How English football cashed in on the rise of betting

Story highlights

  • The Secret Footballer reveals players made money using in-play betting
  • Players could make money by manipulating who would take the first throw in
  • Bookmakers now go to extreme lengths to prevent spot fixing in sport

When I first started playing, I was simply too young and too naive to realize what was going on. I just thought that the full back who was clipping the ball down the line and out of play was s*** and there was no helping him. It was only years later that I found out what had been going on.

"In play" betting was a relatively new thing in those days. The internet was just taking off and the algorithms used to detect fraudulent gambling were nowhere near as sophisticated as they are now. Let me give you an indication of just how easy it was to manipulate the system back then ...

Read: Football's addiction to gambling

Let's say that you are the captain of the team. At the start of every game, you are involved in the toss of a coin to determine which team has the kick off and which end you are going to kick towards. No team wants to win the toss so that they can have the kick off; an away team only wants to win the toss so that they can choose which end to kick towards -- so the home team does not have the advantage of kicking towards their home fans in the second half.

So, we know no team is interested in winning the toss to get the kick off. Now, imagine what would happen if, as the captain, you went in to each of these tosses with the sole intention of making sure that your team got the kick off. You could, in theory, kick-off every time and, if that happens, it becomes ridiculously easy to bet on which team will win the first throw in.

I want to go on record as saying I had nothing to do with this.

As I say, I was a young man who could barely find my way to the training ground. I also had aspirations of playing at the very highest level so anything that seemed even remotely "iffy" just wasn't for me.

Even so, regularly kick-offs that started a game led to the ball being played to a full-back who in turn would shank it out of play. I have no idea how much money was made but it would probably have been the equivalent to a player's full weekly wage.

Read: Down the rabbit hole - depression in the EPL

It didn't take the bookies long to catch on and, these days, the levels of detection are as scary as they are effective. In the research I did for this article, I consulted a friend of mine who works for a leading online betting site to see what measures have been put in place since the early days of internet gambling.

It turns out that they do not have anything specific to track irregular betting patterns but, instead, rely on a combination of tools that help their "operator traders" decide whether a bet is fraudulent or not.

The main tool is recognizing the repeat customers and their betting patterns.

There are reports that show the customers who repeatedly bet on the same outcome -- win, lose, draw, etc. These customers are then pooled together into "liability groups" that are monitored closely so that any betting pattern that changes is immediately flagged up on the system.

The operator traders monitor such behavior through "live alerts" that are set up to detect irregular bets in real time.

The traders look for sudden upshifts in betting and on particular selections.

A tell-tale sign that a bet may have sinister undertones is when a user places the maximum amount allowed in one bet. Again, this is all exposed through real-time alerts and reports.

Read: The Secret Footballer reveals life inside the EPL

Interestingly, almost every online bookmaker is extending the capabilities of these reports and alerts in order to make their software and, by extension their operators, more "clever".

But it is not because they are falling victim to increasing numbers of betting rings and scams, it is because their users are mushrooming at an alarming rate.

Gambling has been big business since Moses wore short trousers and, in these times of austerity and economic hardship, it is no great surprise that many people are once again turning to the vices that give them a modicum of pleasure at the minimum of cost.

Yet, as with all vices, there will be those who are unable to recognize and control the pitfalls.

There is a gambler in all of us, like it or not.

Very often, the biggest gamble in life comes in the working environment -- deciding when to stick and when to twist, when to realise that our own contentedness is determined not by the material things that we surround ourselves with but by the things that money can't buy, such as family.

Sometimes, however, like me, the wood is very much masked by the trees and what seems like the right career move ends up having terrible consequences for the people that you love the most.

My biggest gamble was to move my family hundreds of miles from their support network and, with hardly any warning, plunge them into a totally alien environment.

The impact that decision had on us as a family was immediate and only resolved itself a few years later after a gargantuan effort on our part to get things back to the way they had once been.

I gambled all the good things that I had in my life for a little bit more of the things that I had always been taught to strive for but which, in reality, mattered least of all. There is no prize on earth that would have ever made that gamble worthwhile, especially in football.

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