“It is vitally important that players are aware of the rules and regulations concerning betting. As a professional player in Scotland you MUST adhere to the rules as set by the Scottish Football Association. For avoidance of doubt, players should note that this prohibits betting on ANY football match, at ANY time and in ANY country.”
So there you have it: even the dogs in the street know players can’t bet on games. Those 57 words are from PFA Scotland’s website, as clear a message as you could want from the players’ own union to its members, the 1,200 or so professional and semi-pro guys who fill our clubs’ squads, that putting on a coupon is not allowed. A couple of inches along from the home page is the “advice” icon with a drop-down menu revealing the union’s words of wisdom on three topics: mental health, social media, and gambling.
Players aren’t banned from betting on football just for the hell of it
And that stuff about how players MUST follow the rules about no betting on ANY game at ANY time in ANY country? The capital letters are the PFA’s too. They could hardly do more to set players straight unless the chief executive Fraser Wishart stood in front of them one-by-one and knocked on their foreheads.
What a weird, contradictory, part-prescriptive, part-complacent attitude there is to betting in Scottish football. A degree of sympathy for the Cowdenbeath player Dean Brett is natural given that he lost both his baby girl and his partner within a few months of each other. Who knows if a self-confessed addiction to gambling gave this young part-time player even a morsel of comfort as he mourned, but Brett still knew that as a professional/semi-professional player what he was doing was wrong.
His attitude was that he probably wouldn’t be “grassed up” to the SFA because he was betting only £5 and £10 on accumulators when it came to the bets he placed against his own team, as if such piddly amounts would be too inconsequential to register on a governing body’s radar. But it doesn’t work that way, or at least it shouldn’t. Every bet is a breach of the rules and every bookmaker, as part of its licensing agreement with the Gambling Commission, is obliged to contact the SFA and report any player it knows to be betting on games.
These gambling stories unfold along a well-trodden narrative. There are front-page headlines and talk of scandal when the story breaks. Then comes a chorus line of sympathetic voices saying that the culprit/ victim is being made a scapegoat, that most players put on a coupon most weekends, that no harm is done, and that the SFA and SPFL are hypocrites for punishing one aspect of gambling while happily banking cheques from the likes of Ladbrokes, William Hill and Betfred to sponsor their tournaments.
And then the “punishment” is a damp squib. Joey Barton was given only a one-game SFA ban. Steve Simonsen got the same. Michael Moffatt served four. Ian Black got the toughest penalty of all but he was hardly sent to the Gulag given he was only fined £7,500 and served a three-game suspension despite admitting to three bets against his own team.
The Football Association in England convicted Nick Bunyard, manager of non-league Frome Town, of having placed 45 bets against his own teams among a series of other gambles on games. He was banned from football for three years. In 2014 the FA followed the SFA’s lead by tightening its rules on gambling by players, managers, coaches etc and issued a worldwide ban on them betting on any football-related matter.
These occasional controversies will keep on flaring up in Scotland because the penalties are too lenient to act as a deterrent. There is nothing to challenge and change the behavioural cycle of those players who get a kick out of putting on a coupon. There might be something quite quaint and old-fashioned about that — don’t we moan about how players are divorced from reality, and how they don’t live like the rest of us? — but players aren’t banned from betting just for the hell of it.
They are banned because it sends out the wrong message for the guys on the pitch to have money riding on what happens in their game or in others — games that fans pay to watch — and for them to be punting with obvious advantageous inside knowledge. It’s hard enough to see football as still being essentially honest and entirely clean without leaving itself so open to suspicions of weekly carve-ups and opportunism.
No-one is stopping footballers from betting. The horses, darts, snooker, greyhounds: they can pile on those until the cows come home. And it’s impossible to police those who at least have the nous to bet on football via the anonymity of a friend or relative’s online account. But in the end it comes down to something pretty straightforward: professional athletes showing the discipline and sacrifice their sport demands.
Three voices, one priority at Ibrox
No-one could accuse Rangers of not trying to do their bit for the country’s unemployment statistics.
If their supposed restructuring plans come to fruition they will appoint a manager, a director of football and a head of recruitment in the coming weeks.
Let’s be honest, Scottish (and English) football struggles to get its head around the idea of more than just a manager being in charge of a club so three men in prominent roles will make some heads explode.
It will spark endless speculation and debate about who’s really in charge, who influences who, who picks the new signings, who gets along and who doesn’t.
And it is guaranteed to be whipped up into a huge issue every time they lose or hit a run of sticky results. Pretty soon that will get wearying for just about everyone unless each of the new arrivals makes it perfectly clear — on day one — what he is responsible for and what is down to the other two. Whatever happens, it’s not going to be dull.
Celtic hotel is a sign of the times
It’s really not that long ago that the idea of a hotel at Parkhead would have made as much sense as selling city breaks in Siberia. Has the footprint of any Scottish stadium changed more than Celtic Park’s over the last 25 years? The evolution of the landscape around Celtic’s ground has been startling. It used to look as if it was in a nuclear winter. The new plans for a sharp, angular-looking hotel show that they are not finished yet.
And across the city there will be Rangers fans becoming extremely exercised about how it will be paid for and voted through.
Timing is everything in what our leaders say
When John Barnes was reaching his wit’s end as Celtic manager there was a pre-match media conference when he made the tiny, inconsequential slip of saying they were about to play Dundee rather than Dundee United. It made back page headlines — “Blundering Barnes doesn’t even know Celtic’s next game” — that sort of thing. It was a brutal confirmation that, when a manger’s credibility has gone, just about anything he says can be ridiculed and torn to shreds.
The reverse is also true. Malky Mackay revealed this week that he and Gordon Strachan had discussed, and sought an explanation for, the number of South Koreans in the upper echelons of the women’s world golf rankings, in the hope that it might yield something relevant or useful for Scottish football.
This was given sober, matter-of-fact coverage and rightly so. But it’s all about reputation and timing. We wouldn’t half have waded into it as desperate, even crackpot stuff if either of them had been under intense pressure. Or if the story had emerged in one of those fevered “end of the world” times immediately after Scotland are knocked out of a tournament.
The same facts, the same story, would have been given an entirely new twist.