Thursday, September 21, 2006

A close call

Since last night's special 'Panorama' aired on BBC1, there seems to have been little talk of anything else (or is that just me?). So, did it really blow the world of football apart / shake it to its very foundations (depending on your preferred metaphor), or was it "all smoke and mirrors"? Only time will tell (though I suspect - or fear - that it won't ultimately have that big an impact).

It certainly came as something of a surprise and a relief to discover that, contrary to my worst fears, we were only grazed by the arrow of accusation - it was Sam Allardyce, Harry Redknapp, Frank Arnesen and a number of slimy unscrupulous agents who got it in the neck. The result of the programme makers and BBC lawyers being unsure as to exactly what they could argue and prove? Perhaps - the bleeped-out names might have been rather closer to home. But we were only really implicated twice.

Firstly, our current assistant manager Kevin Bond was caught appearing to be receptive to the possibility of receiving financial inducements when he was assistant to Harry Redknapp at Portsmouth. Bond intends to sue the BBC, his solicitor claiming that the conversation was presented in "a completely misleading manner". Paul has suggested that he could possibly argue that he was telling the fake agent what he wanted to hear, stringing him along before reporting him - but it still stinks of fish to me. If Bond does press ahead with libel action, it'll all be dragged out in the courts - at least it'll be Pompey's dirty washing rather than ours, though.

Secondly, Gateshead-based agent Peter Harrison was shown using his influence and contacts to impress the fake agent by getting the pair of them seats in the directors' box for last season's home game against Aston Villa. Harrison was the focus for the programme, and was shown openly discussing bungs and touting two of his players, Blackburn's Andy Todd and one of Middlesbrough's youth stars, to other clubs behind their clubs' backs. (He has since claimed that everything he said was "pub banter" and "gossip". Now if that isn't pathetic, then I don't know what is....) Given the contents of the programme and the nature of Harrison's business dealings, Fat Fred might just have to learn to take more care about those he associates with in future - though that's not to say he's not a greedy oaf with pound signs for eyes himself.

Overall, the programme could be regarded as a failure because no manager, chairman or chief scout was entrapped in the process of accepting a bung, and the evidence of other misdemeanours was often not clear-cut. But it did lift the lid on the murky goings-on behind the scenes (agents on the make, clubs talking about and to players behind their clubs' backs and, in Phil Gartside's case, chairmen not only misleading but brazenly lying to their clubs' fans) in such a way as to suggest that a more rigorous and thoroughgoing investigation could uncover some serious wrongdoing.

Of course, they'll probably all close ranks now and nothing will change. We can but hope otherwise, I suppose.

Update: I forgot to mention that we were also mentioned in connection with Nathan Porritt, the Middlesbrough youth player Harrison was touting around, though footage was only shown of meetings with Chelsea and Liverpool. Smoggie chief executive Keith Lamb is furious with Harrison, and chairman Steve Gibson has absolved us (and Chelsea and Liverpool too) of any wrongdoing: "We got wind of Nathan being offered to Newcastle, but the conversation was taking place at a fairly low level. Keith Lamb, our chief executive, rang Freddy Shepherd and told him what was going on. Freddy didn't know anything about it and his reply was, 'Right, I'll stop that immediately'. Within 30 seconds, Freddy had made sure that any contact with Harrison had ended and we got a commitment from Newcastle that they would never attempt to poach any of our young players". If only it meant something when Fat Fred says he'll give you his word...


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