Score to settle?

Hans Segers, a defendant in the football betting trials, has told his story. Matthew Roche, present in court, is unimpressed

For Hans Segers to put his name to a book on the two 1997 Winchester match-rigging trials is a little like Torquay’s chief air raid warden penning a per­s­onal history of the Second World War. Segers was a bit-player in the affair and this is reflected in a thin and disappointing book which reveals little about “soccer’s trial of the century”.

Segers, John Fashanu, Bruce Grobbelaar and Mal­aysian businessman Richard Lim were accused of rigging matches to benefit Far Eastern betting syndicates but walked free after the second jury believed the stars had merely provided match forecasts which Lim passed on to the gamblers.

The trials asked some serious questions about modern football and we could do with a probing account of the affair, but despite the efforts of ghost writer Alan Thatcher this book is extremely flat. Segers does not come across as a particularly deep man and it is debatable whether the humdrum memoirs of a middling Dutch goalkeeper would have been print­ed had it not been for the trials. Even so, the book is shamelessly padded out and you can imagine a frantic editor pleading: “You haven’t written enough. Is there nothing else you can add? What was your favourite colour as a child? Which foods don’t you like?”

It can be no coincidence that well over half the book was written by Segers’s solicitor Mel Goldberg and even he is reduced to spinning out his material by including the full charge sheet, adding plenty of tedious courtroom “humour” and then reprinting word for word the lengthy closing defence speech for Segers which he didn’t even make. The last chapter, entitled “My Greatest Save”, tells how Segers discovered Christianity. All very admirable, but not the kind of thing you expect in the final chapter of a book about match-rigging trials.

But for all its faults the work is not without interest. It was clear to those of us who sat in the press box that the case against the four was flawed. The prosecutors relied on vast logs of mobile phone calls made between the defendants and video tapes recorded by Chris Vincent, a former business partner of Grobbelaar’s, in which the keeper appeared to admit he had thrown games.

Crucially, there were no recordings of the mobile calls themselves and many of the Vincent tapes were of appalling quality.

Segers notes the charges against him were changed early on and then again after the first trial, where he had been accused of throwing matches. “In the second trial that acc­usation switched to trying to in­­f­luence res-ults. All the time their case was get-ting weaker and they changed their tactics to suit them­selves,” he writes.

Goldberg dismissed the prosecution’s case as “nonsense. It is surely difficult, if not impossible, to influence the outcome of a match…unless all 22 individuals, plus the referee and linesmen, are in collusion.” Most attempts to influence games seem to involve putting pressure on the referee, not the players.

How do you prove a player has thrown a match? It is very hard to draw any conclusions from slow-motion frames of goals, however many times you see them. Unless a keeper boots the ball into his own net and then throws himself into the arms of the opposing strikers, how can you prove he was acting deliberately?

And what about retrospective action? Chelsea fans remember the two atrocious goals Dave Beasant con­ceded a few years ago against Norwich – will there now be a probe into whether he was bribed? Are we going to see shareholders take legal action against a goalkeeper for making a mistake which results in relegation or a striker whose miss robs the team of a cup victory?

Segers naturally portrays the defendants as heroes and the account therefore lacks any sense of how tawdry the proceedings were, of the evidence which could only help kill the romance of football by showing our sporting heroes to be as base as the rest of us. Did we really want to know Grobbelaar smokes, that he kept £25,000 in his sock drawer and is in love with one particular obscenity when drunk?

Listening to tabloid reporters phoning in excerpts from the court transcripts of the Grobbelaar tapes had a certain surreal quality to it. “Just you know, see what f***ing person I am and if I’m f***ing genuine. I like to f***ing win. I don’t like to f***ing lose.” “So what happens if I say, right fine, f***ing Man United are playing f***ing next day at Man United and I say, right, Man United are going to f***ing win. And it’s not my f***ing team. And I’m just taking the f***ing…right?” “This is how f***ing dangerous it is. When you’re playing with f***ing dangerous men, it’s f***ing dangerous.”

In the book Segers rhapsodises about his love for wife and family but it emerged at the trial that he had been having affairs. And we learned that John Fash­anu, core of the Crazy Gang, simply switched off at the final whistle. “He had a relatively limited knowledge of the specifics of football, the anorak side,” said his agent. Oh yes, those anoraks who regularly shell out to watch the team and buy the excremental new strip every few months, the ones who help keep the club in business.

Goldberg unwittingly identifies the book’s main problem by relating what he suspected after Segers had performed badly under cross-examination by the chief prosecutor, who was clearly using the Dutchman for target practice. “Is he warming up for Bruce?” the solicitor wondered.

And that’s the point. The definitive book about these trials should surely be written by Grobbelaar, who was both the central figure and the most interesting of the defendants, a former soldier who saw his friends killed in Rhodesian war and someone who seriously considered giving up football after Hillsborough. So come on, Bruce. Sit down, turn on your word processor and hit those asterisk keys.

From WSC 144 February 1999. What was happening this month