By Ed Dove | Features Editor
The ominous reality of match fixing has now reared its ugly head within English football. Previously the scourge of other leagues, notably the Italian, French and Turkish divisions, the news broke earlier in the week that a clutch of players based in Britain have been accused of spot-fixing.
Former Nigeria international Sam Sodje is among those being investigated.
The centre-back played four times for the Super Eagles between 2005 and 2009 and has featured for English sides such as Leeds United, West Bromwich Albion and Charlton. He made it to the Premier League with Reading in the middle of last decade and has also played in Greece with Skoda Xanthi.
Earlier this year he was briefly on the books of Portsmouth FC, currently struggling down in League Two, the fourth tier of English football.
Sodje’s arrest came after he was unwittingly filmed by a reporter from the tabloid newspaper The Sun over the weekend. Speaking to the reporter, Sodje described how he once punched Oldham’s Jose Baxter twice in the groin in order to be sent off. The red card earned him £70,000.
The incident was dismissed by then-Portsmouth manager Guy Whittingham, but in hindsight, the defender's behaviour is highly suspect.
Getting Paid | Sodje earns his cut at the expense of Jose Baxter
Sodje also recounted organising other players to commit similar misdemeanours in exchange for bribes. One player was paid £30,000 for receiving a yellow card in the Championship, England’s second tier.
The defender also indicated that he had the power to influence fixtures in both the English Premier League and the World Cup.
It remains to be seen what punishment will be meted out to Sodje. His footballing career is surely over, as if it wasn’t already, and the 34-year-old’s former club Portsmouth were not slow to put distance between themselves and their ex-player’s actions.
The club said, in a statement released soon after the news broke: "If these serious allegations are true then we are extremely shocked and saddened by them, as match-fixing of any type goes to the heart of the integrity of the game.
"The player in question no longer plays for the club and we have not been contacted by the authorities, but of course we would co-operate fully with any inquiry."
Sodje’s younger brother Akpo, currently playing for Tranmere Rovers in League One, has also been implicated, while other names include Christian Montano, Ian Goodison and DJ Campbell. Campbell, of Blackburn Rovers, is the highest-profile player named, although veteran fan favourite Goodison once represented Jamaica at the World Cup.
Fingered | Former Premier League forward DJ Campbell has also been arrested
The allegations threaten to undermine the Sodje family’s numerous charity projects and philanthropic endeavours. The Sodje Sports Foundation aims to support young people through sport, but the very existence of the organisation must surely be in jeopardy following such high-profile, damning accusations.
Unfortunately, this latest scandal appears to be endemic of the increasingly-corrupt climate of British football. Such allegations had been cast further down the football pyramid, in the amateur and semi-professional divisions, but only now have they infiltrated the upper echelons of the nation’s sport.
Sam Sodje’s indication that he could influence matches at the World Cup next summer will not purely come as a concern to the Football Association, but to FIFA and the broader footballing community.
The news also comes as unwanted publicity to Nigerians within the world game. The nation has developed an unfortunate association with corruption and on occasion that has spilled into sport.
The fairly ridiculous headlines that emanated during the summer concerning the promotion play-off games that finished 79-0 and 67-0 masked the shady reality of collusion between match officials and players.
Emmanuel Emenike, the current Super Eagles international, was also questioned on charges of match fixing during his first stint at Turkish giants Fenerbahce. He was eventually released without charge, but described the incident to BBC Sport as “mental torture” and left the club for a new start at Spartak Moscow, partly to escape the controversy that accompanied the allegations.
The latest report, concerning Sam Sodje and his cohort, naturally comes as bad news to both English and Nigerian football. Hopefully the exposure and the inevitable punishment of the belligerents will go a long way to undermining this hateful and damaging practice.