Italia, Italia! Nothing ever changes

Lazio's Stefano Mauriis among those arrested as part of a wide-ranging investigation into match-fixing in football.-AP

In the 1980s, it was known as Totonero: Black Toto, a reference to Totocalcio, the football betting game native to Italy. Match-fixing has come back again to haunt Italian football. Over to Brian Glanville.

Here, alas, we go again. Corruption, historically endemic in Italian football, is overwhelming it once more. This time, they are calling it Scommessopoli. But what's in a name? In the 1980s, it was known as Totonero: Black Toto. A reference to Totocalcio, the football betting game native to Italy, whose inventor, as we shall see, tipped me off about a vicious stab in the back from a supposed pillar of Italian football journalism, when, in the mid-seventies of last century, I and a multilingual colleague had dared to reveal a shocking story of the corruption of referees by Inter and Juventus.

On a late May Monday (2012), 19 arrests were made in Italy and Hungary in connection with the latest scandal, bringing the number to 50, all accused of fixing matches. It meant that the Italian squad heading then for the European finales in Eastern Europe had to do without their defender, Domenico Criscito, actually with the Azzurri, preparing for the tournament at the Italian training and coaching headquarters, out at Coverciano near Florence. But Cesare Prandelli, the Italy manager, though he cast out Criscito, surprisingly decided he would keep the Juventus centre back, Luciano Bonucci, although his name is rumoured to be on the list of suspects; which Prandelli denies. Scommessopoli, a play on the word scommessa, which means a bet, rolls grimly on.

I was particularly sorry to see that Giuseppe Signori, once such an elegant and effective Italy outside left and modest, friendly man to talk to, was among those arrested. But as one knowledgeable “insider” commented, “Too many dangerous people want to make business from football and can involve the players. It's a real problem for Italian football, but nothing is done to kill it. Every ten years, the problem starts again.”

In 2006, even mighty Juventus were found guilty of participating in fixed matches. They were deprived of two of their League titles and relegated; the club known for its huge popularity as ‘La Signora d'Italia', the bride of Italy. Among those brought down was their powerful chief executive, Luciano Moggi, previously nicknamed “the Nice Pinocchio of Italian football,” Not really so nice but, to his credit, it was he who gave Gianfranco Zola, then an obscure Sardinian footballer, his great chance at Napoli.

Juventus were very much in the direct line of fire when my colleague Keith Botsford, half American and half Italian, began our investigation in 1974 for the Sunday Times, having been tipped off via Budapest, as it happened that Juventus, through the suspicious Hungarian expatriate and fixer, Dezso Solti, had tried in vain to bribe the honest Portuguese referee, Francisco Marques Lobo, to manipulate the return European Cup semifinal, when Juventus visited Derby County. We revealed a shameful cover-up by UEFA who, after a fiasco of an inquiry in Zurich, not only exonerated Juve, but thanked them for their cooperation! And from there, we moved on to Inter and the way they regularly bought, or tried to buy, referees of home.

In Italy, there was outcry “SCANDALOUS ACCUSATIONS AGAINST JUVENTUS” screeched a headline.

The malign spider at the centre of the web was one Italo Allodi, secretary of Inter, then the general manager of Juventus, who used Solti as catspaw. In 1985, Inter and Allodi had bought the Spanish referee who at San Siro gave them two highly suspect goals thereby enabling them to knock out Liverpool on goal difference. It was small consolation for Liverpool that their tough guy Tommy Smith, a Liverpudlian himself, kicked Senor Ortiz de Mendibil all the way back to the dressing rooms. The previous year, it was Borussia Dortmund who at San Siro suffered from corrupt refereeing, when the Yugoslav, Tesanic, allowed Inter's Luis Suarez to stay on the field, after he had kicked the Dortmund right half off it.

I was convinced in 1974 in my innocence that Gianni Brera, recognised as the very conscience of Italian football, would be incensed by our revelations. How naive of me. I was directed to an article by him in the weekly Guerin Sportivo, in which he declared that perhaps I had been informed by “his partner in Jehovah, Dezso Solti”. Solti being targeted as villain of the piece. My reply was ferocious.

Never did Keith and I meet Solti, but, when we were in Budapest, pursuing our quest to root out and expose Italian clubs' Euro corruption, we actually saw him in a fashionable cafe there but decided, in the circumstances, that we couldn't approach him. Though later, we somewhat regretted it.

Allodi was a shameless liar. In an interview given to a Milanese newspaper, he claimed that, when I was ill in Florence, he and others had sent me money enabling me to stay in Italy. Shameless is as shameless does. In fact, I had to leave Florence for treatment in 1954, in London. And Just before Liverpool won the European Cup in Rome, in 1984, when he accosted me in the Hotel Excelsior, saying, “We have never met, but my name is Italo Allodi,” he'd forgotten that I sat next to him before the 1973 European Cup final at the Yugoslavia hotel in Belgrade, when he was at a gambling table. But facts, as you can tell, never mattered much to him.

Totonero, in the 1980s, was appallingly widespread, as the present scandal appears to be. Enrico Albertosi, a World Cup finals ‘keeper was involved. So surprisingly, was that fine centre forward, Paolo Rossi. Suspended for three years, he was amnestied after just two and thus spared to score six goals for Italy as they won the World Cup final of 1982.

One story involved a Bologna-Juventus match which had been fixed. Juve scored, to their horror, and managed to concede the equaliser when their centre half headed into his own goal. Then there was the Bologna centre forward who desperately telephoned an ex-teammate in Milan, begging him to get a bet on for him against his own team, since no bookmaker in Bologna would take it!

Ex-Juventus star, and now their successful manager Antonio Conte, is also involved. An ex-Siena player has accused him, when managing the club, of knowing a match between Siena and Novara had been fixed. When it came to Totonero, one bizarre facet of the affair was that the two small time crooks Trinca and Crociani, one of whom worked in the Rome vegetable market, were able to walk freely into any hotel where teams were staying before a match, while no journalist was allowed entry. The whole plot unravelled when a young Lazio player pretended to be injured, rather than take part in a fixed match in Rome.