History repeats itself

Angelo Moratti is still almost sanctified at Inter where his son Massimo is now in charge and free from accusations.

The luck of the draw for the first knock-out round of the European Champions Cup pits Liverpool against Internazionale: for the first time since Bill Shankly’s team were cheated out of the semifinals of 1965 at San Siro. Accordingly, I found myself being interviewed, in London, for Liverpool FC’s own television station about that scandalous event. Which my colleague Keith Botsford and myself had exposed at length in the ‘Sunday Times’. Our series wa s given the title ‘The Years of the Golden Fix’.

That Liverpool had been the victims of a shocking and shameful piece of referee bribery had been plain enough at the time. Having gallantly won the first leg 3-1 at Anfield, despite only three days earlier having won the FA Cup Final at Wembley against Leeds with 10 fit men, they went down 3-0 at San Siro, two of Inter’s three goals being deeply suspect. Awarded by a Spanish referee, Ortis de Mendibil, who at the end was kicked off the field and all the way back to the dressing room by Liverpool’s rugged Tommy Smith.

But then, after the first leg, manager Bill Shankly had been sadly told by a large Italian journalist, “You will not be allowed to win.” Nor were they. Of the three goals at San Siro, one came directly from what was supposed to be an indirect free kick taken by the left-footed Mariolino Corso. Another arrived when Joaquin Peiro, the Spanish international, kicked the ball out of the hands of the Liverpool ’keeper, Tommy Lawrence.

Liverpool made no official protest. Nor, a year earlier, had the West German Club, Borussia Dortmund who had been similarly treated. Not even when it was known via a Yugoslav newspaper that the Yugoslav referee, Tesanic, had failed to send off Luisito Suarez of Inter for a brutal foil which reduced Borussia to 10 men. And that Tesanic that summer had told a Yugoslav holiday maker at an Italian resort that Inter were paying for his vacation.

Even had one or other mistreated club protested, what good would it have done? The sad thing was that, in the third, successive, second-leg semifinal in Milan, when Inter tried but failed to bribe honest Gyorgy Vadas, the Hungarian referee, he failed to report what happened. Unlike the brave Portuguese referee Francisco Marques Lobo who, when the notorious fixer, the Hungarian refugee Dezso Solti, came to Lisbon to try to bribe him to “bend” the Derby County-Juventus semifinal return, reported it. That was in 1973 and the same cast of crooks was involved.

But when I, at the ‘Sunday Times’, got a “cough” from Budapest about the disgraceful way in which UEFA, the European body, had brushed the dirt under the carpet, the hunt was on. I enlisted my colleague, the multi-lingual American writer, Keith Botsford, who speaks Portuguese, who went to Lisbon and persuaded Lobo to tell the whole, shabby story. Culminating in a fiasco of a so-called UEFA disciplinary sub-committee in Zurich which did not even confront Lobo with Solti though both were in the hotel. Then raced off a letter to Juventus to exculpate them and thank them!

When Keith and I, the following year, published our first exposure with huge projection in the ‘Sunday Times’, there was hell to pay in Italy, great headlines talking of ‘Scandalous accusations against Juventus’. Nasty, slimy journalistic creatures crawled out from under stones. But in all the years of our investigation, we never received a libel writ from anybody. Even if, in the event, no one was really brought to justice but Solti, who was given a mere year’s suspension from activity.

Lobo had made a good honest job of the game at Derby, which was drawn after Juve had won the first leg in Turin. But Keith and I were keen to delve into the dark recesses of how Inter had bought or tried to buy referees in the previous decade. Vardas, like Lobo, would never be given any other game to referee at European or international level. But even after all those years he was still not prepared to talk. This, though Keith and I eventually tracked him down in Budapest; almost inevitably at Radio Budapest, where everyone of any consequence in Hungarian football, good or bad, straight or crooked, seemed to work. We even offered to pay for Vardas to come to London to talk to us; but he wouldn’t.

Eventually, however, a talented and persistent young Hungarian journalist, Peter Borewich — he too working at Radio Budapest — persuaded Vardas to talk and published the results of a devastating interview in a book called ‘Only the ball has a skin’. Which we republished in English in the ‘Sunday Times’.

And what a story of chicanery and opposing honesty it was! Inter were due to play their second-leg semifinal at home to Real Madrid. Solti met Vardas and his linesman on arrival and eventually took them up to the sumptuous villa of Angelo Moratti, the oil millionaire and President of Inter. There he offered them huge sums of money to conspire; a sliding scale which reached its apex if Inter were to win from a penalty in extra-time. All sorts of electrical gadgetry, much of it then unknown in Hungary, was offered, too, but Vardas nobly refused. Inter didn’t win and were out of the European Cup. Solti, at half-time, came to Vardas’ dressing room, breathing fire and slaughter. But to no avail.

Angelo Moratti is still almost sanctified at Inter where his son Massimo is now in charge and free from any such accusations. Allodi remained for years to come a leading figure in Italian football, even almost incredibly, made general manager of the Italian 1974 World Cup finals team in Germany, and head of the coaching centre at Coverciano. He shamelessly invented tales about me, claiming to have sent me money when I was ill in Florence in 1954, so I could stay. In fact I’d had to go back to London for operations and never met Allodi till 1973 in Belgrade before the Juve-Ajax European Cup Final. Four years later before the Euro final between Liverpool and Monchengladbach in Rome he approached me in the Excelsior Hotel, saying, “We’ve never met.”!