Wednesday, 2 July 2014

In defence of Football - The scummiest game on earth...Poker!

In defence of Football - The scummiest game on earth...Poker!

All this talk of match-fixing in football and how the game is in disrepute has prompted me to write a defence…or at least point the finger at other sports. There is no question match-fixing exists in football as it exists in many other sports. But is it the sport most corrupted? This blog has detailed match-fixing in other sports such as horse racing but I’ve never covered Poker apart from a small section in Off The Chest (where the hero gets cheated).

Some will argue that Poker is not a sport. Well, it has prize money, it is competitive, there are professionals, it is televised, the playing field is not equal with some possessing skills over another and it has spectators. That sounds like a sport to me.

I could write a book on scams, skulduggery, organised and unorganised crime, drugs and violence in poker but this blog with suffice for now. Also, its main audience don’t want to hear it. But this is a defence of football. I am about to show the level INDIVIDUALS will sink to to profit.

The first ‘cheat’ in the modern day era (old school scams are simply stories of legend with no proof whatsoever) goes by the online name ‘Zee Justin’ aka Justin Bonomo. Essentially what he did went against the rules of the game but was not ‘illegal’ just as match-fixing isn’t in some countries. He worked out a scam that if he registered multiple entries in an online tournament he could ‘dump’ stacks and therefore have the best chance of reaching the top end of the prize ladder. At the time he defended himself with some rather suspect reasoning but I believe has later apologised. Now he is a respectable member of the community and is a large winner on the live scene where you can’t cheat….or so you’d think

Men ‘The Master’ Nguyen’s name is mud in the live poker world. In fact, it’s worse than that. It is believed he is one of the worst scammers in the history of live poker. The most frequent accusation is him using other Vietnamese players (whom he stakes) to dump their stacks to each other or him, to gain an edge. Then there is the story of him starting a fire as a distraction. This then allowed an opportunity to steal stacks of chips to add to other stacks in more high buy in events. There is no hard evidence for this other than extremely well respected people saying they ‘saw it’ or know something about that proves it. Daniel Negreanu for instance.

Erick Lindgren is also known as scum. In fact, people now tell him to his face. His crime? Welching. There is proof of the fact that Erick Lindgren, at one time respected as an excellent professional and Full Tilt Poker representative, scammed many bettors of online high stakes fantasy league competitions, tournament staking deals, loans and more. His excuse? Gambling. Incredibly, he sits at poker tables now with the very money that he owes people and even against those he owes! There are numerous testimonies and even admissions by Lindgren himself of his practices.

One of the classic scams that people do is selling over 100% of themselves in a tournament. A poker player is playing the World Series of Poker for $10,000. He/she sells 200% equity to different colleagues, friends, associates and even to unknowns online. He/she then loses on purpose, pocketing half of the total stake collected. I heard the story of someone doing this, winning the tournament and then running! Amazing if true.

Highstakes poker player Jens Kyllönen had his hotel room broken into and his laptop tampered with for scamming purposes. Only a poker player would know what to do with the information garnered. There are also rumours of cameras being placed in poker players’ hotels/houses so someone can see their cards. This has happened to many, many others. Even if organised criminals use poker players to commit fraud, how is that different from match-fixers using footballers?

Let’s take it to the companies. Many are aware of Ultimate Bet and Absolute Poker cheating or covering it up (depending on what you like to call it). Then there is the story of Full Tilt Poker essentially engaging in major fraud (illegal payments from restricted countries). Many poker websites have or currently are engaging in intricate Ponzi schemes (some good hearted, i.e. they intend to pay back when liquid, and some not so). A poker website holds a pool of money and, like a bank, upon mass withdrawals, should be able to pay their players. But if the site has been stealing money, they cannot do this. Lock Poker cannot pay their players. They have an excuse of course but it’s been going for far too long for anyone to believe them. Some sites don’t even communicate – they just run away, pockets full of cash.

There is a strong rumour of something quite incredible happening in China. I’m hearing that there are warehouses of poker players (online poker is illegal in China), registering with fake bank accounts from Europe and playing together – colluding. Players think they are playing against a Swede, a Brit or an Aussie but really it’s 5 players sharing cards and crushing you. It’s almost impossible to beat 5 players due to card removal and the ‘sandwich’ effect when you have a semi-weak hand.

Serial scammers have ‘cheated’ more times than games have been fixed in football (though of course there have been more poker 'games'/players). And they will continue to do it. There is no regulatory body in charge and no prison time has been given to those involved in specific poker (player) fraud (someone please correct me).

Heard enough? I’ll reel off a list.

Man in Casino keeps cards up his sleeves to use for later occasions; ‘ghosting’ and invention of new screen names to defraud opponents; sharing of accounts to win rake races; looking at people’s cards (come on it’s against the rules!); money-laundering; cheating with proposition bets; lying about tournament entries and pocketing the cash; robbing players on the way home from poker rooms knowing they’ve won; robbery of cardrooms where there is an inside man and much more.

My point is that people are people. If there’s an edge to be had, people will take it (some legally so). But many go further. Where’s there’s money, there’s crime and the stakes in poker are massive. But the stakes in football are even bigger. I’d say football is doing well not to be wholly corrupt! But to be fair, millions is spent on education, monitoring systems, police and of course the wages are higher. A would-be scammer in poker has no need to scam if he’s winning large amounts. I don’t want to give poker a horrendous reputation. There are many honest players playing the game. But if you think for one second there isn’t major corruption in poker, you’re very naïve. Match-fixers have resorted to bribery, coercion and violence to achieve their goals. It’s what you don’t know that’s happened in the poker world that should scare you. No one’s had any reason to check.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Review of The Big Fix by Brett Forrest

So a few weeks back, I blogged a review of Wilson Raj Perumal's 'Kelong Kings'. So it is only right I write about a book that came out just weeks later.

Firstly, let's get this out the way. The Big Fix is the best written book ever released on match-fixing and I've read them all. I even wrote one! Almost every book written previously has usually had a 'catalogue' feel to it - packing the narrative with event after event, story after story; or, in my case, I went for the fully fictionalised story though it mirrored real life. The Big Fix differs in that it follows a character (Chris Eaton) and Brett Forrest's own meetings who navigate through the world of match-fixing. We see it from the outside (looking back through recent history) and then even through the eyes of match-fixer Wilson Raj Perumal. Sometimes, we are simply taken to a restaurant or an office rather than moving from fixed game to fixed game or criminal to criminal. 

I especially like how the evidence is laid bare for the reader to judge the characters. Revealing letters are published without bias. On the one hand, you have Wilson portraying himself as a Robin Hood type character but some of his actions suggest a different side. On the other, Eaton is chasing Wilson for the good of football and sport in general. The book feels like the Movie 'Heat' - Pacino vs. De Niro. And just as one makes this connection, Wilson speaks about the comparison himself. He references the scene in the cafe where the hunter and the prey meet face to face. Thrilling stuff. 

Did we learn anything new from this book? Well, firstly, this is the most up-to-date now-public behind the scenes information on match-fixing and the interpersonal relationships between the major players. Secondly, it references Wilson's future hopes and dreams. And lastly, it gives a 360 degree view of fixing (Perumal), investigation (Eaton and Sportradar) and Federations. 

I've always said there should be a movie on match-fixing. Something like Green Street meets American Gangster. This book (besides Off The Chest :) ) seems to lend itself best to the big screen. It's inevitable. I just hope, like The Sopranos, they use insiders to portray the world of match-fixing correctly.

Get your copy here.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Big-Fix-Match-Fixers-Bringing/dp/0062308076





Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Review of Kelong King

So Wilson Raj Perumal’s memoirs are out. I had to read it as soon as the ebook landed in my inbox. I can’t and won’t comment on the factual content of the book – more on the tone. Wilson portrays himself as a friendly match-fixer but one with a nasty streak. This is exactly the kind of person I tried to give an image of with ‘Cedric’ the match-fixer in Off The Chest (Perumal in mind). This image is hard to buy though. Reading Wilson’s narration of the ‘Hockey Stick’ incident, you’d be forgiven for thinking he was the victim. In fact he plays the victim throughout the book – sometimes justified, sometimes not.

I want to write about the topic which was the basis for Off The Chest. Wilson Raj Perumal is a gambler of the sickest variety. Though the world was his oyster, fixing matches across the globe, he is quite possibly net-down from gambling. How is this possible? In the book he admits to placing extortionate amounts on games it was impossible to fix. Why would anyone bet on games they cannot fix when they can live comfortably forever off the back of matches they can fix? The key is in the adrenalin buzz. At first fixing games is a thrill. Then comes the ego boost of knowing you control a player, a referee, a team or even a country. But when the dust settles and the winnings are collected, the thrill begins to subside. If you know the result already, where is the danger? Wilson began fixing matches for profit. But even if you believe his ‘Robin Hood’ mentality of helping poverty stricken players, in the end, everything was to feed his gambling. He’d get to work but then blow all the profits. Rinse and repeat. As he admits himself, a more intelligent man would have spotted the sharks circling. But a less greedy man would surely have retired years before.

Is this the end of Wilson Raj Perumal? I didn’t read anything that suggested he was remorseful. It is quite incredible how many matches he and his superiors, partners and underlings were able to fix. Over a million fans have watched games in the stadium corrupted by his antics. Tens of millions at home – and for a while, the majority of them never knew what was happening.

This book is reasonably well written and there a considerable number of amusing and interesting stories. My favourite is regarding the coin toss of Nigeria vs Argentina. Knowing they couldn’t bribe Juan Roman Riquelme to allow Nigeria to kick-off, one of players told him that the Nigerians desperately wanted to kick-off due it being a good omen. That way both angles were covered. Argentina won the toss but Nigeria were allowed to kick-off – Riquelme was duped!
The saying honour amongst thieves doesn’t seem to apply in the match-fixing world. There are rip-offs, thefts, framings, ratting, double crosses, violence and even murder. One thing’s for certain – life is never dull.

I recommend people buy this book. I read it in nine hours non-stop.  

It’s about time someone made a football film with match-fixing as the underlying theme. Maybe Wilson can be match-fixer turned consultant or even an actor.  

I would say ‘All hail the Kelong King’. But Perumal gives that title to another. Maybe he’s a modest man after all.



Wednesday, 23 April 2014

The prize/wage to liquidity ratio

I must preface this blog by saying I am not accusing any individual or sport of engaging in match-fixing, On occasion I have referenced very well documented stories.

There are many factors involved in match-fixing not least including personal attributes such as greed which cannot be estimated on a general basis. On any given fixture, the individual or team approached to fix or who have decided to a fix a sporting contest might be rich, poor, risk averse, risk-seeking, in a financial hole or being coerced. But whatever these factors, one thing is for certain and all experts agree on this – as the prize/wage to liquidity ratio grows inversely, the opportunity and the likelihood of match-fixing increases. It is an obvious statement but a footballer earning £300,000 a week might (in this example) in fact be open to match-fixing. But how much would he need to earn? A year’s salary? That would be £15.6 million though there are tax and agent fee considerations. Could someone earning such a wage a) place a minimum of £16 million on a particular market without detection and b) guarantee the fix on his own? The answer is no to both. Most agree a minimum of three players are needed. If they are players of the same earning level, £48 million need now be placed (at odds of 2.0 or higher). It is clear to see this situation is unrealistic and not conducive to match-fixing. So lesser paid people fix more – nothing new here. Maybe. But having a look at certain wages/prize money alongside liquidity, might shed some light on which sports are susceptible to match-fixing.
For the purpose of succinctness, I will focus on three sports: Horse Racing, Darts and Cricket.

Horse Racing


Before we start, match-fixing has always been rife in horse racing. Whether it be tales of incredible scams such as ‘Francasal’ (where one poor horse was switched with a speedy lookalike to win bets) or numerous recent reports of race fixing in England, we know fixing in racing is embedded in the history, culture and structure of the sport. Indeed, the very purpose of a jockey, trainer or owner is to win races. And yet, he/she or at least those around him/her is relatively free to bet on the horse to win. On the surface this seems fine – betting on your own horse to win cannot lead to fixing. But of course it does – a trainer or a jockey might intentionally fix previous races (even if no bets were placed) to achieve a better weight or better odds for when the money is truly down. This situation increases the temptation to fix races by ‘laying’ your horse to lose on the betting exchanges. Anyway, let’s examine the betting landscape and the earning potential of legitimate folk.


                 This blog is in no way speculating on whether this race was fixed


As I write this, the 14:25 at Ludlow, in Shropshire, England, has just finished. Prior to the race start, a total of £364,024 was matched on Betfair’s exchanges. And yet, the winner only receives £5,198. Worse still, the jockey will only typically receive 10% of that. By the time the winner crossed the line, some £537,862 was traded. And this was only on Betfair and on the win market. We have Betdaq, myriad of bookmakers where one can place ‘matchbets’, exchanges overseas, in addition to the spread betting markets. When we consider that the odds before the race ranged from 5.7 to 19 (average price 12.45) and we imagine that the liquidity is a) halved (due to half being matched by the bettor and the layer) and b) split evenly (not likely but for this example), we can make the following deduction: It is essentially possible for each jockey to lay their horse to lose (on average and as a rough example) up to £2,400 – approximately five times the prize money for the only winning jockey!

But race-fixing opportunities are, in reality, far more lucrative. On an above average quality race, millions of pounds are traded with the prize money still paling in comparison to the potential gains. There are wages to consider and career risk. But overall, the scales are in favour of fixing.


Darts

Whilst horse racing can only generally be fixed on the betting exchanges, two-man sports such as Darts can be fixed anywhere offering a market. This is because instead of ‘laying’ an individual (laying and darts players is not an image I’m comfortable with), one can simply bet the other player.

Thursday is an ordinary Premier League Darts night. ‘Duh duh duh duh, dunna nunna nuh nuh!!’ Five matches are scheduled on the betting exchanges which will each surpass £1,000,000 traded pre-match and live. In addition, you have likely over 50 bookmakers receiving bets on each match, pre-match and live, online, by phone and in some retail outlets. If we assign a max market turnover (just on who will win the match) at £5000 per bookmaker, we see an average turnover (using our betting exchanges halving) of £750,000. The prize money for the winner? £150,000 - in one of the best competitions of the Darting circuit. A player could make more than that by chucking one match of his 14 in the group stages. He could even still win the tournament!
I came across this and even without this blog, it’s worth sharing; but it illustrates what we’re dealing with here.

                                            


Naturally, the top 20 are earning good money. Although when factoring in taxes, agent fees and travelling costs, they still creep into the arena where the wages/prize money to liquidity ratio patrols, and tempts. Almost laughable, the bottom earners have received less than two cups of overpriced coffee in Starbucks. Imagine if one of these players received an invitation to play in a match whereby hundreds of thousands could be bet on any of his matches. Of course he could be a moral individual, as many are, and refuse the temptation/offer from a opportunistic match-fixer. But the threat is there. In fact, this is what happens in major sports such as soccer. Teams not normally offered for betting due to their low profile, find themselves in a competition whereby betting is available. On occasion, match-fixing ensues.

Cricket

The chances of finding out the true liquidity of the cricket market are about the same as Tupac playing for Bangladesh in the 2015 Cricket World Cup. Many have tried and failed to estimate the true market size. There are stories of £100,000 bets being placed in a suitcase in an Indian restaurant, or over 4 Lakh Crore traded on the 2013 Indian Premier League. One Lakh Crore is 1 Trillion Rupees or £10 billion pounds. Sometimes I think people make these numbers up (maybe because they like saying Lakh or Crore). Other times, I think the numbers could be right. There are 1.27 billion people in India, 159 million in Bangladesh and 21.6 million in Sri Lanka. That works out as £6.90 per bet per person across the whole tournament. Seems reasonable. Or maybe it doesn’t. No one knows.



                                         

  One Lakh or is it a Crore. Or maybe a hemi-demi-semi Lakh Crore?

The point is that betting in cricket far exceeds wages, prize money or even advertising. And this is why bookmakers are synonymous with cricket. There have also been scandals involving extremely high level players (the opposite to football whereby the largest games can only be targeted through the floodlights such as ’96 or through referees) as cricket has the most worrying ratio. Even in darts, where the players earn pittance, the potential money from match-fixing is not life-changing. The risk might outweigh the reward as prison awaits and or another job is possible after Darts. But in cricket, the figures are so ludicrous, any player approached is no longer a professional. He is the man on the street being asked if he would possibly snort a line of cocaine for £1 million.

Match-fixing has happened before in regulated markets, illegal markets, big and small. But when the stakes are enormous when compared to the potential prizes and/or wages on offer, the risk is greater.


In other news, I am beginning my second book. Stay tuned and spread the word. 

Sunday, 9 March 2014

                                             Can Sport Survive Without Betting?

The answer is yes. But many would crumble. People would also find something else to bet on. In Cambodia, there is a million dollar gambling market on the rain.

The phrase ‘two flies crawling up a wall’ springs to mind when we consider ‘sports’ around the world which are bet on such as Yak Polo, Goat Racing (don’t pick the goat who likes grass!) and Nathan’s Annual Hot Dog Eating Contest. The gamblers would switch to dice and the like with the most ardent sporting fans still cheering their favourite player/team.

There are some sports that are linked so strongly with betting that if gambling was banned (effectively), the sport would or could die. Horse Racing is top of the list. An estimated 15% of all races in the UK, Australia and Hong Kong are sponsored by gambling institutions of some description. Here in Hong Kong, betting is just a part of the sport (and the culture!). I can only imagine a very small percent of visitors to the Happy Valley and Sha Tin racecourses are there for the atmosphere – even the casual racegoers always put a bet on. Without gambling, horse racing as we know it would perish, to the gain of football. Even the horse fans would create a market for rodeo and show-jumping! Prize money would dip significantly, particularly in England, column inches afforded to racing would thin and television ratings would plummet. In reality though, the underground would thrive. You cannot prevent people from gambling especially with the lack of repercussions for the punter although the bookmaker does face risk of prison. UK racing is effectively dead anyway as my Aussie friend likes to tease me about. The prize money is so low compared to the amount bet that match-fixing appeals to many, the majority of the courses are frankly a disgrace and there is the thought that the odds at bookmakers are crushing the average punter. It is often argued that the bookmakers should contribute more to the sport but they move their operations avoiding tax and still reap the benefits from their excellent branding. If horse racing dies in the UK (a snowball effect propelled by the possible lack of liquidity on Betfair), they won’t cry – but a few more virtual horse racing machines will pop up!

Greyhound racing only deserves three lines. Without betting, Greyhound racing would die instantaneously. The average prize money is approximately £60 and potentially 100% of the audience is somehow invested in the result of the races.

Possibility of crumbling 99%

From the green turf to the green baize. Snooker and betting go together like Derek Thompson and a bad tip. Dafabet, William Hill, Betfair, Betfred and Ladbrokes are just some of the bookmakers who sponsor snooker players or events. Snooker sponsorship would definitely decline if betting was banned. However, in contrast to horse racing, the audience would remain the same for events such as the World Championship, though the Haikou World Open might suffer. Darts is in exactly the same boat. When you think of Darts, Ladbrokes springs to mind. They sponsor the PDC World Darts Championship and that brings a massive amount of interest and revenue along with Sky Sports (the two are linked for Darts). Without Ladbrokes, prize money would suffer, the standard of darts would decrease and would return to its roots in the local pub.

Possibility of crumbling 40%

Many in India would tell you that cricket is a way of life not a sport, Sachin Tendulkar is a god and the winner of the Cricket World Cup is more important than the election. In England and Australia cricket is tremendously popular with the Ashes standing the true test of time. But in India, betting (of which the majority is cricket) is reportedly worth £12.3 billion per year. Surely the interest in cricket would decrease if betting became impossible, though not to the extent of extinction. It is technically illegal at the moment hence why the underground is flourishing. In England, bookmakers offer many of the competitions on a regular basis but UK fans are slightly more purist.

Possibility of crumbling 15%

Football is the one up for debate but in my opinion football will always survive. Having said that, football and gambling are again heavily linked. Betting companies either sponsor shirts or are official sponsors. In addition, Sky Sports and Radio 5 Live are continuously mentioning bookmakers’ odds who pay to have their odds quoted. But would football really die without betting? I hardly think so. Fans are loyal enough to their club shown by the following example. Have you ever seen a gambler tattooed with his biggest win on their body? I haven’t. But there are hundreds of thousands of fans who have clubs or a particular victory tattooed! If football betting or betting in general was banned, football as a sport would survive. Player wages would remain high as Sky Sports and shirt sponsors have more of an effect than any betting corporation. Betting companies do a really good job of appearing to be essential to the growth of football. In reality, they play a minor part.

Possibility of crumbling 5%

I’m not stating anything revolutionary. If you pick a sport which has betting at its core, and take it away, naturally the sport would suffer, sometimes fatally. If poker was only played for fun, no one would play. But it’s interesting how much of sport is linked to betting. People gamble on stocks every day but a huge percentage of people watch the news because they are genuinely interested or can do so without a bet. Imagine watching news about an earthquake in the Philippines and saying ‘I can’t believe this! My pharmaceutical company I have shares in has an office there. My stock might go down!’ Regarding match-fixing, it is the betting on the sport which allows match-fixing to take place. But without betting, and the sponsorship from it driving players’ earnings up, the possibility for match-fixing for prize money becomes attractive.


In any event, this argument is irrelevant. Gambling will never be banned worldwide. The only place I know of in the world where it is almost impossible to gamble is Afghanistan. And even as I write this, I am reading an article about Afghan Sheep fighting which is a popular betting option in Kabul. Gambling is here to stay and sport will be richer, and arguably dirtier, because of it. 

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Operation Yellow

Hi all,

Been a while. Since the recent news regarding Sam Sodje and Delroy Facey, I thought it would be a good time to release some free content to those who haven't read Off The Chest. I wrote the book to educate the non-gambler and a tell a story that no one believed could take place in England. Well, it's happening. Although 'Operation Yellow' revolves around being booked to profit from the Spread Markets, it is still 'Cedric' pulling the strings of our hero. Cedric is a Caribbean match-fixer but of course he has similar traits to a certain person.

When the inevitable match-fixing film comes about, I hope to see some of my content in the script. This particular chapter marks his early descent into the real match-fixing. 


OPERATION YELLOW


Towards the end of the 2002/2003 season and with my relationship with Ella blossoming, a man came into my life. A strictly heterosexual relationship, though this particular gentleman would certainly have been the ‘giver’ if we were both so inclined.

He hung around the executive boxes on match days. If you weren’t in the squad the management expected players to make themselves known to those who had paid well over the odds for few sandwiches and drinks and were able to watch the match from behind a glass. In fact, most of these punters watched the game on the telly, often with their backs to the actual action. They might as well have been at home! Not being a regular in the squad when I first joined the club, I’d seen him several times. He was always smartly dressed – properly suited and booted – and often had a woman in tow. He seemed to change women about as often as he changed shirts. Another thing I noticed about him was that, unlike most of the other box-dwellers, he wasn’t overawed at the prospect of meeting a footballer. Quite the opposite. It was if I should be in awe of him. Actually, I was. He gave off an aura of power and menace, a potent mixture. But I reckoned, right from the off, that he was good for a few grand – and I wasn’t wrong. If anything he was a little too anxious to be my benefactor and I wondered why. I was soon to find out.

He was a 6ft 2in Jamaican with the arms of a python and was immaculately dressed in a suit so sharp it could have cut the matchday programme I was carrying. He approached me after a game in one of the hospitality suites after a game. We’d done the biz 2:0 and the man seemed so pleased, you’d think he had shares in the club. Who knows maybe he did.

‘Dat was some dutty skills you had der in the match my bredda.’

Was he talking to me? Well he was looking at me.

‘Thanks. Appreciate that.’

‘Na na, me na jesta. Yu got dem skills. Ma name is Cedric. Blessed to meet yu.’

‘Thanks. Do you support us?’

‘Mos def but Imma business man wit some interests ere.’

‘Oh yeah?

‘Truss mi.’

Cedric grinned and sauntered off. I left the room as he tucked into a giant chocolate eclair.

The next day, I met up with Simmo and asked him about Cedric.

‘Yeah there’s something a little dodgy about him.’

‘I thought so.’ I was also intrigued.

‘From what I’ve heard he lends out money if you’re struggling. Sometimes footballers don’t want the banks knowing their business. Never had a need for him myself but rumour has it Silas borrowed a hundred large back in the day. Paid it off now though. Maybe he wanted 24-carat butt plugs.’

We both laughed at that one.

‘Thought as much. Good to know Simmo.’

‘No probs. I’d stay away.’

We spent the day together and even squeezed in a short poker session. Slummed it with the penny-pushers; talked football with the fans. We both lost a little but the amounts were wholly inconsequential to both our (very different) situations.

Despite Simmo’s warning, Cedric and I were destined to meet – aligned in the stars... In fact, screw the constellations, I was broke and he had money. After a few conversations off and on for a month, we went for dinner at the Dorchester where Cedric told me he was staying. We both knew what this was about but we’d an age to cut the chase. No more.

We both ordered the ‘Medieval’ French Onion soup with a side of breadstick shaped like a bayonet. Chomping away, Cedric decimated the ice and the wonderfully sized crouton in his mouth.

‘Yu got dem eyes for the bling, the suits, and di cars. Nuh true?

‘Yeah but struggling at the moment.’

‘Nuh worry bout it. Cedric provides the Manleys to his friends.’

He may have been speaking colloquial Patois but I caught his drift. Cedric was a human ATM.

‘That’s very kind of you but what’s the catch?’

‘Well I charge a lickle interest. A bredda’s gotta eat.’

‘How much?’

‘10% fi di month.’

‘Not bad.’

Cedric then explained the small print - if at any time I was unable to settle the debts within a three-month period, he would ask me to ‘help him out’. Failure to comply with these instructions could result in serious consequences. He was upfront and personable, explaining the credit was there to use but I should only run up an amount I could afford to lose.

I knew the risks but I had money to make and something from nothing is impossible according to the bible. So I had attempted to earn money legitimately and the £30,000 from the book in addition to my wages had swelled the coffers briefly. But I was hungry for more after said balance had bounced around like a yoyo inevitably finishing at that all too familiar round number – zero.

Considering how happy I was with Ella, you’d think I would have had no need to gamble, but the force was strong in me. My DNA and environmental background commanded me to win enough for things I didn’t need.

Ella wasn’t the necklace and fine wines kinda girl. We’d had many of our best nights, costing precisely zero. But my Yetzer Hara wouldn’t let it lie. YH told me that Ella wouldn’t love me unless I gave her the world – and punting was the only way to do it.

************************************************************************

It was then that De Melo was approached by Sky Sports for me to do some punditry on a lower league match. Ordinarily, he would have ignored such a request as he felt it was beneath me but I had made it clear I was willing to take on such jobs. I explained that I was thinking about my future and wanted an extra string to my bow in case of injury or eventually when retirement beckoned. De Melo’s face said it all - he didn’t believe me but ever the professional he focused on the numbers. It would be an arrogant statement to inform you that by this time 95% of the viewers for this match would have heard my name and over 80% would have recognised my face. I had participated in some form in over twenty televised matches. My name rang bells but unlike Silas, I was no campanologist.

The fee promised was £2,000 plus expenses. The sensible side of my brain saw this as an opportunity for a semi-regular income and the opportunity to meet journalists interested in lucrative interviews. Unfortunately, the dominating self-destructor in me saw it as a chance to ‘freeroll’ - a £2,000 bet on a match of my choice and what better occasion than the match I would be commentating on. Of course, the well-reasoned side was forbidden from limiting the bet size to £2,000 and I eventually placed £20,000 (loaned to me by Cedric) on the home team at odds of 5-6 meaning my expected profit from the evening would be £16k and change in addition to the fee from those sports at Sky Sports. Only a gambler could convince themselves that extra income was a perfect opportunity to spend nearly ten times as much to alleviate the concerns which he sought the extra income for in the first place. There is a famous phrase which is genius in its simplicity. Gamblers gonna gamble. Can’t argue with that, right?

I arrived at the ground with a few hours to spare until kick-off. A top-tier commentator with a voice heard by millions greeted me with a handshake and a slap on the back. If he was wondering why a twenty-something happy-go-lucky chappie wanted to enter the commentary game, his expression did not give him away.

‘Good to have you on board’, said the voice. ‘Thanks for getting here so early. We need to run through a few things.’

‘Thanks’, I replied. ‘I’m a little nervous. Always am before a big match.’

‘Got any inside info on any of the players in action tonight? I think you might have played alongside one or two of them.’

‘Not really’, I said, ‘unless you wanna hear some gossip about their sex lives!’

The voice didn’t look all that impressed. Once more his expression didn’t change.

This was sign of a good commentator (and poker player). In any event, I was genuinely excited for my first on-screen performance not least because of the wedge I had on the match. I had prepared for the unthinkable, such as an away goal, but had convinced myself that my tone would be professional whatever happened on the pitch. Failure to hide my feelings would result in no further work as well as alerting the world to the fact that I was either a nut-job or had, in fact, done my conkers.

After a brief buffet lunch in the hospitality suite, we headed for the press box in preparation for the big kick-off. Excitement overcame the nervousness, helped by the knowledge that less than a million people would be watching. My mentor for the day told me a little condescendingly ‘You will make a mistake sometime today; just move on – also don’t talk over me’. Words of wisdom from a man who frequents some of the seediest strip clubs on his travels on the British football circuit. 

The teams kicked off the duel which would decide my wager on a Sunday afternoon. In the opening minutes, the home team played the more attacking football as was expected. Their star striker, who would be remembered by just a few readers, latched on to the end of a fizzing cross to score the opening goal. I was composed, smiling to myself, but described the goal perfectly to the viewer. I was allowed to be excited but chose to mask my joy with a thorough but complimentary analysis of the goal. I even think my patronising side-kick was impressed.

With the team I’d backed leading 1-0 at half-time, I was left with an unprecedented decision for a pundit on a live match. Either I could leave the bet to ride, hoping my team would win the match or I could hedge my bets by backing the draw and the away team at now inflated odds. After exiting the booth, I desperately flicked through the phonebook on my mobile in search of someone who could place the necessary bets. After no answer from three potential brokers and Cedric, I decided to call Will Hill. I had just £800 in my account and since it was taking too long to deposit, I decided to apportion my balance between the draw and the away win. My new profit and loss scenario looked as follows:

Home team: +£16,200 Draw: -£15,120 Away team: -£16,140

A pathetic attempt at balancing my books but some change – albeit loose change – from my initial outlay of £20,000 was better than a kick in teeth.

The rest of the match was thoroughly predictable. The away team won 1-2 and I believe you can excuse me when I say my commentary skills were less than par. In fact, as the winning goal was scored with just enough time for a comeback to tantalise me, I swore off camera which gave the game away. I was absolutely livid with myself and was expected to provide commentary for the remainder of the proceedings. I wanted to call each and every player a swear word rhyming with punt.

The producer in my ear asked me if everything was alright and I mumbled an apology. There was no direct admission that this match meant more to me than even the fans in the stadium but it was clear to everyone that I had more invested in this match than the players themselves.   

With every loss, the adrenalin rush experienced during the action is replaced by absolute revulsion of the gambler within you. It may have been a slight exaggeration when I claimed earlier that winnings and losses make one feel equally numb. When the losses incurred will have grave consequences, the depression is ten-fold. I left the stadium unable to speak, powerless to hatch a plan simply to stabilise my sinking financial ship. I hardly knew where my next meal would come from, never mind how I could pay off the debts which were simmering with interest. 

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Cedric was happy to provide my next meal. He found me loitering outside, cursing and vulnerable.

‘Bad luck, bredda.’

‘Shit happens. I’ve lost a lot more than this in one go.’

Cedric smiled ruefully. He, like Darren, knew my kind all too well. And again, just like Darren, Cedric was a friendly spirit.

Nay, he was overly nice – a tad disconcerting though I couldn’t fully gauge his intentions in my demoralised and apoplectic state.

A late dinner was followed by drinks at a private members’ club. It was at this dinner that Cedric explained exactly what line of work he was in. A production line of printing money through a number of outlets: money lending, money laundering and match-fixing. He was confident I wouldn’t breathe a word of what I’d heard throughout the evening as he’d have me killed.

He delivered these words with the composure only a veteran of the homicide business could have managed. Cedric explained that my debt was miniscule and nothing illegal was expected at this stage.

‘It’s all gonna work like clockwork bredda as long as wi play by di rules’, he told me. It was clear the rules were his rules and they could be varied or modified at any time to suit Cedric. I wasn’t part of the equation.

But I wasn’t in a position to argue my case. It wasn’t as if I could walk into the local branch of NatWest and organise a loan for myself.

I don’t think even in my wildest dreams, I could have expected to hear the following conversation with the local assistant manager at NatWest:

‘And what do you plan to use the money for Mr xxxx? Home improvements, a new car, a much-need holiday?’

‘Well, actually, I was going to use it to punt my way out of trouble. But thanks for asking anyway. Now, where do I sign?’

I met up with Ella the next day and wanted to tell her everything, but I didn’t have any cahones. They were firmly in a vice grip operated by Cedric.

‘Is everything all right?’ she asked innocently enough.

‘Well, I haven’t scored for a month now.’

‘Now’s your chance, sweetheart.’ Ella lay back on the sofa and for a long moment I forgot all about my troubles.

Look, Ella was a beautiful lady and the sex was fantastic. Even more than that, she was a wonderful person. But she didn’t know my darkest secrets. The fact that I hadn’t shared them showed that firstly I wasn’t willing to quit; and secondly, didn’t think she’d understand.

Before I knew it, I was in familiar territory once again owing nearly £50,000. My wages were due at the end of the month - just five days away - but it felt like an eternity. I had mortgage payments, whip rounds for team-bonding exercises and a new lady to impress, all of which were dependent on my limited funds.

Who knows what I lost my money on? £1,000 per dog race; £500 football accumulators; the odd £10,000 on a bankjob which was in fact not as much of a certainty I had convinced myself it to be. 

I had exhausted every minimal overdraft available and had even entered loan agreements with the ‘big three’ of the UK’s money-lending services one of which was called Dollar Financial UK. Nowadays they go by the name ‘The Money Shop’ and are rivals to the ever-expanding Quick Quid and Wonga. Similar establishments – all of them legal and above board – offered up to £1,000 up front with nearly 40% interest on the month, equating to a cool 2,250% APR. Again, such figures did not affect me as £3,000 would be easy to pay off with one big win although such a life-changing success had eluded me since my almost-forgotten treble.

In the beginning, Cedric seemed to be a friendly enough chap – your average Jamaican Yardy, although clearly I knew what he was capable of. He rocked a blingtastically gold chain and a pair of Beluti brown loafers – only the pimp cane was missing.

We met for the umpteenth time to discuss business at my house. How could I refuse?

Sometime earlier he had said ‘I need to know where you live, boy – for when I send the boys round’. Cedric laughed alone. My pants turned as brown as his loafers.

Again, Cedric turned up unannounced with his Gucci man-purse, from which he plucked a sleek, leather notepad. He probably had three or four like me on his books.

Wah gwaan my man?’ – Cedric seemed in a jovial mood.

‘Well, it’s not going too well is it?’ I anticipated a lecture on how to gamble.

‘No problems. Everything Irie at the moment. But you been a Half eediat, haven’t yu?’ Somehow he’d become more Jamaican than at our previous meetings.

‘I’ve been a bit unlucky. I’ll get out of it if you’ll let me.’

‘Yeah, maybe yu mash it up soon. Nuh worry bout it. Plenty of Manleys left in the kitty. How much yu need now?’

‘£50,000 more credit would do the trick just in case. Then we’d be at a hundred.’ I was buying some time.

‘Wicked. But we can clear di debt now if yu like. But yu gotta play dutty. Know wot I mean bredda?’

‘It’s all good Cedric. We’ll just carry on as we are thank you very much.’

When Cedric left, I began to ponder my choices.

A desperate man with time on their hands will think of and discount various crimes for a variety of reasons, ranging from fear to impracticality. But one possibility niggled away at me like one of those innocuous hamstring strains. I fought against it but other players such as a prominent Southampton footballer had gotten away with it – why couldn’t I?

A new method of betting had made its way into football which appealed to the real risk-seekers. Spread betting, originally created for longing and shorting shares –   had been re-engineered for football fans to express their views on a match in a number of different ways. One could bet on the number of corners ‘buying’ or ‘selling’ at up to £10,000 per corner. In the same way, one could gamble on the number of bookings and even the ‘time of first booking’.

I had other options available to drag myself out of this dire state of affairs. As had been customary in the early days of sensible gambling, I wrote my choices down and assigned a risk and profit-making percentage to each idea:

1) Sell the house - Equity including deposit = £60,000 - Risk - 10% - Profitability - 20%
2) Work for Cedric - Clearance of debt + £30,000-£60,000 - Risk - 70% - Profitability - 50%
3) Operation Yellow (getting booked on purpose for profit) - £60,000 + chance of repeat - Risk - 20% - Profitability - 30%

Option one was discounted immediately. Even if I received the full £60,000, I would have nowhere to live and would have just £10,000 after paying Cedric. People would also ask questions as I’d only just bought it.

Being in Cedric’s pocket was a risk too large to even quantify. After all, match-fixing was one of the arms of the conglomerate which was Cedric. There was every chance I’d end up in prison or worse, no matter how careful and accommodating he seemed.

Operation Yellow sounded fucking cool and had a genuine chance of success. This last market would catapult me from destitution to above the Foccacia line.

Operation Yellow was simple in its form. I would be booked as quickly as possible and ‘sell’ the time of the first booking at a general spread of 24-27 minutes. My stake would be £4,000 per minute and therefore a booking in the fifth minute would net me 24-5 x £4,000 = £76,000. There was one problem. I could not place the bet myself. I also needed someone with enough money in their account to cover the maximum loss if no booking took place in the match, which we know was impossible. There was an option to ‘stop at a loss’ which in summary meant I needed £80,000 to place this bet. Since this was guaranteed and a form of match-fixing, I decided not to go to Cedric and use the credit line he’d offered me. He’d want a piece and would confirm I was ready to fix for him on a much larger scale.

Simmo lent me the money, no questions asked. There was really only one person I could ring to set up an account, be trusted with the money and to not breathe a word to anyone. Well the last part was difficult for Getcha as his lips moved faster than a hooker speaking double Dutch! Getcha and I had lost touch for a while but he had been joining me recently on my night raids on the casinos which usually ended in disaster. However, since I’d committed to the cause of Operation Yellow, the gambling had taken a back-seat. Failure was impossible. No, it was unthinkable. I’d break someone’s leg if I had to!

The risk is always in the detection after the event. Getcha followed my instructions perfectly. He set up a spread betting account three weekends in advance of Operation Yellow. He then injected the £80,000 in little bursts all the while placing small bets with the intention of raising less suspicion. Getcha was allowed to place as many bets as possible on a variety of different outcomes - Getcha heaven - with the proviso being that the losses could not be over £5,000.

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I was hoping for an update from Getcha when one morning he interrupted my breakfast – two boiled eggs, brown toast, coffee and The Sun – with a call to my mobile.

‘What’s good fam?’ he asked.

‘Dunno. You tell me’, I replied. ‘How’ve you been treating my money?’

‘Well, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about’, he said. The alarm bells were beginning to ring inside my head.

‘I hope there hasn’t been a problem, know what I mean.’

‘Well’, he hesitated. ‘I’ve had a bit of a bad run.’

‘What do you mean, a bad run?’

‘Pretty bad’, he said.

‘How bad?’

‘Well, I lost £10,000 last week.’

‘But I told you that a five grand loss was your absolute limit’, I shouted down the line, my irritation turning to anger.

‘Not to worry, fam. I’m only joshing you. I did lose £10,000, but I won £17,000 the week before, so we’re £7,000 in front. How you like them apples?’

‘Why the fuck do you do that to me, Getcha?’ I asked.

‘Just a bit of fun’, he came back, not realising he’d put me through the ringer.

‘Anyways, how d’you win the dosh?’

‘Easy really’, he answered. ‘There was this novice chase at Plumpton where I had big fancy for this 5-1 shot who’d never jumped a fence before but had some decent form over hurdles not so long ago, well three years ago actually, and he’d been off the track with a leg injury since then.’

‘Go on’, I urged him.

‘Well, as it happens, he wasn’t going all that well. In fact, he was miles behind but the two leaders both fell at the second-last – and the rest, as they say, is history. Well, if not quite history, a five grand profit!’

‘You’re a lucky bastard, Getcha, always was, always will be. That’s why it’s good to have you on board’, I told him.

I was an arrogant prick on the day of Operation Yellow. I’d concocted an excellent plan which would in all likelihood succeed. I was sticking two fingers up to the bookies who always have the odds in their favour. Sneakily, I’d placed bets with the extra £7,000 (after giving Getcha his cut) on completely incorruptible markets with the possibility of winning huge. I was playing the role of a complete madman, not far removed from the actual truth. An early yellow card in my match, followed by late goals in the Milan derby could have netted me over £150,000!

How does one get booked within the first five minutes of a match without being sent off and without causing suspicion? I had a reputation for being a hard-working striker, booked only three times in my entire professional career and here I was studs up at the ready. 

Normally, I was one of the talkative ones in the dressing room pre-match. It was usually a barrage of gibberish and lame jokes to provide a sightscreen to disguise my nerves. But this time I was more nervous than ever – and I’d completely clammed up.

‘C’mon’, said Hollow. ‘Let’s hear one of your unfunny jokes. We all seem a bit down at the moment.' Moody as ever.

‘Leave it out’, I replied. ‘I’ve a lot on my mind.’

‘What mind is that?’ asked Wheezy and the rest of the lads dissolved into laughter.

I joined in – but I didn’t find it funny. I was too worried about my future. Actually, I was worried whether I had a future.

But once the game began my nerves seemed to settle down a little.

An opportunity presented itself after almost exactly five minutes. A midfielder from the opposition had collected the ball inside our half but had beaten a player with the intention of distributing it back towards his own defence. I latched onto his shirt and crudely sliced him from behind. He rolled around in agony, genuinely injured and yet incredibly the referee did not consider the tackle warranted a card. I couldn’t believe it. Every minute from here on would be costing me £4,000 in potential winnings but I felt it important to bide my time to execute Operation Yellow to perfection. I hunted the same player to make it look as though we had a deep-rooted grudge and finally hacked him down again in his own half. I was booked in the 11th minute and would be in line to receive £52,000 unless Getcha had spent it before I could withdraw the money.

As you would expect, the rest of the match effectively meant nothing to me although ironically, it was one of my best of the season. I spent the better part of the match inebriated on a cocktail of paranoia and adrenalin which unfortunately cannot be bottled and sold. They are feelings that can only be accessed in special circumstances which can rarely be replicated. 


After the game I showered and changed and met up with a few friends outside the main entrance. We were off to the pub to watch the Milan derby. It’s usually an explosive event with the two teams – AC and Inter – showing clear contempt for each other. But all that hatred seemed to negate the football and it proved a dull affair and, as far as betting was concerned, I was not in line for any bonus winnings. The bet had served its purpose of disguising the corruption of the disciplinary betting market. Over the next few weeks, I completed a number of errands including paying some of Cedric’s money back, as well as buying a cheaper car and, of course, treated Getcha to a trip to my favourite city, Barcelona. Simmo received his loan back in full.

But as the dust settled and we began to hatch a plan for another run-out of Operation Yellow - ‘the return of the hacksaw’ - my original paranoia proved to be well founded. Getcha was called up by the spread betting bookmaker and questioned over his relationship with me. Luckily, he gave the right answer saying that we did know each other a long time ago but hadn’t had formal contact for a number of years.

The best lies are always based on truth and I hadn’t seen Getcha for quite a while, much to my discredit. The money had been paid, I explained, and therefore this may just be a routine inquiry but the fact that my name was being spoken of by even just one person regarding possible inappropriate actions concerned me greatly.

Even through all the gambling, womanising and drug-taking, my reputation amongst those in football was more or less spotless. The immediate withdrawal of the funds had seen a few red flags hoisted by this particular company. They released a covert statement to the insular betting world that extra caution should be taken when laying bets for markets which concerned me. I had originally thought of selling my ‘goal minutes’ (with a goalless performance guaranteeing profit) but now had to think of a new strategy. Incredible as it sounds, I was even entertaining the idea of selling my team-mates’ goal minutes and preventing them from scoring!

For the first time in a while, I had a bankroll of sorts. I was happy again or at least I thought I was. But as we know the life graph of a degenerate does not run smoothly. I suppose like my first bet, it was 50-50 from hereon in.

Whilst broke, I was having to turn down almost every expensive night out but now could accept a few invitations. It was timely then that Simmo was getting married to a stunning Eastern European lady. She’d been in England since 1998 and had remained relatively clean on the WAG circuit - hence her attraction. 



2002/2003 Season stats

Games started: 14
Subbed in 2:
Goals: 4
Assists: 5
Yellow Cards: 3 (one on purpose)
Red Cards: 0
Money in Bradford & Bingley: £52,350
Money owed to Cedric: £35,000
Amount turned over: £500,000
Profit/Loss: Even!

Coke habit: Average 2 lines per day