English soccer officials open inquiry into alleged bribery in soccer

Wednesday, September 20th 2006, 10:43 am
By: News On 6

LONDON (AP) _ English soccer officials opened an inquiry Wednesday into allegations in a BBC TV investigation that Bolton manager Sam Allardyce and others benefited from illegal payments from soccer agents.

The Football Association and the Premier League said they would ask the BBC to provide details from Tuesday night's Panorama program, entitled ``Undercover: Football's Dirty Secrets.''

``These are serious allegations which have been made by Panorama and we are determined to investigate them fully,'' FA chief executive Brian Barwick said. ``It is vital for the integrity of the game and for every football supporter that we do this.

``We will work in close cooperation with the Premier League. As with any investigation, we will ensure that our inquiries are exhaustive and thorough. If we find evidence of corruption we will act on it. We recognize our responsibility.''

Three soccer agents secretly filmed by the BBC said Allardyce took bribes from agents to complete lucrative transfer deals.

Allardyce, who was a top candidate to become manager of England's national team, denied all the allegations and said he was taking legal action against the British broadcaster.

``The matter is in the lawyer's hands and will be resolved by due process,'' he said. ``I have instructed my lawyers to take the appropriate action.''

``Because I haven't seen anything of the program I need to have a look at that and to take a view of that before I make any comment whatsoever,'' Allardyce said. ``But if there are things saying wrong about Sam Allardyce believe you me, I will be fighting them.''

The most compelling evidence in the program was a statement by Craig Allardyce, an agent and the son of Sam Allardyce, acknowledging that his father knew of secret payments in Bolton transfer deals.

Asked if his father knew of the payments, Craig Allardyce replied: ``Of course he knew. Of course he knew.''

Bolton said Wednesday it was looking into the BBC charges.

The one-hour program failed to show any bribes changing hands, although three agents _ Tony Yerima, Charles Collymore and Peter Harrison _ alleged that Allardyce took illegal kickbacks.

``We are reviewing the Panorama program carefully and we may request further information from the BBC,'' Bolton said in a statement.

The FA added: ``We have watched the program with great interest and have asked the BBC if they will share the findings from their investigation with us. If we have evidence of possible breaches of rules and regulations, we will of course investigate that.''

The League Managers Association said the BBC program lacked ``substance and evidence.''

Evidence acquired by the BBC is likely to be forwarded to former London police chief John Stevens. He is heading an inquiry into soccer corruption and is to report the finding on Oct. 2.

The inquiry was set up by the English Premier League after Luton manager Mike Newell said eight months ago that he had turned down two bribes offered by agents to complete player transfers.

``The integrity of sport needs to be upheld and there are proper rules for managers and agents,'' British sports minister Richard Caborn said. ``These allegations damage the integrity of football and need to be looked at properly.''

The BBC program used hidden cameras with undercover reporters posing as soccer agents. It said 18 past and present Premier League managers _ only Allardyce and Portsmouth manager Harry Redknapp were shown on the program _ had taken illegal payments.

Redknapp was shown talking about his interest in a player under contract with Blackburn. Redknapp denied he was ``tapping up'' the player.

The English soccer term ``tapping up'' refers to an attempt by one team to lure an under-contract player away from his club.

The practice is against English soccer rules, although some players say they should be free _ under European labor law _ to negotiate with any club about their services.

``I've done absolutely nothing wrong,'' Redknapp said. ``There's nothing on there that I would have to consult my lawyer about.''

The program also implicated two-time defending Premier League champion Chelsea in possible talks with a player who was under contract to another club.

Chelsea's director of youth soccer, Frank Arnesen, was shown by the BBC suggesting that 15-year-old Nathan Porritt, under contract with Middlesbrough, could move to Chelsea for 150,000 pounds (US$280,000; euro220,000).

Chelsea was handed a heavy fine last year by the English Premier League for its unauthorized approach to Arsenal player Ashley Cole. Cole moved last month to Chelsea from Arsenal.

Chelsea was also told it would be docked three points if it happened again.