Just before Christmas, an unusual story appeared in the press, but it was one that many of us have been waiting on for quite some time.
We didn’t know details in advance.
We were unaware of the specifics of the allegations until they were public.
They were not buried in the distant past but in the present day.
Still, we had been waiting on it for a while, or at least something very like it.
The story appeared in the Daily Mail, and it alleged that a number of bookmakers had contacted the SFA over “irregular betting patterns” in a Dundee-Hearts match in which Willie Collum – who the SFA confirmed today as the referee for Monday night’s game against Hibs at Celtic Park – booked four Dundee players after a flurry of betting on that outcome.
There are three interesting things about this story.
The first of them is simple; this was not a single bookmaker, and nor was one individual involved in the betting.
That wouldn’t have tripped the alarm.
This had to have been multiple people, betting with multiple companies, and putting unusual amounts of money down.
The pattern would have been obvious, because these organisations do exchange information.
The second thing is; the bookmakers hadn’t at that time ruled out a report to the police.
You’d expect that they are waiting to see the outcome of the SFA investigation before they take that action, but that action cannot be entirely ruled out.
The third thing is this; the SFA, in handing Collum the Celtic game, have effectively given him a huge vote of confidence.
That will not have gone un-noticed.
Now, there is no suggestion that it’s Collum who’s the subject of this “inquiry” or that he’s under active investigation; it may be that the Dundee players who were booked, or maybe just a couple of them, are where the concerns here lie.
One of them was Leigh Griffiths.
Ponder that for a moment, but don’t get carried away.
To get the players onboard, you need to corrupt multiple people. It’s much easier to buy – or coerce – a ref.
Which isn’t to say that’s what happened here; but this is ABC stuff.
For years, this site and others have raised the horrific possibility that betting syndicates might corrupt our national sport.
It has been painfully obvious for a long, long time.
The doors are wide open to this sort of venal behaviour.
The inability of managers to question refereeing decisions is practically an invite to it. The media’s insistence that we have a clean game and their total unwillingness to even look to make sure that we do, is horrendous.
Has that moment we dreaded – and which the media always denied – finally come?
This is no longer bloggers indulging in a bit of speculation and asking “what if?”
The bookies think this is suspect.
They would not have raised it without good reason.
That they have even let it be known, publicly, that this might be elevated to a police matter is telling, and alarming.
A group of people placed enough money on this, over enough different outlets, that it triggered an investigation; that only happens in a very small number of circumstances.
The way the bookies see, it, whoever those people were, it didn’t seem that they were taking a punt … they were betting on a sure thing, and if that’s true then it’s an either an incredible bit of foresight or somebody was up to no good.
This report was published on 24 December, and some of the press picked it up and did their own articles, although the number was pretty small. Surely somebody at one of the national titles is chasing this down, to do a follow up?
It’s the least the Scottish football public deserves, isn’t it?
Now, let’s give the SFA the benefit of the doubt.
Let’s say that they were open for business all the way through the Christmas and New Year periods and this matter was being vigorously pursued and not just stuck at the bottom of somebody’s in-tray.
We’re less than three weeks from the date of that report.
Is that investigation complete?
The site which covers the industry – Gambling News – did a piece on 27 December, calling it “Possible Game Rigging” in their headline, in which they confirmed that this was in the hands of the Security And Integrity Unit at the SFA.
The step after that, if something is proved or deemed likely, is to pass it on to the Compliance Officer.
There is nothing on their site to suggest that this issue has been resolved, and if that’s the case then think for a minute about what it means.
It means that Collum rolls into town, to take our next game, “under suspicion.”
That’s the right term, I think.
Not “under investigation” which would necessitate suspending him, would it not?
I mean, at least you would hope so. You would think so.
Under suspicion. That’s the right term.
So Celtic is in a strange position here.
We can’t object to him on these grounds, because that would be labelling a man before the matter has been fully looked into.
But the SFA has to know that every decision he makes will now be subjected to the most forensic scrutiny there is, and not even that of the football going public … but that of the gambling industry.
Does that make it better for us or worse?
Better, in some ways, to be sure … but it leaves a very bad taste in the mouth just the same.
It leaves us all concerned.
It leaves a lot of questions unanswered and I think a lot of our fans – and probably some people at the club – would feel better if Collum was nowhere near our games again this season.
I wonder if other clubs would not agree.