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Culture: Lord Stevens and corruption in English football
Saturday, 16 June 2007 Written by Henry Midgley
Lord Stevens
Most football fans will this morning wake to discuss the future of Manchester City, lacking a manager at present, or whether controversial midfielder Joey Barton will settle in Newcastle, whether Chelsea's new signing Ben Haim a centre half will enjoy his period at the Bridge and who Middlesborough chairman Steve Gibson means when he promised their fans an exciting signing in the transfer window over the summer. Even more supporters will be taking the summer off from thinking about football- preferring to concentrate on improving their tans on the beeches of Europe.

Well all of them might well be mistaken for the most revelatory and interesting news of the summer could just have happened- Lord Stevens has just delivered his report into English transfers during the period from 1st January 2004 to the 1st January 2006 and his report makes interesting reading.

Before analysing the results of the inquiry its neccessary to analyse the inquirer. Lord Stevens has been a senior figure in the British establishment for many years now, a former Commissioner of the Metropolitian Police (London's police force) he has been the man for ministers to call in when they need an inquiry conducted. He ran an inquiry into the assassination of the Catholic Lawyer Pat Finucane in Belfast in the 1990s and also ran one into the death of Princess Diana.

Lord Stevens's report into the alleged corruption of football managers and agents began when a manager, Mike Newell then at Luton, told journalists that there was a culture of bribery in English football. Sven Goran Eriksson, then England manager, backed Newell's assertions during a sting operation conducted by teh News of the World, saying that he knew of Premier League managers who took bribes or bungs. Newell's and Eriksson's accusations were so serious that they created a firestorm in the press- and after much deliberation the FA and Premier League called in Lord Stevens to address them. The crisis within the game was stoked up by the BBC, whose Panorama program broadcast in September 2006 accused several leading managers and agents of corruption- various people declared that they would sue the corporation yet many of those threats have now been withdrawn.

And so today Lord Stevens himself presented his conclusions. They were based on interviews with the Premiership clubs, their managers and agents of players and clubs. Some of the agents initially did not cooperate. Lord Stevens singled out a group of transfers initially as suspect- many of those were cleared up subsequently but today he singled out a smaller group where evidence had not satisfied him that there was no illegal activity and a selection of individuals.

The report singled out five clubs, Newcastle United, Bolton Wanderers, Chelsea, Portsmouth and Middlesborough, where Stevens beleives that transfer dealings are still not transparant to him. In particular though he dwelt on the activities of three managers- Sam Allardyce (then of Bolton now at Newcastle), Graeme Souness (then at Newcastle now unemployed) and Harry Redknapp (Southampton and presently Portsmouth)- who he beleives have had suspect relationships with agents. He also mentioned fifteen agents who had failed to provide information to his inquiry in sufficient detail.

It should be stressed that to fail to provide information or to be suspiciously close to an agent is not to be guilty- but there are suspicions now hanging round the necks of many of those mentioned by the report. Sam Allardyce in particular because of his position as manager of a club that recently sacked a member of staff for potential involvement in corruption should be feeling uneasy tonight. But the consequences are not likely to be profound.

Stevens's report therefore ultimately leaves questions unanswered rather than giving us answers- what it seems to point to is individual failings rather than something systemic- but it must be recognised that without the actions of whistleblowers there would have been no inquiry at all- and those whistleblowers were not ultimately linked to the transfers that Stevens highlights. It should be recognised that one particular transfer has been kept out of the public's knowledge presumably because a file has been forwarded to either the Police or the Inland Revenue. Lord Stevens has basically provided us with an audit and said that the paperwork and transactions match in the majority of transfers made within the Premier League- he has though singled out these transactions and individuals as ones wherein the paperwork did not match what happened.

The consequences of the report remain unclear- both the FA and FIFA need to see the files and even then court actions might delay matters for years- but despite that one consequence is clear. Fans in the UK are entitled to ask about the structure of the game and in particular the way that agents function within it- chairmen like Simon Jordan at Crystal Palace have often moaned about the way that agents behave maybe its time to ask what do agents do to help the sport along and why often transfers require agents not merely for the players but agents for clubs and all sorts of other transactions. Stevens hasn't answered questions- but his report does offer the opportunity one hopes for the fans within the country to sit up from their sunbeds and start thinking about how our national sport is run.