Tapie is accused of fixing European ties

THE stench of corruption from the Olympique Marscille affair spreads ever wider

THE stench of corruption from the Olympique Marscille affair spreads ever wider. Just as French football appeared to be recovering from the 1993 scandal, which saw Bernard Tapie's club forfeit its newly won European title as well as being thrown out of the following season's Champions' Cup and stripped of the French championship, a judicial report now alleges that Tapie fixed games on an international scale.

Originally, Marseille were punished for offering three Valenciennes players a total of £30,000 to throw a crucial French league game shortly before they met Milan in the 1993 Champions' Cup final, won with a header from Basile Boli. Tapie's prison sentence, still the subject of an appeal, appeared to end the matter.

Now, however, the report of an examining magistrate, Pierre Phillipon, accuses the former Marseille president of organising a £12 million fraud.

Three Champions' Cup matches have been mentioned against AEK Athens in 1989, Spartak Moscow in 1991, and FC Bruges in 1993.


Marseille won all three ties helped initially by an own goal from an AEK player, Manolas. The Champions' League win over Bruges which ensured that they and not Rangers, would reach the 1993 final, was settled by a goal from Alen Boksic, now with Juventus, after only two minutes.

For European football, the most worrying aspect of yesterday's leaked document is not so much the fresh accusations against Tapie, but the revelation that a number of middlemen, notably the Greek Spiros Karageorgis, the subject of an international arrest warrant, have also been involved.

The knowledge that Karageorgis, along with a Frenchman, a Portuguese and an Italian are due to be tried for their alleged involvement with illegal payments to players from several countries will cause UEFA, the European governing body, and its member nations more than a little concern.

So far, the Bosman affair, a civil case which established the right of out of contract footballers to move freely between clubs of different countries, has not had the serious repercussions that were feared. But on a totally different tack, the Tapie business may well continue to expose fresh scandals beyond the millennium.

The saddest part of yesterday's revelations, the result of a long and detailed investigation into Marseille's affairs, was the naming of Michel Hidalgo, a former manager of the French national side, as one of those involved.

Hidalgo guided the team, which included Platini, Giresse and Tigana, to the 1984 European Championship, which France hosted. In the final, they beat Spain 2-0, a personal triumph for Hidalgo, who had been a member of the Rheims side beaten 4-3 by Real Madrid in Paris in the first European Cup final.

If Hidalgo really is among the 20 officials, plus middlemen, facing trial on charges of match rigging, then football in France, due to host the 1998 World Cup, is already facing a new dark age. The news will also be an embarrassment for UEFA since witnesses have said that the swindle had been common knowledge at least since 1989.

When the scandal broke in 1993, both FIFA and UEFA accused the French football federation of dragging its heels over the affair and FIFA even threatened France with expulsion from the World Cup.

At around the same time, Dynamo Tblisi were found guilty of trying to bribe the referee of a preliminary round Champions' Cup game against Linfield, the Irish League champions, and thrown out of the tournament.

UEFA has not always acted so decisively. In 1973, two Sunday Times journalists provided evidence that a Hungarian middleman, Dezso Solti, had tried to bribe a Portuguese referee into favouring Juventus in the second leg of their European Cup semi final against Derby County. UEFA's disciplinary committee demanded that Solti be made non grata throughout European football but the UEFA executive did nothing.

That same year, Milan beat Leeds United 1-0 in a Cup winners' Cup final in Salonika which was so badly handled by the Greek referee, Christos Michas, that he was suspended by both UEFA and his own federation. Yet no enquiry followed.

At least the French media, members of which suffered death threats, had their cars vandalised, and in some cases lost their jobs while investigating Tapie, will feel further vindicated by the latest developments. It is believed that Tapie fixed, or attempted to fix, between 40 and 50 matches while he was president of Marseille.

While English football has remained free of match fixing since a pools betting scam led to the jailing of 10 footballers in 1965, three players - Bruce Grobbelaar, John Fashanu and Hans Segers - are among five people at present awaiting trial accused of conspiring to give and corruptly accept gifts of money as inducements improperly to influence the outcome of football matches".