In the world of professional sport, it is generally accepted that it is wrong for sports personalities to bet on their own contests. Obviously a bet on a player to win might seem harmless enough, meaning that they have extra incentive for the team to win, but what happens if the bet is more specific? Say a player has bet on the number of corners there will be or the identity of the first goalscorer, doesn’t that change the dynamic of how the match might pan out if the player decides to attempt to influence things themselves?
It’s obvious that any sort of gambling on the outcome of a match from someone that is involved in said match is a big no-no, yet too many players find themselves unable to resist the temptation. Betting on the likes of horse racing or going to a casino is perfectly fine, but betting on the sport that the player is involved in will always be a matter of contention and many consider it to run the risk of a match-fixing accusation. The result is that the authorities of the game come down hard on those that disobey the rules, with this article being a look at the players that have flouted the rules in the past.
Are Footballers Allowed to Bet on Sports?
Betting on sports other than football is ok as far as the Football Association is concerned, but players registered with any club within the top eight tiers of English football are banned from betting on the sport that they take part on. That ban is in place for players of both the men’s and women’s game.
These rules apply not just to players but also to managers, officials and even club staff. It’s not just games that they are banned from betting on either, but rather ‘any other football-related matter’. That means that bets are not allowed to be placed on a manager being sacked or appointed, a player being bought or sold or other things with a football link. Those that flout the rules are at risk of being handed a suspension, financial penalty and even a lifetime ban.
Players Who Have Broken the Rules
Now that we have an idea what is and is not allowed when it comes to players betting on football related matters, let’s have a look at some of the most famous examples of players who have broken the rules on the matter.
Joey Barton: 18-Month Ban
Few footballers have the reputation that Joey Barton has gleamed for himself over the years. The likes of Vinnie Jones might have painted themselves as a ‘bad boy’ of football, but grabbing hold of Paul Gascoigne’s testicles and being a bit heavy into a tackle is as nothing compared to Barton’s misdemeanours over the years.
Born in Huyton on Merseyside in 1982, Barton began his senior career with Manchester City after brief youth spells at both Everton and Liverpool. He made his first-team debut on the 5th of April, 2003, but it didn’t take long for him to cause trouble. In pre-season for the following campaign he started a brawl between City players and those of their opponents Doncaster Rovers with a bad tackle, but it was his behaviour in December 2004 that threatened his club career.
During City’s Christmas party at a club called Lucid in Manchester city centre, Barton got into a disagreement with a youth player named Jamie Tandy and stubbed his cigar out in the player’s eye. The following summer he broke a pedestrian’s leg when driving through the centre of Liverpool at two in the morning and during the club’s pre-season tour of Thailand he assaulted a fifteen-year-old Everton fan.
All of which was something of a pre-cursor to his behaviour in 2007 when he attacked his City teammate Ousmane Dabo, leaving him unconscious. He later pled guilty to charges of assault and received a suspended jail sentence. In December of the same year, he was arrested on suspicion of assault in Liverpool city centre, with video footage showing him punching someone twenty times. He received a six month prison sentence, of which he served seventy-four days.
These are just some examples of the player’s disciplinary problems. None of this is to suggest that gamblers lack impulse control or are inherently poorly behaved, of course. Instead it is to make the point that Barton was never a player who was all that bothered about the rules of football or of the law. It’s perhaps no surprise, therefore, that he was accused in October 2016 of placing forty-four different bets that year by the Scottish Football Association. Ironically, bookmakers were offering odds of 16/1 on him being the Scottish Player of the Year before the accusations.
He was later accused of making more than twelve hundred bets over ten years by the Football Association and was given an eighteen-month ban in April of 2017, eventually being released by his then-club Burnley. The story of Barton and gambling doesn’t end there, however, with the midfielder claiming in January of 2018 that half of all footballers bet on the game. He said that gambling was ‘culturally engrained’ in football and that ‘50% of the playing staff’ at football clubs would be taken out if the FA clamped down on the practice.
Martin Demichelis: Fined £22k
There’s an argument that Martin Demichelis is the exception that proves the rule when it comes to the Football Association and its rules on betting. Having arrived in England on the back of winning the Argentine Primera Division twice and the Bundesliga four times, the Argentine defender then went on to add to his tally courtesy of a Premier League title with Manuel Pellegrini’s Manchester City.
Yet in May of 2016, the defender was found guilty of placing twenty-nine bets on football matches earlier in the year. The suggestion from the FA in the past had been that the book would be thrown at players guilty of that sort of behaviour, but because the rules had only come in the previous season and because he’d only bet on matches in which he couldn’t possibly have any influence, he was simply wanted about his future conduct and fined £22,058.
Andros Townsend: Fined £18k & a 4-month Ban
When the back-pass rule was introduced to football it famously caused havoc for goalkeepers and defences alike, with many believing that it’s a large part of the reason for Liverpool not winning a top-flight title since 1991 as their then-goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar was struggling to adapt. The same can’t be said for the FA’s rules on betting changing ahead of the 2014-2015 season, given that players were already banned from betting on football in various circumstances and the change of rules merely tightened these restrictions.
One player who can testify to that is Andros Townsend, who found himself on the receiving end of a Football Association punishment before the change to the rules came into effect. Townsend struggled to find a club during the early stages of his career, moving between numerous lower league sides before returning to his senior club Tottenham Hotspur in 2013. Immediately upon landing back at White Hart Lane, however, the attacking midfielder was informed that he was being investigated by the FA for breaching the organisation’s betting regulations.
Whilst not accused of betting on matches in which he was an active participant, he was nevertheless handed an £18,000 and given a four-month ban, three months of which was suspended until 2016. In actual fact, the timing of the ban and the fact that the majority of it was suspended meant that he didn’t actually miss a game, having already withdrawn from the England Under-21 squad.
Bradley Wood: Banned for 6 Years
It’s not just top-level Premier League players that can find themselves in trouble with the Football Association for betting on matches, of course. Nowhere is that more clear than in the case of Bradley Wood, who was found guilty of deliberately picking up two yellow cards during two different FA Cup matches. Wood was a Lincoln City player at the time and the club were enjoying a brilliant run in the competition, going on to reach the quarter-final phase when they beat top-flight Burnley in the last sixteen, eventually losing 5-0 to Arsenal.
What will surely have infuriated Imps fans was the fact that he put their cup run at risk in the process of picking up his yellow cards, getting the first in the replay of the club’s Third Round tie with Ipswich Town, then getting the second in the Fifth Round match against Burnley. Two of his friends placed bets on him getting booked in a manner that the FA adjudged to be ‘atypical’ in the betting market. The Football Association felt that he had intentionally got himself booked on both occasions and informed acquaintances in order to allow them to make money from his bookings.
The result was a decision by the FA to fine him £3,725, order him to pay costs amounting to £1,550 and ban him for six years. Wood had moved from Lincoln City to the National League North side Alfreton Town by that point, meaning that the club was punished by seeing their player missing from their books until March 2024. Wood’s associates made around £10,000 from their bets, with the player breaching twenty-five different FA rules.
The Difficulty in Enforcing the Rules in a Digital World
What lies in store for the future of footballers and betting is a topic that is tricky to talk about with any degree of certainty. What we can say is that it will become harder and harder for the Football Association to keep any sort of track on whether a player is placing bets given the proliferation of online betting, apps and so on. There is also evidence that many players use their family to place bets for them, which is something that the FA will almost certainly not be able to track.
Is it possible that the Football Association will ban the family of footballers from betting? What about their friends? Where does that particular line of thinking end? One interesting thing worth noting is that, at the time of writing, there is nothing to stop footballers from taking part in fantasy football games. Many Premier League footballers readily admit to using the organisation’s own game, but isn’t that not too dissimilar from betting? After all, might a player be tempted to not play a pass if a player not on their roster would score a goal, or hit a penalty softly if the goalkeeper is in their team and would get bonus points for saving it? A ban on fantasy football may be what comes next.