How pleasant it would be to dismiss the recent small scandal involving an alleged attempt by the New England Tea Men of the North American Soccer League to reach an accommodation with the Rochester Lancers as something quite unknown in pro soccer.
Alas, even if there were any truth in the tale that Shep Messing, Rochester's goalkeeper, had been asked to allow a goal and the Tea Men would do likewise, thus qualifying both for the playoffs, it would be very mild stuff by comparison with what has gone on elsewhere in the past.
One might say, in passing, that the fatuous complication of the way the NASL runs its tournament exposes it to that kind of thing; points awarded for goals is always a highly dubious expedient, and the present case points up the fact.
Meanwhile, let us gaze back into the not too distant past at other things that unfortunately have happened. We do not have to go further back than the 1978 World Cup, when Peru, in the final game of the final pool, lay down abjectly in front of Argentina in Rosario, to lose 6-0. That meant the Argentinians went through to the final on goal difference, having edged out the Brazilians, who had played and won earlier in the afternoon.
Were the Peruvians bribed or did they succumb out of sheer fright? We don't know, though we do know that a furious Brazilian coach, Claudio Coutinho, said that the Peruvian players would feel no pride when they heard their national anthem during the next World Cup.
The London Sunday Times spent five years investigating the corruption of referees by the major Italian soccer clubs -- Internazionale of Milan, A.C. Milan and Juventus, in particular -- in European Cup competition. The Italians saw to it for years that they got the referees they wanted.
In the summer of 1974, when Italy had to avoid defeat by Poland in the World Cup finals at Stuttgart, West Germany, the Italian players offered money to the Poles on the field to let them equalize. They were not accommodated. Afterwards, honest men among the Italian coaches expressed fury that such cheap and self-defeating stratagems had been adopted. "Had the Poles been left to themselves," one said, "they would have been glad enough to draw, as good professionals: we needed only one point each to qualify for the final round. But the offer of money incensed them."
The Italians are by no means the only guilty parties. Real Madrid, the wealthy Spanish club that dominated the European Cup for its first five years, had its own way with referees. In 1966 when Cocetto Lo Bello, a very honourable Sicilian, was refereeing its World Club Cup final in Madrid against Penarol of Uruguay, and Real was losing at halftime, emissaries came to his dressing room. Here are your expenses, they said. Lo Bello replied that they were far too much and refused them. Penarol went on to win 2-0, and Lo Bello didn't even get a car to the airport.
Even Bavern Munich, Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Muller's old club, has not been without blemish. It got away unscathed when Beckenbauer blatantly tripped Allan Clarke of Leeds in the European Cup final of 1975 in Paris. A French referee penalized only two points of a possible 20. The government body didn't investigate.
Bayern was officially reported by the Malmo club of Sweden after a Bulgarian referee in Munich (the European Cup again) had given a couple of astonishing goals against them. Malmo alleged that excessive presents had been given the referee; UEFA said he had had only a beer mug. But a Dutch referee once went back from Munich to tell journalists that his beer mug contained an expensive gold watch.
England, alas, is by no means free of such tales and taints. In 1971, when Leeds United had only to draw with Wolverhampton-Wanderers to be sure of winning the league championship in the last game, a Wolves defender touched the ball with his hands twice in his own penalty box. No penalty was given on either occasion. Afterwards newspapers alleged that three Wolves players had had phone calls asking them to throw the game.
In March 1963, 10 British soccer players went to jail at the Nottingham Assizes for deliberately losing games to assist betting coups. Among them were three well known First Division players from Sheffield Wednesday, guilty of throwing a game at Ipswich. All were permanently suspended.
As for Italian football, the end of each season is notorious for the amount of money changing hands as clubs try to escape demotion to a lower division. Best not to ask how Bologna got away by the skin of its teeth in the past two seasons. It was the club that 30 years ago tried to fix a game against Lucchese, which needed a point badly. The English coach, Ted Crawford, talked half the team into trying. One of the players, to the fury of those in the plot, scored a goal Crawford told me he'd never laughed so much in his life at the efforts of the other Bologna men to let in the equalizer. The succeeded in the end.