'The Fix' by Declan Hill***
To anybody who really follows the game, this book is no surprise. Historically, Hill, normally an investigative television producer/journo, gives the reader a good sense as to how lowly-paid players (before worldwide broadcasting brought hundreds of millions in cash to the game) were always susceptible to bribery from bookmakers and various gangsters. Nowadays, Hill shows, in a pretty much indisputable way, that match fixing in soccer is even more widespread, including matches at the World Cup level.
The fixers Hill discusses come from Asia, where betting on all sports is almost a fanatical religion. The vulnerable teams he discusses are from poor nations, usually in Africa, where player salaries are low. They are soft targets. Hill concentrates on Ghana's Jekyll and Hyde performance at the 2006 World Cup. This part of the book is very disturbing and definitely effective. Hill names, Stephen Appiah, a former midfielder for Italy's Juventus and Turkey's Fenerbahce clubs. Appiah, a young player in his pomp, once touted to be Patrick Veiera's successor at English powerhouse club, Arsenal, was freed from his contract by Fenerbahce, either as the result of a bad knee their doctors missed when they originally bought him, or, far more likely, as a result of his snitching. Indeed, since talking to Hill and the release of this book, Appiah's hopes of catching on with another big European club have thus far disappeared. It seems that both Hill and Appiah are high on FIFA President Sepp Blatter's mierda list.
Hopefully, this should help Hill sell lots of books. Hill surely had Blatter tearing what little hair he has left when describing contacts between fixers and players beginning at FIFA youth tournaments which theoretically 'promote' the ever developing game. FIFA, which is the ruling body for the professional game, a worldwide organization that rules with a kind of heavy-handed greed and secrecy that can't help but remind you of the mafia, does not come off well in this book. Hill nails the organization bang to rights. Unfortunately, Hill, who took on the Russian Vor ve Zakonye (a worldwide gangster organization) when he exposed their corruption of the NHL in some sterling work for the CBC, stops short here. A vague threat from ethnic Chinese gangsters to hurt or kill him is stated implicitly, but the full story hinted at is never quite told.
At the same time, Italian football has always been corrupt. Massive scandals involving players, club directors, general managers, organized crime figures and even the prime-minister, Silvio Berlusconi, who owns A.C. Milan and the lion's share of Scudetto (Italian League) television rights. German Bundesliga games have also been fixed. A certain English striker, once a star for a top four English premiership team and a major Spanish club, has been banished from the England national squad for making and taking bets recently. With the hundreds of millions in laundered oil and drug cash floating around the game in Europe and hard rumors of Interpol catching mobsters fixing the 2008 EUFA Cup Final red-handed, one gets the sense that Mr. Hill knows a lot more than he lots on!
One problem Hill has here is the narrative first-person stylings he uses spasmodically to move things along and make himself into the hero investigative journo. Hill is repeatedly 'shocked' to find gambling going on around him, so that it gets silly after a while. I'm reminded of Claude Rains' policeman raiding Rick's mini-casino in Casablanca. Hill plays up his narrator/self as a mirror of the naïve boy who used to watch Arsenal games at Highbury as a teenager with his dad and stops to cry for himself. Nevertheless, he seems to have conveniently forgotten that the Arsenal team which featured the beautiful trickery of Liam Brady also played Spiv thugs like Peter Storey, Peter Simpson and Frank McClintock. The Fix is a good read, but Hill has barely scratched the surface. Be sure to read it, but follow it up with a far, far better book on the way corruption in the game actually works, Broken Dreams by Tom Bower. Hill concentrates on soft targets in Asia and Africa. Next time, perhaps, he'll go after the Big Game.