Brentford may end up paying a price in the millions for Ivan Toney’s losing bets
Brentford striker Ivan Toney has pleaded guilty to the 262 betting charges brought against him by the FA, and his club may pay a heavy cost for all this.
Oh Mister Toney, whatever did you do? In a sense, we already know the answer to this question. The Brentford striker has been charged with – and pleaded guilty to most of – 262 charges of betting on matches between 2017 and 2021, and the sanctions for players who are caught betting on matches can be severe. Joey Barton’s 1,260 bets over a period of ten years cost him an 18-month ban which was later reduced by five months on appeal.
The betting doesn’t even have to be on matches. Daniel Sturridge ended up with a four-month ban (increased from six weeks following an unsuccessful appeal) and had his contract with the Turkish club Trabzonspor terminated after being found guilty of breaching betting rules in 2019, after he instructed his brother Leon to bet on a possible move to Spanish side Sevilla. Two years later, Kieran Trippier was banned for ten weeks and fined £70,000 for telling friends to “lump on if you want” over him moving from Tottenham Hotspur to Atletico Madrid during the summer of 2019.
There are obvious reasons why this is taken so seriously by the game’s governing bodies. Few other things could be more damaging for the game’s long-term prospects than the the idea taking hold that the results of matches could be pre-determined. In 1915, seven players were banned by the FA after it was found that an end-of-season match between Manchester United and Liverpool had been thrown, with players betting on a relegation-threatened United side to beat Liverpool.
The First World War threw up two motivations. Not only was it considered certain that League football would be suspended, throwing these players out of work, but the players also reportedly persuaded themselves that the outbreak of war may reduce the likelihood of the match being investigated. It is believed that the motivation for it was solely financial, although the two points gained that day did also keep Manchester United in the First Division.
Fifty years later the matter of match-fixing raised its head again when systematic match-fixer Jimmy Gauld, who’d fixed matches across a career that lasted for several years across both Scotland and England, sold his story to a newspaper. In the resulting scandal ten players ended up in prison, including England internationals Peter Swan and Tony Kay, the latter of whom had won the league with Everton in 1963 and had been considered to have a chance of partnering Bobby Moore at the upcoming 1966 World Cup.
Of course, betting on matches isn’t the same as match-fixing, but it’s hardly surprising that football authorities have a zero tolerance policy towards the former. One of the fundamental bonds of trust that holds football together is that between supporters and the players, that the game itself is being played honestly, with both teams wanting to win. Take that away and you ultimately end up with a soiled product that no-one really wants to watch.
Many confident predictions of Toney’s punishment have already been made, but that’s a fool’s game because the devil will be very much in the detail of what bets have been placed. Betting on Brentford to lose in a match in which he was playing might well lead to a lifetime ban. Betting on matches played over which he could never be considered to hold any sway might be treated somewhat differently. But the bottom line remains the bottom line, and there is a zero-tolerance policy in place over players gambling.
But while there is also another aspect to all of this which does warrant attention, which is that the placing of 262 over the course of four years when he knew he shouldn’t have been doing so should raise questions regarding matters of addiction. None of this is to say that Ivan Toney is a gambling addict, still less that to be one reduces his agency in what he has done, but if Toney does turn out to have an addiction then he deserves help and support rather than vituperation and baseless accusations of having ‘cheated’. Were this to be the case, he certainly wouldn’t be the first to have succumbed to such issues.
And yes, there is a certain irony to the fact that Toney plays his club football for a club owned by a man who owns a betting company, in a shirt sponsored by a betting company, having been promoted two years ago as the top scorer in a division that is sponsored by another betting company. Football’s addiction to gambling is far deeper embedded than it is in most gamblers, but while bringing in new rules to outlaw gambling advertising at matches would be welcome, it does seem reasonable to ask who else would step in with this sort of money and why they haven’t already.
As ever with this sort of story, we’re left with this feeling of the waste of it all. Ivan Toney was getting so close to an England cap that he could taste it. Called up into the squad for the September international matches last year, there were plenty of calls for him to go to the 2022 World Cup. Considering that the charges against him were confirmed just weeks before the start of the tournament, it wouldn’t be that surprising if all of this was already in Gareth Southgate’s mind at the time of the decision to not take him.
Brentford may well end up paying a high price for their striker’s misdemeanours. In eighth place in the table and unbeaten in the league since October 23, Brentford have the scent of European football in their nostrils and with 15 goals in all competitions, Toney has been an integral part of Thomas Frank’s plans. He could be looking at a suspension that lasts for months, and no-one else has scored more than five for them this season. Should he end up suspended for the last few weeks of the season and Brentford slip up in the league, that price might be tens of millions of pounds.
It would be surprising to see the club offload him, no matter what the final state of play regarding these charges might be. Ivan Toney has been an inspirational player for Brentford over this last couple of years, to the point that it wasn’t so long ago that he was being linked with a possible move to Manchester United. He will still have a market value. His abilities as a footballer will not be going anywhere. Unless – and it bears repeating that there is no publicly available evidence to suggest that there is – this goes further than a fiver on Mansfield to beat Leyton Orient or whatever, his career will resume.
But there remains a lot that no-one yet knows about this case. Toney is to contest some of the charges, which complicates things, and we do not know the nature of the actual bets placed themselves. There remains a large question mark over how severe the punishment may be, and therefore where this all ultimately ends up.
But what we can say with confidence is that Ivan Toney has messed up, and that the only remaining question is to what extent. It could be mild, or it could be very severe indeed, especially in the current climate.
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