Around this time of year I always make it my business to avoid including Serie A football matches among my weekend multiples, as there always seems to be an uncanny increase in drawn matches.
Betfair punters were up in arms this weekend after losing a reported £2m on the 1-1 draw between 15th-placed Chievo and Catania, in 13th, but in all honesty they only have themselves to blame. Admittedly, Betfair are supposed to have entire departments devoted to monitoring irregular betting patterns and should have suspended betting on the match, like the bookmakers, but these results are about as unexpected as swimsuit models at a Bodog party and it’s not the first time Betfair’s backers and layers have been stung in this way.
The most notable incident affecting the Hammersmith-based betting exchange’s users happened on April Fool’s Day four years ago when a series of large bets amounting to £620,000 was heaped on the draw between 14th-placed Reggina and Siena, who were lying two points further back in 15th spot in the Italian top-flight. “We allowed ourselves to be surprised,” claimed Siena boss Gigi De Canio, of the equaliser in a very unsurprising 1-1 draw. “Then the two sides became very wary and kept it tight, probably due to tiredness and the unseasonal heat.” And the agreement to throw the game.
The fact is, as the Serie A season approaches the final straight in March and April, ‘honourable’ draws between sides involved in the relegation struggle are commonplace, because it is considered bad form and disrespectful to try to and beat a fellow relegation-threatened side. And you don’t disrespect the Italians. With a few games remaining, it is the done thing to help each other out by sharing a draw and then leaving the survival bid for another day. By pure coincidence these two sides drew 1-1 last year at around the same time, and if anyone is in any doubt that this was an arranged match, just take a look at the penalty awarded to Catania with 17 minutes left (Google it). I can honestly not remember seeing a softer decision in my life.
Italy, of course is no stranger to match-fixing. In 2005 Genoa were relegated to the Italian third division after fixing their promotion-clinching final match of the season against Venezia, whose general manager Giuseppe Pagliara was arrested driving away from Genoa president Enrico Preziosi’s business headquarters with €250,000 in cash in the boot of his car.
Then of course there was the huge Calciopoli scandal of 2006, when Juventus were stripped of their two two Serie A titles and demoted to Serie B and AC Milan, Fiorentina, Lazio, Reggina and Arezzo all deducted points for their involvement in a long, pandemic of match-fixing and official-bribing.
Although yesterday’s draw suggests malevolent ongoings Italian would argue that this was just another case of misplaced decency than cosa nostra. Although try telling that to the layers. Or the bookies that had to pay out on the three other 1-1 draws that just happened to take place in Serie A this weekend.