McClelland & Stewart
It’s also diseased.
The Fix tracks the illness, gambling and match-fixing, throughout the world from Accra to Aberdeen, Norwich to Nairobi, and for romantic football supporters, it’s an alarming and disorienting journey. When most fans think of match-fixing in sport, they start imagining the bare-knuckle boxing matches of movies of Brad Bitt; they’re loathe to think of their own team, their own tribal gods, as money-suckling whores. “Football? And my football team? Bollocks. No way.” I know, because I’m one of them.
Unlike many things I read, I was scared, truly terrified to read this book. I am an ardent supporter of Liverpool FC, arguably the most successful English club of all time (Manchester United supporters might dispute this claim, but when you go tit-for-tat, championships and trophies won . . . well, I’ll let you Red Devils supporters do the math), and on my 27th birthday I saw them come back from a 3-0 deficit to win the greatest final in European football – Liverpool FC v. AC Milan, May 25, 2005. For those who saw the match, they know of what I speak; for those who didn’t, well, I’ve got the DVD. It was one of those matches that reminded us all why we love the game so much, why it means what it does, why tears are shed and curses are tossed.
One of the things I read in The Fix was that in fixed games heavy scores often pad the first half. When I read this, I choked. I actually felt physically ill. Was the best game I had ever seen a lie? AC Milan scored three goals in the first half, one of them in the first minute. I didn’t care that I was only 1/10 into the book, I flipped to the index and saw, to my horror, my absolute horror, that the 2005 Champions League final was listed as an entry under Liverpool FC. I went to the section, and I read it. I needed to, I had to, despite waves of nausea and heart-palpitating terror. And because I’m an absolute bastard, I’m not going to tell you what I read. This is something that needs to be experienced by oneself.
The book is a brutal look into the world of gambling and match-fixing in football and how it is ruining the game. As Hill says, “I still love the Saturday-morning game between amateurs: the camaraderie and the fresh smell of grass. But the professional game leaves me cold.” I don’t blame him; it’s sickening to see what has happened to the world’s most popular sport almost throughout the world. Even in those countries and leagues in which the game is, in very broad strokes, impenetrable, the fix is in. Someone, somewhere is trying to ply their dollars to make sure they know the score.
The Fix is not without controversy. Since its release on Tuesday, the Ghana Football Association has decided to take legal action against Hill for his claims about the 2006 World Cup. FIFA, the international regulatory body of football, claims it will not be pursuing investigation into Hill’s allegations, despite pressure from the Ecuadorian football association. Bundesliga, the German premier league also accused of match-fixing in the book, has been eerily quiet, as has La liga.
It’s tempting to disseminate half of what Hill reveals in the book, but to be perfectly trite, it spoils the surprise, tension, horror, and disbelief. At times I yelled or laughed; I also groaned at some of the ridiculous turns of phrase, unabashed Anglophilia, or academese, yet the book kept me riveted. I was chained to it, a prisoner to its shocking truths. The book makes far too much sense to be the ravings of a conspiracy theorist; for a football supporter, it has the logic and pacing of the most sophisticated of political thrillers.
*One kicks the ball with one’s foot, i.e., it’s football. Soccer is an ancient abbreviation for “association football” to distinguish it from “rugby football”. I leave my comments for North American “football”, a sport where a huge number of overdrugged thugs smash each other in homoerotic six-second intervals covered in the latest of military-grade body armour, for another day.