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The great Bundesliga bung

The wildest birthday party in the history of German football kicked off on the afternoon of June 6, 1971. Oh, not what you're thinking. No drugs, no booze. (Though lots of cocktails. It was a garden party.) And the birthday boy was no good-looking, flamboyant star player but an ageing, hard-smoking and tough-talking official. His name was Horst Gregorio Canellas, at the time the chairman of the Bundesliga club Kickers Offenbach.

Nah. Wrong again. The 'Ex-Bundesliga club Kickers Offenbach' I should have said, because less than twenty-four hours before numerous guests assembled at Canellas's house (national coach Helmut Schoen among them), the last day of the season had brought some nasty results.

Arminia Bielefeld had somehow managed to win 1-0 away at Hertha Berlin, and Rot-Weiss Oberhausen had secured a point at Eintracht Braunschweig, while Canellas's Offenbach had lost 4-2 at Cologne, despite having twice taken the lead. In brief, these results meant that Offenbach were relegated from the top flight.

Which is why many of the guests were afraid their host would be downtrodden and in no mood for festivities. The first part of that assumption was wrong, the second correct. Instead of feeling desperate, Canellas was almost elated in a grim way. Yet he was not preparing for a party. When the guests had assembled, he started a tape recorder - and the voices of Canellas and Hertha Berlin's international Bernd Patzke filled the air.

'Bielefeld must have offered Tasso [Tasso Wild, another Berlin player] 120.000 Marks, otherwise he wouldn't have demanded that sum from me,' said Canellas, sounding like a wounded animal. 'Well, we've had a guy here with a hundred thousand', replied Patzke, matter-of-factly. 'Somebody's been there with a hundred thousand?' repeated Canellas. 'He's really badgering them,' said Patzke. 'My phone's been ringing all day. I don't even answer it anymore.'

It slowly began to dawn on Canellas's guests what this conversation was all about: Somebody had offered Patzke, Wild and other Hertha players money to throw the last match, while Canellas felt forced to offer them money so that they would play it straight.

Canellas: 'I must pay, you see that?'
Patzke: 'Yes.'
Canellas: 'Yeah, and I want to.'
Patzke: 'Yes.'
Canellas: 'Because Tasso Wild told me cold as ice yesterday, he told me: I'll negotiate on Wednesday afternoon with Bielefeld.'
Patzke: 'Yes.'
Canellas: 'I mean, I know you want to help me. What would you advise me to do? Please tell Tasso Wild to call me!'
Patzke: 'I'll tell him to call you, and then we'll see what happens.'

This conversation, or rather the airing of its recorded version on June 6, 1971, marked the beginning of the great Bundesliga bribe scandal. The people we have met so far were only a small part of the conspiracy. Because when everything was over, which - due to various court cases - wasn't until 1976, two clubs, two coaches, six officials and more than fifty players representing seven different teams were found guilty and punished.

This, then, was our version of baseball's infamous Black Sox scandal of 1919, still the most mythical case of rigging in sports history. Like the Black Sox case, the Bundesliga scandal was in part about players not being paid according to their market value - which is why two side results of Canellas's disclosure were the end of the maximum wage system and the formation of a second professional league.

Unlike the Black Sox drama, however, the Bundesliga scandal didn't involve bookmakers, gamblers and betting. That's something German football seldom had to care about - until Saturday. A few minutes before 6pm, wire reports announced that a German referee was suspected to have manipulated the results of games he was in charge of because he had placed bets on the matches.

Helmut Schoen: Party-goer.
Helmut Schoen: Party-goer.

There have been numerous similar cases in European football before. Italy had the 1979 betting scandal that saw Paolo Rossi getting banned, and a year later Lazio and Milan were even demoted for similar offences. Then there was the affair involving Bruce Grobbelaar and John Fashanu. But this new German scandal has a few unusual twists. The first is, of course, that it involves a referee. The second is that it may have happened only because, like I said, Germany doesn't know much about the pitfalls of betting.

Our laws on gambling are very strict. And simple: it's forbidden. That is, it's forbidden unless it's organised by the state. (The most famous exception is horse-racing.) For as long as most people could remember, the only legal lottery was the state lottery and the only legal way to bet on football was the state pools. The stake was small and fixed, and there were only three versions. You predicted the winners and losers (or a draw) of either eleven or thirteen pre-chosen games, or you picked six draws out of a list of 45 games. Uh, the excitement of it.

This changed during the 1990s. One reason was the European Union, because European law allows private bookmaking. This meant that Germans could now place bets on all kinds of things from Germany but with non-German bookmakers, primarily based in countries such as England and Austria, where betting is huge. (Courts are still battling over the legality of this.)

The other reason was, strangely, the demise of the GDR. Two big and private betting companies - 'Sportwetten Gera' and the New-Zealand-based 'bet&win' - acquired their bookmaking licenses in the GDR shortly before this country was no more.

Thus the goverment decided to create a more permissive sports bookmaker of its own, and in early 2000, the federal company 'Oddset' opened for business. It is with this bookie that the young German referee Robert Hoyzer allegedly placed bets.

I won't delve deeper into this case right now, because I'm sure it will stay with us for quite some time. Just hours before I typed this, the German FA (DFB) announced that they have severe doubts about roughly half a dozen games in the Cup, the Second Bundesliga and the Third Division. One of the games mentioned, Essen versus Cologne, wasn't even refereed by Hoyzer. Which could mean what you think it means.

Incidentally, it was only in December that the Austrian bookmaker 'Intertops' alerted the German FA to the fact that strange amounts of money had been bet on Oberhausen losing away at Aue in the Second Bundesliga by two goals. (The result was, guess, 2-0.)

Back then, the German FA had quickly closed that matter due to insufficient evidence, which had caused 'Intertops' to bemoan the 'brotherly closeness' between the DFB and 'Oddset', 'Intertops's state-owned rival. Detlef Train, head of 'Intertops', said: 'I wish the authorities were as committed to investigating this matter as they are to fighting private bookmakers.' Looks like they are now.

  • Uli's history of German football, Tor!, is available online.

  • Any thoughts on this article? Email us.