MATCH OF THEIR DAY: When the lights went out on Far East betting scam

This week in 1999 Charlton Athletic, managed by Alan Curbishley, defeated Liverpool, managed by Gerard Houllier, 1-0 at The Valley.
It was a much-needed result for Charlton, who were second- bottom of the Premier League
at kick-off, and a bad one for Liverpool. They had finished third the previous season and were about to slump to seventh.
But it was an even more important — and worse — result for a Far East betting syndicate on the brink of another massive payday. They had planned to make their money by short-circuiting The Valley's floodlights in the second half.
Sudden darkness at matches had become a Premier League event — if not regular, then frequent enough for the authorities to be concerned. The previous month Manchester United's home game against West Ham had been delayed by 45 minutes due to a power 'failure'.
There were growing suspicions that such power disruptions were not simply mechanical issues. The floodlights had failed at Derby versus Wimbledon in August 1997, at West Ham versus Crystal Palace three months later and at Wimbledon versus Arsenal three days before Christmas of that year.
MATCH FACTS 
CHARLTON ATHLETIC (4-4-2):
Royce; Mills, Brown, Tiler, Powell; Jones, Kinsella, Redfearn (Barnes 66), Robinson; Hunt, Pringle (Bright 83) 
Scorer:
Jones
Manager:
Alan Curbishley
 
LIVERPOOL (4-4-2):
 James; Heggem (Gerard 81), Bjornebye (Song 74), Staunton, Carragher; Matteo, Ince, Redknapp, McManaman; Fowler, Owen (Riedle 81)
Manager:
Gerard Houllier
 
Referee:
Mike Reed 
Attendance:
20,043
There was something going on and the police discovered its origin when they received a phone call from the friend of a Charlton Athletic worker who had been bribed to trip the lights during the Liverpool game.
The Metropolitan Police's Organised Crime Group staked out The Valley and two days before kick-off, they saw four men in a BMW outside the ground and arrested them. Two came from Malaysia, one from Hong Kong and the other, Roger Firth, was a Charlton Athletic security guard.
When the police went to the hotel where the Malaysians were staying they found enough electrical equipment to sabotage the lights at The Valley and elsewhere, which was the plan.
The scam was a lucrative one. In Malaysia and other countries where the Premier League had proved to be hugely popular, the local football system had been corrupted by match-fixing. With players and officials banned, punters stopped betting.
Ironically, what is required in a scam is an apparently 'clean' organisation, a system that can be trusted. English football fitted the description. Now it was about fixing it.
The syndicates were bookmakers. They would take enormous sums from those who bet on favourites, such as Liverpool and Arsenal. Under their rules, bookmakers had to pay out — or collect — on the result if the second half of games had started. So their perfect scenario in the floodlights sabotage was for the favourites to be drawing or losing at half-time. Then it was about timing.
In the Wimbledon-Arsenal match in 1997, for example, the lights 'failed' 13 seconds into the second half with the score 0-0. The instruction was that if this was the scoreline then the lights at Selhurst Park were to be short-circuited.
Those who bet on Arsenal, presumably the majority, lost. The bookmakers' profits were estimated in the tens of millions.
Those behind the Charlton plot will have been frustrated by the arrest of their colleagues outside The Valley — and their anger will have risen when they saw the game unfold. Unfancied Charlton were not only level at half-time, they then scored the game's only goal, from Keith Jones.
The afternoon might have been remembered for that or for the Charlton debut of a 35-year-old John Barnes, against the club with whom he won two League titles. A red card for Jamie Carragher was also notable.
Houllier probably wished the lights had gone out and there were knowing newspaper references to Liverpool's lack of security in defence.
The arrested quartet were on their way to court as the game kicked off. The two Malaysians involved were sentenced to four years each. Firth received 18 months. The fourth man, from Hong Kong, was Wai Yuen Liu. He received 30 months and during the trial was found to have connections with Triad gangs in the Chinese underworld.
They are powerful organisations and detective Andy Sellers of the Metropolitan Police was convinced they were behind the other floodlight failures. 'I have no doubt that two games in the previous season suggest it must have been the same syndicate,' he said.
Floodlight failures still occur — at Nottingham Forest, Norwich and Kilmarnock this season alone. Power was restored in each of those games, but it would be wise to be wary.
Match-fixing will always be lucrative and even at the highest level there is vigilance: UEFA opened an investigation into the PSG-Red Star Belgrade Champions League match in October. PSG won 6-1. There was an allegation a seven-figure bet had been placed on Red Star losing by five goals.
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