Stephen Dawson still looking for answers despite having his name cleared

Midfielder happy nine-month nightmare over ‘spot-fixing’ allegations is over

Stephen Dawson: “The day was a whirlwind, I was taken away in handcuffs to a local police station and for the next 18 or 19 hours I was questioned about the accusations.” Photograph: Pete Norton/Getty Images

Stephen Dawson: “The day was a whirlwind, I was taken away in handcuffs to a local police station and for the next 18 or 19 hours I was questioned about the accusations.” Photograph: Pete Norton/Getty Images

 

With two league games and a televised one in the FA Cup against Stoke City, the next 10 days will be big ones for Rochdale’s Stephen Dawson, but they’ll do well to compare with the last two days during which a nine-month nightmare prompted by allegations of “spot-fixing” finally came to an end.

The story had its murky roots in an undercover investigation by the Sunday Sun’s Mazher Mahmood or “fake sheikh” whose interview with former professional player Sam Sodje prompted Britain’s National Crimes Agency to arrest six people in December 2013.

Dawson, along with two other Irish players, Graham Cummins and Keith Keane, were amongst seven arrested in a follow up investigation of April of last year. All were told on Thursday that, at least in part because Mahmood was said by the judge in another trial to have most likely lied while giving evidence, there will be no prosecutions. The midfielder is relieved but far from happy and insists he will be pursuing the matter through his lawyers.

He remembers with precision the moment it all started. “It was April 2nd, 6.30 in the morning and I was in bed with my partner when there was a loud bang on the door then another bang; I thought we were being broken into until I heard a voice saying to come and open the door.

“They came in, searched the house, took some of my belongings, my phones (Irish and British mobiles), my laptop and some documents. The day was a whirlwind, I was taken away in handcuffs to a local police station and for the next 18 or 19 hours I was questioned about the accusations.”

These amounted to suggestions that he had deliberately got himself booked in particular games in return for payments from people facilitating a betting scam, all of which was in line with the claims by Sodje that he knew players who would do just that. There has been no public suggestion that Sodje named Dawson or any of the other six arrested that day, the rest of whom belonged to Preston North End and the 29-year-old insists that the police at no point indicated to him why he had become a suspect.

What they did do was bring up three bookings in particular games and warn him that his career would be over and he could be going to prison for a long time if he was convicted. Dawson says he was badly shaken by the incredible turn of events.

“I was just trying to explain to them that that (getting the odd yellow card) was part of my game. Anyone who knows me in the 10 or 11 years I’ve been over here, through more than 400 games, knows I’m an honest player. I’m not the best player in the world but I give it my all.”

The police weren’t easily dissuaded and Dawson was released on bail late that night unsure of what would happen next. He didn’t sleep that night due to the worry but took some reassurance from the fact that the next morning his manager, Danny Wilson, sat him down, talked it through and told him he believed in him. The following day he started and, as usual, captained Barnsley in their game against Bristol City.

Tormented

“I’m not afraid to say that it almost broke me,” he says. “There were times when I just wanted to run away from home because I had reporters at my door who wouldn’t leave my family alone. I couldn’t sleep because I thought they might come again and I’d have 10 or 12 officers walking around my house”

He worried about his brother Kevin, himself a professional with Yeovil, being tainted and later, having moved to Rochdale, worried after each booking that it too might become the subject of a new allegation. All the while, the PFA, the union whose boss Gordon Taylor last week had to apologise for his cack-handed comments in support of Ched Evans, said it couldn’t help him. “I was just left by myself to defend my good name.”

The certainty that he was innocent, he insists, and the support of others, like Keith Hill, a former manager of his at Barnsley who also believed in him and brought him to Rochdale, kept him going but he believes that the shadow cast cost him the opportunity to stay in the Championship when Barnsley were relegated and his contract ran out.

“People said it to me and one of my former managers said there were certain clubs that felt they couldn’t touch me. I’m not saying I would have 20 offers but I absolutely believe it has affected my career and that is why I am not prepared to let it lie. I still want answers and I am going to go after them.”

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