmarks change hands.
Following proceedings, 52 players were found guilty of match fixing, as well as two managers and six club officials. Kicker Offenbach and Arminia Bielefeld were both removed from the Bundesliga and, surprisingly, Canellas wasn’t paraded as the hero that he probably felt he was for exposing the corruption. Instead, he received a lifetime ban from German football for encouraging players to engage in match fixing.
FIFA corruption scandal - 2015, worldwide
May 27th, 2015. FIFA officials had been filtering into the 5-star Baur au Lac Hotel in Zurich, Switzerland, ahead of the 65th annual FIFA Congress set to take place the next day. However, a headline producing police operation in the early hours of the morning ensured that a number of FIFA officials never made it to the event.
A number of plainclothes officers swoop on the hotel, extracted room numbers from the front desks and proceeded to place six FIFA officials under arrest. The arrest were made following allegations of bribery, in which a number of executives were said to have received hefty sums of money from marketing and broadcasting corporations in exchange for the rights to air World Cup matches, with more than $150 million said to have changed hands over more than two decades.
While the case wasn’t directly related to the decision to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar (host nations that didn’t go down too well with many fans and football associations around the world), it did reinvigorate the accusations of corruption that had been following Sepp Blatter and his inner circle for many years.
The spotlight was firmly placed on Sepp Blatter, the man who had been serving as FIFA’s president since 1998, and it was deemed that the culture of corruption had become widespread and acceptable among FIFA officials under his rule. While FIFA is and remains a non-profit organisation, the establishment had become a money making machine under Blatter and him, as well as a number of other high ranking officials, appeared to be earning vast sums of money off of the back of it.
Despite insisting his innocence, Blatter would resign from his role within weeks of the arrests, amid heavy pressure from the football community. Despite seemingly going back on his word, Blatter’s reign would come to an end towards the end of 2015, when he and UEFA president Michel Platini were banned from all footballing activity for eight years due to a dodgy payment exchanged between the pair.
In total, 38 football executives were arrested in connection with the corruption scandal, while two sporting events management companies pleaded guilty to bribery charges, leaving football’s governing body is tatters.
Greek football scandal - 2015, Greece
Greek football was plunged into disarray following the exposure of yet more widespread match fixing, which resulted in charged of fraud, extortion, money laundering and illegal gambling for many of those arrested in connection with the crime.
The incident, referred to in Greece as ‘Koriopolis’, a play on the name of Italy’s Calciopoli scandal and the Greek word ‘Korios’, meaning to tap a phone. Following a UEFA investigation, it was found that up to 40 separate matches had been tampered with during the 2009/10 season, with 68 people among those involved in the corruption. The fix, which was exposed through wire-tapping practices used by the Greek authorities, saw two clubs docked points and a number of people banned from the sport.
Amid the chaos, Olympiacos FC president Evangelos Marinakis, who had been recently found not guilty for accusations made against him during the Koriopolis investigation, and Greek Football Federation members Theodoros Kouridis and Georgios Sarris are said to have formed a plan to make Sarris president of the Greek FA and take control of Greek football. Upon taking the throne, Sarris’ first course of action was to fire two prosecutors involved in the Koriopolis case and bring an end to the investigation.
Using fraudulent methods and intimidation, fronted by the power of the football association, Marinakis and co. set about shaping Greek football the way that they wanted it, unsurprisingly with Olympiacos and their affiliate clubs leading the way thanks to favourable refereeing decisions.
Little did they know, calls made via the prepaid mobile phones that the crime syndicate were using to communicate were being listened in on by the police, which resulted in the arrests and prosecution of the trio, as well as various other FA officials, referees, football executives and judges who were reportedly involved in covering up their criminal activities.