A year or so ago an associate of Faire Sans Dire was in a hotel bar and couldn’t help overhear a conversation between two chauffeurs. Apart from being chauffeurs and imbibing a surprisingly considerable amount of alcohol they had one other thing in common. Both were chauffeuring that day for top football club managers. Apart from that and football, they were from different worlds with one of them being old enough to be the other’s father.

Their conversation encompassed discussing odds on which premier league club managers were next for the chop and other information useful to any regular at Gamblers’ Anonymous. They even discussed the odds on their own managers’ departure dates. The managers meanwhile were blissfully unaware of all this as they dined in some style in a nearby private room. The managers’ conversation was inaudible to our man on the spot as he didn’t have any audio equipment with him … not that he would have used it!

Sepp Blatter inevitably had to come into the chauffeurs’ conversation but they did not linger long on that sordid subject. That gave our man at the bar some credence in their intelligence as the topic that took centre stage of their conversation was just why there were so many home wins not just in soccer or football but all major sports.

The elder said it was obvious. “They eavesdrop on the visitors’ changing rooms: been doing it since my Dad was your age.” Other issues like not having to travel, unfamiliarity with the pitch, the vociferousness of the home crowd and so on were raised but their conclusion was that eavesdropping was and always had been the most influential factor.

Were they right? How would you set about proving it? With difficulty is the answer and Faire Sans Dire does not claim it is true of all clubs. One interesting observation is sensible people in glass houses don’t chuck stones about. It therefore comes as no surprise that Sepp Blatter hasn’t been challenged properly over corruption. Perhaps most of the football industry has now been corrupted by cash one way or another.

Indeed, many would argue that cash as opposed to football dominates the industry. Just ask any premier league player what his salary is and if you can understand his reply you’ll understand why!

But it isn’t the football players who are at the centre of this “industrial” espionage and it doesn’t stop at the visitors’ changing or locker rooms. There is a pot pourri of other “players” who are involved.

They include club chairman who want to win at any price, organised crime gangs (which may include some chairmen!), some unscrupulous offshore internet bookies and all those who now take live bets on anything from red cards to last minute penalties. Also, last but not least, there are the diehard club supporters who just want to see their team win. As others have eavesdropped on their team when at away matches why not reciprocate?

So apart from one, three or nil points at the end of each football match what is this espionage worth?

The revenue of the top five European football leagues alone exceeded €9,800,000,000 in 2012/13 according to Deloitte. As for gambling there are few scientific estimates of how much is bet on football but Sportradar estimated in 2013 that anywhere between $750,000,000,000 and $1,000,000,000,000 was bet on sporting events both legally and illegally as reported by the BBC in an interesting article on proven football corruption. A good slug of those trillion dollars or so, probably over fifty per cent, will be bet on football or soccer matches.

How can you tell it is going on and what are the signs? Well, even having professionals sweeping for bugs at every match is far from foolproof and in reality most likely a complete waste of time and money as to sweep a room properly in a controlled environment would take hours.

Perhaps some of the entourage in the home management side arriving a few minutes late after kick-offs or management with ear-pieces in who obviously aren’t listening to Desert Island discs could be indicators. Maybe hurried discussions with hands over the mouths of management early on in either half when little is happening or an unexpected switch of tactics could be indicators too.

Most of us aficionados will have seen heated conversations on the bench with hands over mouths when nothing else exciting is going on which is suspicious. That might deter lip readers but it is not much use nowadays against state of the art directional microphones as those who sing their national anthems know only too well.

Of course, all these incidents could be perfectly benign. In any event, the away team may have used “industrial” espionage itself and on arrival used the chatter in the changing rooms to broadcast disinformation. In conclusion, you can bet your bottom dollar that espionage on an industrial scale is going on in every major sport. The only problem is no one will take your bet.

Coincidentally or not, Transparency International’s leading news tonight is “Swiss to get tough over sports corruption”. No doubt Sepp Blatter will be appointed the anti-corruption Czar to lead the charge for the sixty five international sports federations involved including football’s governing body FIFA! Sadly, the day sport is free from corruption will be when there is no sport.

As for spies in football, don’t necessarily dismiss it as nonsense. Many still believe Tofiq Bahramov was one. He was the Soviet linesman in the 1966 world cup final whose controversial decision helped England infamously win the match in extra time. By the way, the referee of that match was Swiss!

This article was first published on 2nd October 2014.


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