In November 2016, Nick Bunyard – who was manager at Frome Town – was banned from football for three years and handed a £3,000 fine. The crime: breaking gambling regulations that state no player or manager at Step 4 level and above can bet on football.
Bunyard hit the headlines in the national Press as he chose to not only place bets, but place bets against his own side – to lose! As you can imagine, sympathy was in short supply, and even less so when he chose to defend himself by pointing the dirty stick at The FA, labelling them as ‘corrupt’ for choosing to work with betting partners.
Bunyard also revealed that gambling in football was rife, claiming 99 per cent of players he managed placed bets and shared information to do so.
Other players who have been caught out, such as Joey Barton, have also spoken out. Barton – who placed over 1,200 bets during a 10-year period – claimed The FA needed to look ‘at its own dependence on gambling companies’.
Fact is; football and gambling are culturally ingrained, from Stan Bowles placing bets in the bookies outside Loftus Road before a match to the bloke who places a quid on his team’s first goal scorer. It has long been part of the fabric of the game in this country.
Gambling is not a crime, but in recent years gambling rules have become more stringent to the point where it is often seen as one.
But for me it is important to recognise the clear difference between gambling in sport and match-fixing – the latter of which is fundamentally wrong and brings great damage to the game.
Both Barton and Bunyard – and other players – can cry to the authorities all they like but when you make bets in football matches you have a direct involvement in, then it can only lead to suggestions of corruption.
It’s why there are clear rules in place and it’s why I wholeheartedly support them. People can question the ethics of the Isthmian, Southern and Northern Premier Leagues for taking on a gambling sponsor, but we don’t seem to lose much sleep when it involves so many other sports. Do Footballers think they are immune from an industry that is heavily regulated across the board? Or are they just stupid, greedy, or both?
I don’t gamble – at least not to the extent where I would call myself a gambler – but can we not be grateful at least that someone is supporting the leagues at Step 3 and 4?
We cry out for help, but in order to grow the game we may need to stay away from taking the moral high ground here. It’s football, after all, and morals went out of the window a long time ago.
By Alex Narey