Early Doors

How to lose friends and alienate people

Early Doors

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Claus Lundekvam, Southampton

As the old saying goes, 'you find out who your mates are in football when you come out with outlandish claims concerning a betting scam'. For Claus Lundekvam, his friends count appears to have tallied out at around about zero after having done exactly that.

Moments before seeing his number of Facebook friends and links on Friends Reunited (does anyone still use that?) drop alarmingly, Lundekvam had revealed to Norwegian radio station NRK that spot-fixing was rife across Premier League dressing-rooms, including his own, during his time at Southampton.

In a series of interviews in his native Norway, the 39 year-old claimed that he put huge bets on minor incidents in games before then, having conspired with opposition players, ensuring they happened at the correct time - something that, if true, cannot have been too easy to co-ordinate with some of his less talented fellow footballers.

Lundekvam, who played for Southampton between 1996 and 2008 and went on to captain the team, said that fellow players and opposition captains regularly made money by betting on and influencing in-game events such as first throw-in or first corner. The alleged scale of the scam is quite staggering if his revelations are to be taken at face value.

The Norwegian claims he and fellow Premiership players raked in thousands of pounds betting on their own games and, for a while, did it "almost every week". Considering the prison sentences served by cricketers Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir, ranging from six months to 32 months, these are not allegations to simply brush under the carpet.

"It is not something I'm proud of," Lundekvam said. "For a while we did this almost every week. We made a fair bit of money. We could make deals with the opposing captain about, for example, betting on the first throw, the first corner, who started with the ball, a yellow card or a penalty. Those were the sorts of thing we had influence over.

"The results were never on the agenda. That is something I would never have done. We were professional competitors. Even though what we did, of course, was illegal, it was just a fun thing. I know it happened at other clubs as well. We footballers live in a bubble. It was part of the lifestyle and the excitement. Whatever we could bet on, we bet on."

Only last evening, he went further by pledging to talk to FIFA, providing further details of the matches - which, according to his previous statements, amount to many - and players involved in the whole allegedly sordid business. It seems set to escalate, and even Lundekvam has been taken aback by the potential seriousness of the ramifications.

Sounding not remotely paranoid, Lundekvam told The Sun: "I haven't made anything up. Why would I? I've got nothing to gain from making this up. It was never about the money. If we had wanted to, we would have put a lot more money on. Could we do it? That was the fun bit of it for us. This was a boys' thing. A dressing-room thing. Innocent fun involving small money."

The former defensive stalwart may not care much about returning to the club's 'Class of 1997 reunion', but the subsequent result of his allegations has been an avalanche of staunch rebuttals from his ex team-mates. He must have known it would play out like this.

The fact that Matt Le Tissier admitted in his autobiography (imaginatively titled 'Taking Le Tiss') that he attempted to exploit the growth of spread betting by trying to kick the ball straight out of play during a game against Wimbledon in 1995. The attempt failed, and it amounted to little more than Soccer Saturday-style anecdotal 'banter' when he recalled it in hindsight.

Le Tissier was quick (not something one would associate with the former Goal of the Month regular) to tweet his disdain in response to the new revelations: "Aside from that one incident in my book I've never been involved in any betting scams and have no idea of Claus Lundekvam's claims."

Like a twisted, cruel version of This is Your Life, former friends and team-mates came out in force to add their reflections and reactions: what ensued represented a barrage of outrage and condemnation.

Far from being a case of former players being cornered on the ninth tee of their favourite golf course, there appeared to be a queue of ex pros outside local radio stations attempting to swiftly expunge the aspersions cast by Lundekvam. Not only that, but his much-publicised personal problems were also thrown in as a reference point for good measure by those looking to clear their own names.

Francis Benali, who preceded Lundekvam as Saints skipper and sported one of the best mid-90s 'taches seen in the early days of the Premier League, told BBC Radio Solent: "I can say categorically I have no knowledge of the betting allegations made by Claus. Dressing rooms are very tight environments and if something was widespread, even if you weren't part of it, you would hear it being discussed and talked about."

Taking his riposte one step further, Benali added: "It is widely known Claus has had quite a few personal problems in recent times and I wonder if that is why he has come out with this story."

Former manager Dave Jones - who was at the helm between 1997 and 2000 - defensive partner Paul Williams and striker David Hirst were all among those flying out of the traps to deny any knowledge or recollection of such activity within the dressing room, slamming Lundekvam in the process.

There is certainly nothing light or amusing about the allegations, with FIFA having already begun gathering information on the matter. How much weight that carries is anyone's guess, but there would be nothing more damaging to fans' faith in the game, if nothing else, if spot-fixing was proved to have been rife.

If there is any truth in Lundekvam's revelations, the result would be hugely damaging to the game and to the relationship between players and supporters, particularly if it is found to be an issue that was - or even still is - widespread within football. Fans are prepared to put up with an awful lot when watching their team perform, but discovering that the focus of some of their players was on securing a throw in down the right after exactly a minute of play would be particularly hard to stomach.

Lundekvam could prove to be the whistle-blower who is praised for his courage and bravery in coming forward with claims which shed a dark light over the game at the highest level; equally, he may just have lost a lot of friends and respect over some attention-grabbing statements.

Either way, the claims are undoubtedly concerning. The trust and good faith of the paying supporters and wider public is much more important than anyone in the game quite realises.


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COMING UP: A verdict is expected at 2pm today in John Terry's trial for allegedly using a racist obscenity about Anton Ferdinand and we will have the news as soon as it breaks. The Ibrahimovic and Silva moves to PSG could be finalised, and Jim White will also file his Friday copy.

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