On Sunday 23 May, John Terry started for Chelsea in their final Premier League game of the season against Sunderland. It was common knowledge that this would be Terry’s final league game for Chelsea, having announced his departure from the club at the end of the season.
However, unexpectedly, Terry was substituted in the 26th minute of the match (the same minute as his shirt number) as part of a celebration of his career and received a guard of honour as he left the field from his Chelsea teammates. Terry has subsequently admitted that the substitution and the gesture were his idea.
Whilst it is easy to understand the sentiment behind such a decision, given Terry has (until this point at least) spent the entirety of his career at Chelsea, the actions of Terry and the club have been criticised as bringing to question the integrity of the game.
So, have they done anything wrong?
Looking at the act in isolation, Chelsea and Terry have done nothing wrong (save that the referee should probably have intervened given Terry’s departure from the pitch took around two minutes). Chelsea are, of course, entitled to make substitutions at any point they wish during the course of the match.
However, looking at this issue more broadly, there was an act within the game – the ball being put out for a throw-in during the 26th minute to allow Terry to leave the pitch – which was pre-planned. Sunderland have subsequently admitted that they were aware of Chelsea’s intentions and had agreed to co-operate. Neither team had anything to play for (Chelsea were already champions and Sunderland already relegated), nor could their position in the table change as a result of this.
Nevertheless, a pre-planned act during a game does raise concerns regarding match-fixing. It is not suggested, of course, that either side made any attempt to fix the match but the current betting market offers a plethora of different betting opportunities, including for example, the time on which certain events will happen (such as a substitution) and the number of throw-ins during a match.
FA rules regarding match-fixing state that: ‘Fixing is arranging in advance the result or conduct of a match or competition, or any event within a match or competition’. It is the latter part of this rule which is relevant in this instance.
It has subsequently been revealed that certain bookmakers were offering odds on matters which were directly affected by the pre-planned act. For example, Paddy Power offered odds of 100-1 that Terry would be substituted in the 26th minute.
The trouble with the agreement made for the substitution to take place in the 26th minute and the revelation that some individuals had placed bets on that exact scenario is that is leads, perhaps incorrectly, to the conclusion that word had slipped out that this was going to happen and someone had sought to take advantage of that knowledge. Indeed, it appears that bookmakers offered odds on this taking place following enquiries by customers (rather than being offered in open market by the bookmaker).
At this stage, Chelsea and Sunderland appear to have fallen foul of the FA rules. They have both arranged, in advance, an event within a match (putting the ball out for a throw-in at a certain time) and, if someone had knowledge of this agreement, this would allow them to take advantage of it with bookmakers.
The FA seek to prohibit clubs/players taking such actions because the consequences of allowing such conduct to take place, however honest the intention, is obvious and would begin to call in to question the integrity of the game.
The case has some similarities to former Sutton United goalkeeper, Wayne Shaw, eating a pie during an FA Cup tie earlier this season after one bookmaker had begun to offer open odds on it taking place. This matter remains under investigation.
In respect of the Terry substitution, the FA is investigating the matter and has contacted bookmakers for their observations.