As we come to the end of the season many people get suspicious of results and we had the curious incident of Levante and the quote from Barkero just a few weeks back. I was dubious if this ever existed and thought it would never happen in the top leagues until a few years ago.
On May 15th 2011 I was in El Molinon to watch Sporting Gijon play Racing Santander in a game that Sporting had to win to stay up. I remember when the team was announced that it was odd that Sastre was playing instead of Lora. Sastre’s contract was up and he was to leave the club and had not been playing much as Lora was first choice right back.
It didn’t really matter when the game started as Sporting were on fire. Wave after wave they attacked coming closest when Castro hit the post in the 22nd minute. In the 32nd minute Racing scored out of the blue to make it 1-0. I started to think it might not be Sporting’s day but De Las Cuevas equalised just before half time and then in the 51st minute Novo scored to make it 2-1 to Sporting.
Sporting were in the box seat and looking likely to stay up and that was when I started to think something was wrong. There was a lack of atmosphere in the stadium and a lack of action on the pitch. Sporting and Racing are rivals and when there was an anti-Santander chant from the stands other clusters of Sporting fans would shout them back down and tell them not chant this. It started to make sense why they were saying this as it became clear Racing were doing them a favour. The ball never went into the Sporting box in the second half and I remember one particular piece of action where Ariel Nahuelpán was running for a ball and just slowed down so Botía could come across and take the ball from him. The main chorus ringing out from the stands was the catchy “Rafel Sastre es nuestro capitan” and it dawned on me that Preciado was able to play him as he knew the game was in the bag.
The game finished 2-1 and I went home feeling odd. I don’t want to over dramatise it but I never before realised this could happen in such a major league and I felt football had lost something. I felt sorry for Deportivo, who were relegated that day, as there was nothing they could have done. That one result made a mockery of the whole season as it didn’t really matter how you played in the season as long as you had your mates to play on the last day.
I spoke to my wife about it and the next day when she came home from work she told me she had brought it up and people had told her of course it was fixed. We all knew, they said, and the only surprise was that Santander scored. I chatted to another season ticket holder in the park whilst the kids were playing and was told the same. Everyone was in on it and it was just me who had to work it out.
This game was not fixed for money. There were no dodgy envelopes, well I don’t think so, but nothing in Spain would surprise me. Rather it was fixed by connections between the two clubs. Racing Santander were managed by Marcelino who played for both Sporting and Racing and had managed Sporting prior to managing Racing. Sporting were managed by Manuel Preciado who played and managed Racing before managing Sporting. There was also the mention of a match the year before in which Sporting had done Racing a favour and this was the favour in return. If there is suspicious betting activity on a lower league game in Eastern Europe then the wheels are in motion and everyone is trying to stamp it out but this kind of thing is allowed to continue.
In researching this article I was able to look up these old matches and dig out some articles about this. The previous year there was indeed a 2-0 win for Racing in May and the report is here showing domination by Racing.
I also had a chance to dig out the game I was at and you can view it here. Have a look and tell me that does not look odd. 34 shots to 5, 16 corners to 1 but the shots map shows it better than any of that. Click on the second half shots and look at that. Considering the possession is even at 50-50 and Racing went 2-1 down after 51 minutes it must seem a bit odd that they didn’t record a single shot.
I have no doubt this was fixed. Not one single doubt and whereas two years ago when I heard about match fixing I would think it never occurs now I am always suspicious. They took away my naivety that day and the best thing of all would be if this was exposed and out in the open. If not everyone is cheated.