A former Premier League star was arrested in a dawn swoop today over shock match-fixing claims. Ex-Portsmouth star Sam Sodje and his brother Stephen were held by cops investigating football corruption. The arrests came after Sodje, 34, was filmed claiming he could arrange for players to pick up yellow cards in exchange for cash.
Nigeria-born Sodje demanded £30,000 for a booking and £50,000 for a player to get a red card during a match. He even claimed he punched a player in the groin during a match to be deliberately sent off – and pick up a £70,000 bung. The former Reading and Brentford defender also boasted that he could rig Premier League and World Cup games. He said some African players could be easily tempted because they do not get paid much to represent their national teams.
The brothers were arrested by detectives from the National Crime Agency at their homes in Abbeywood, south London. Cops were seen carrying away evidence, including a desktop computer, from Stephen’s £120,000 home. Oldham Athletic star Cristian Montano, 21, was also filmed discussing match-fixing in the sting. He was caught on tape apologising for failing to pick up a booking for cash during a game.
Another of Sodje’s brothers, Akpo, 33, who plays for Tranmere Rovers, was also captured discussing spot-fixing. A third man was arrested in connection with the case today but police refused to reveal if it was Montano or Akpo. Sodje told an undercover investigator that he had “sorted” one former Premier League player to deliberately pick up a booking. He said the star, who cannot be named, received £30,000 in exchange for the yellow card during a Championship match. “This guy came to meet me at my house and it was sorted,” boasted the former Nigeria international. “That’s how easy it is – it’s nothing. The booking one is easy. You just push someone, swear at the referee, kick the ball away. “A yellow card is a standard thing. No one would even be suspicious.” Sodje allegedly demanded a Rolex watch and a Range Rover for acting as “fixer” for the dodgy deal. He said he picked up £70,000 after deliberately getting sent off while playing for Portsmouth earlier this year. The player received a red card after punching Oldham’s Jose Baxter twice in the crotch.
Sodje also claimed he could rig Premier League games and had discussed match-fixing with several top names. Montano was filmed apologising to Sodje after failing to get booked in the first half of a clash between Oldham and Wolves. An NCA spokeswoman confirmed the arrests and said they were working closely with the FA and Gambling Commission. “Three people are in custody and are being questioned by NCA officers,” she said. “We cannot comment further at this stage.” Football League chief executive Shaun Harvey said: “We treat any allegations of criminal activity with the utmost seriousness. “Given that there is an ongoing police investigation into this matter, we cannot comment further at this time. “Although, we would encourage anyone with any evidence to report it to the police. “We will be giving our full assistance to the police during their investigation.” In a statement, the Football Association said: “The FA is aware of the National Crime Agency investigation. “We are working closely with the NCA and other authorities. We will make no further comment at this time.”
A Gambling Commission spokesman said it was “supporting” the ongoing NCA investigation. Illegal betting syndicates are worth an estimated £320 billion – fuelled by ‘in-game’ betting. The majority of revenues are generated in Asia, where the gambling industry is unregulated. The NCA is already carrying out a separate investigation into an alleged international illegal betting syndicate. Michael Boateng and Hakeem Adelakun, both 22, were charged last week with conspiracy to defraud contrary to common law.
The pair, who played for Conference South club Whitehawk FC, were dismissed by their club and will appear in court on Wednesday. Chann Sankaran, 33, and Krishna Sanjey Ganeshan, 43, were charged last month with plotting to defraud bookmakers. Portsmouth FC said today they would co-operate with police and league officials if contacted. Spokesman Colin Farmery said: “If these serious allegations are true then we are extremely shocked and saddened by them. “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 cooperate fully with any inquiry.”
Guy Whittingham, who was manager of Portsmouth at the time, said the claims brought back memories of the match in which Sam Sodje was sent off. He said: “Sam came racing over – and I didn’t actually see the incident at the time itself – but then you see it in the cold light of day afterwards and you see what he’s done and you can’t fathom out why he’s done it.” Oldham Athletic said it would be launching an “immediate internal investigation” into the claims surrounding Montano. “The club is co-operating with other agencies in this matter and cannot comment on specific facts,” it added in a statement.
Oldham’s former player and manager Andy Ritchie said: “I’m dismayed. I know they are only allegations but I feel if they proven, and it remains to seen they will be, it will be very disappointing. “We are fully co-operating with the investigation. “If something like this is happening it is terrible. You are letting your team-mates down, your team down. It could cost a club a place in the league. “I believe and I hope football is a game of integrity.”