More Than A Black Mark

With five minutes to go, your team are drawing one each. A point is enough for to secure promotion, a win and your champions, your midfielder, who has been doing his best Steven Gerrard impression all season has already scored 20 goals and is clean through on goal with just the keeper to beat. It’s the last minute. He surely can’t miss, you slowly rise out your seat with your scarf clasped tightly in both hands, ready to jump in the air with a moment of pure ecstasy that only football can bring. He rounds the keeper, the angle is a bit tight but you already feel the scream of joy rise up through your throat, he pulls back his left boot and manages to balloon it 12 rows over the bar.

Sorry Chris, but this was a shocker!
Sorry Chris, but this was a shocker!

You sit down, disappointed that your team couldn’t quite win the first trophy for what feels like years, but still elated with a season that ended in promotion, when relegation seemed the only way out.

A few hours later, a man, who should be disappointed that he missed out on his ultimate moment of glory, is celebrating, not with the fans, or even his fellow teammates, but in a room alone in his home, sitting staring at a pile of cash won as a result of that missed shot in the final seconds of the game, because that star midfielder, the one that tens, hundreds, even thousands of fans has put their trust in has just thrown the game to win a bet where he didn’t want his own team to win.

Thankfully the story above is pure fabrication, a meandering piece of fiction that started in my head and ended up on the page before you. As you continue to read, I want to reassure fans of ICT, Hearts and Rangers that I am not dubbing Ian Black as a midfielder of great prowess, and as such the story above can bear absolutely no resemblance to him as a player.

Neither am I saying that this was the case in any of the 3 games in which he bet on his team not-to-win, an offence he has been deemed guilty of by the SFA. No, this is am example of the dark path that professional football, and our national sport, could go down, if serious action is not taken against those who feel the need to further compromise the ‘integrity’ of the game.

Would you now pass to this man with a minute to go?
Would you now pass to this man with a minute to go?

Ian Black was found guilty of three charges resulting in an immediate 3 match ban with a further 7 games suspended until the end of the season along with a fine of £7500 with the football matches in which he was not involved resulting in censure.

The charge sheet read as follows:

Guilty of betting on 3 football matches on a then-registered club not to win.

Guilty of betting on 10 football matches that involved a then-registered club.

Guilty of betting on a further 147 football matches.

So let’s go through each charge as above, building up the severity as we go, bearing in mind that all of the above are deemed as chargeable offences by the SFA.

betslip2

Charge 1: Betting on 147 Football Matches

It is ludicrous for some people to think that young men with varying degrees of disposable income do not enjoy a flutter just as much as the rest of us. Personally I have no problem with a player betting on a game of football that has no direct bearing on their current teams circumstances, or which they cannot be seen to have any influence over. There will be arguments made that why do players have to bet on football, why not bet on horse racing, boxing or snooker? Well from what my many, many years of sports consumption has proven is that in comparison to football, although each are not without their merits, the aforementioned sports are not quite as good, this is of course without reflecting on the various betting ‘scandals’ that have effected them.

What would concern me, and should not be neglected, is the friendships and associations built up between players across their careers, could a well placed word in another player’s ear alter the outcome of a match where their would be no apparent connection. Surely if that accusation is to be made then it too should be applicable to a player’s barber, aunt or landscape gardener? Perhaps the sensible thing to do is not to outlaw a practice that is almost impossible to monitor successfully but to instead create a set of guidelines for games that which a player can get their football betting fix, removing any doubt or suspicions about match outcomes where an association can be made. Logistically, is that possible? I’m just not sure.

Charge 2: Betting on 10 football matches that involved a then-registered club

On the face of it this seems pretty straightforward, especially if you take into consideration that the final charge we will look at is in relation betting on a then-registered club not to win. By the process of elimination, that would suggest that a player who is found guilty of these charges, is guilty of betting on his team to win, and as a fan if that’s the case you’d hope he puts everything he owns on a victory, in theory resulting in the optimum effort being input for the cause of your club.

However the intricacies untold in this situation could suggest that any bets made in relation to this charge may also contain wagers on correct score or number of bookings to name but two examples. In that respect any bet made can only lead to a compromise in performance by the player no matter what protestations the accused may make about always giving the magical 100%. Taking these points into consideration common sense should dictate to any individual involved in a game not to bet on it, irrespective of whether or not that you fancy your team to knock six past your opponents that weekend.

Charge 3: Betting on 3 football matches on a then-registered club not to win.

Let me start by saying this, as a professional, in any field, at what point should it be considered a good idea to bet against yourself? Whether it’s before an interview, during a big presentation or on a football pitch. Especially on a football pitch, the ultimate results business. To bet against the team that pay your wages, the fans that chant your name and the children who buy your shirts smacks of the highest level of disregard for all those parties. I know that was all a tad vitriolic but as a football fan to know that a player I pay to watch is willing to bet against a win, in ANY circumstance, whether its Barcelona or Brechin City is totally unacceptable.

Is good early season form going to be enough once the ban is over
Is good early season form going to be enough once the suspension is over? Is the trust gone?

And the above is just from the fans perspective, what about the coaches and players they spend their daily lives with. Earlier I mentioned the ‘magical 100%’ that every player should strive to give. How can those words be taken seriously by the teammates and management of Ian Black. When Ally McCoist looks at the options available to him when Black’s suspension is over will he be able to pick the player on his individual merits, throwing aside the shackles of doubt that surely must lurk wthin, no matter how many snappy supportive sound bites that may or may not come in out in the forthcoming weeks.

What about next time a teammate strides forward with minutes to play and Black is the only option, will the adrenalin rush of the game out think the fog of doubt that surely must surround him? Or am I being naïve and the camaraderie of fools that is professional football let this ghost by without a second thought? It shouldn’t but I feel the paltry nature of the sentence to be served does almost nothing to discourage the practice.

The Final Verdict

As previously stated the SFA punished Ian Black after he was found guilty of all three charges  resulting in an immediate 3 match ban with a further 7 games suspended until the end of the season along with a fine of £7500, with the football matches in which he was not involved resulting merely in a censure.

All decisions should be made on a stand alone basis, and to compare the ban given to Ian Black to that given to other players by other federations is to do so without taking into consideration the specific circumstances of each case. With that being said once again yet another indication has been given that when it comes to the big decision the SFA would fail to exert enough authority to announce its nap time at a nursery whilst armed with a box full of cookies and a Peppa Pig DVD.

Ian Black has been found guilty of betting against his own team. To ban him for only 3 games, knowing that barring a gross act of stupidity on his behalf, that the further 7 games will never be missed is a slap in the face to anyone who has worn the scarf of the clubs he has played for, the managers who put their trust in him and the players he played both with and against.  As he has been found guilty, of something that I believe to be just a few short steps shy of match-fixing, the punishment should have been given out as such, instead the SFA failed to take the opportunity to send a clear and concise message that behaviour of this nature will not be tolerated and should never be seen again.

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