MPs right to highlight match-fix worries
David Cuffley MPs Norman Lamb and Dr Ian Gibson have taken more than their share of flak this week for putting the cat among the Canaries. The two Norwich City fans were rebuked by the club they support and savaged by Derby County for asking questions in the House of Commons about the match-fixing allegations arising from the fixture between the two sides at Carrow Road two weeks ago.
MPs Norman Lamb and Dr Ian Gibson have taken more than their share of flak this week for putting the cat among the Canaries.
The two Norwich City fans were rebuked by the club they support and savaged by Derby County for asking questions in the House of Commons about the match-fixing allegations arising from the fixture between the two sides at Carrow Road two weeks ago.
The FA confirmed on Thursday that they were investigating an allegation relating to the match - four days after a Sunday newspaper broke the news that an unspecified Championship game had been reported to the FA because of irregular betting patterns in the Far East, with a surge of bets just before and during half-time, prompting speculation that they were acting on inside knowledge.
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Derby chairman Adam Pearson accused the MPs of raising the subject “as a matter for their own political self means in Norwich to create themselves a bit of profile” and, in rather poor taste in the light of recent events, gave them his own advice to the effect that they should devote their energies to stopping violence in city centres.
City chief executive Neil Doncaster was more restrained but said: “We are disappointed that certain individuals have chosen to ask questions in Parliament rather than come to us and ask us directly.”
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He added: “If people want to know what's going on at Carrow Road, the best people to ask are those people that work at Carrow Road.”
In truth, that is not always the most fruitful avenue. But Pearson further stoked up the argument by suggesting his conversations with Norwich led him to believe the two MPs “had issues” with the club.
Peace broke out last night when a conciliatory joint statement appeared on the Canaries' website last night in which Doncaster made it clear the club in no way felt the MPs had an agenda against it, while the two MPs insisted they had only the best interests of the club at heart and wanted to see City's good name cleared.
While I do not for one minute believe anyone connected with Norwich City has been involved in some kind of result-rigging exercise - and it strikes me that team games are very difficult to fix - the Norwich North and North Norfolk MPs were perfectly within their rights to bring the issue to the public's attention.
They are representatives of their community and their constituents, many thousands of whom are City supporters and season ticket-holders, and they are under no obligation to join the club in closing ranks.
Soon after the Sunday Telegraph story appeared, rumours began to circulate that the City-Derby fixture was at the centre of the allegations. But it took four days for the identity of the match under scrutiny to be made public because no one, least of all at the FA, was prepared to confirm it.
The FA insisted yesterday they were not dragging their heels in investigating the allegations, but, as Mr Lamb pointed out: “Had it not been for me and Ian it would not have been in the public domain. A very serious allegation would be kept behind closed doors and that is not right.”
City boss Glenn Roeder has no doubts about the integrity of his players.
He said yesterday: “I don't know the exact details of what's been said and the accusations being made about that particular game but I would be 100 per cent certain there is no one at Norwich City that's involved in anything at all.” That view appeared to be endorsed by two leading bodies in the gambling world last night when they revealed no irregular betting patterns had been found in the match.
The European Sports Security Association and the Association of British Bookmakers said none of their members had found any irregular betting activities and no reason to suspect anything inappropriate during the game.
Khalid Ali, secretary general of ESSA, said: “After a thorough investigation, I'm pleased to report that none of our members found anything unusual about the Norwich City v Derby game.”
But, rather than have all kinds of rumour festering under the surface for weeks on end, the MPs have at least enabled the allegations to be confronted.
On hopes City's name will be cleared and the whole issue put to bed before the two sides meet again at Pride Park on Tuesday week. But don't hold your breath.
t THE STADIUM OF FINGERS
As someone who has three generations of Subbuteo equipment stored in the loft, I was amused to see former players and celebrities discuss their memories of the game in a new book published this week.
In his research for “Teenage Flicks”, Norwich author Paul Willetts - who included the table soccer reminiscences of ex-City pair Bryan Gunn and Darren Eadie in his book - stumbled across arguably the biggest Subbuteo fanatic in the world.
He revealed: “This guy in Southend has this enormous stadium which he calls the Stadium of Fingers.
“It accommodates 10,000 miniature fans, many of them anatomically modified so that they perform little Mexican waves.
There's another group involved in a punch-up, there are others sticking two fingers up.
“To add to the insanity of it, the perimeter is punctuated by miniature TV gantries that Subbuteo used to make and he's installed micro cameras that allow him to zoom in during games.
“If that isn't enough, he has 16 microphones hidden under these enormous stands, which are wired up to a mixing desk providing eight layers of crowd noise which produces a truly eerie effect in a room in a suburb of Southend.”
It appears Southend has become a place of pilgrimage for football followers - and I don't mean Roots Hall.
“The aspect I most love involved 50 Italian Subbuteo and football fans who travelled all the way to Southend to visit and play on the Stadium of Fingers - a bit like foreign footballers getting excited about stepping out on to the turf at Wembley,” said Willetts.