By Dan Heard
The author Hunter S. Thompson once wrote, ‘In a closed society where everybody’s guilty, the only crime is getting caught’. Last month Sam Allardyce was caught offering his own version of the dos and don’ts of third party ownership in professional football. He unwittingly spoke of this to a group of undercover journalists from the Daily Telegraph who were posing as “businessmen” from the Far East. In exchange for his advice on how to get around the governing body’s rules on player transfers, he was offered around £400,000. He even said he’d happily be flown out to discuss matters personally with those interested.
As the now-former England manager spoke to the media (before jetting off into the sun with his severance package), he said that, in his case, “entrapment had won”. No Sam. Greed had won. Actually, it had prevailed, while he’d lost. Lost his dream job, the respect of the Football Association and his colleagues, and his rumoured £3 million a year salary, because he got greedy. It wasn’t the first time he’d been accused, or actually caught, but we’re meant to treat him like the victim here? Big Sam has some big questions to answer before he can begin laying the blame elsewhere. And it’s not just in the world of football where cries of “entrapment!” can be heard when a guilty party’s caught.
Neil Hamilton, now an UKIP AM in the Senedd, then a Conservative MP, was exposed for his part in the “Cash for Questions” scandal in 1994, taking up to £2000 per question he asked on behalf of Harrods owner Mohamed Al Fayed in the House of Commons. He immediately issued a libel writ in the High Court against The Guardian, who had, he claimed, “entrapped” him, but later withdrew it. Hamilton was guilty of more than just getting caught, and yet again, justice had prevailed. Almost twenty years later, fellow Tory Patrick Mercer was then nabbed in similar circumstances. While he accepted his punishment and promptly resigned his post, unlike Hamilton, he didn’t feel he was entrapped, but more just caught out. Maybe Hunter was right.
There’s a fine, fine line between what could be deemed entrapment and a breach of privacy. If the findings of the Leveson Inquiry into the Ethics of the Press concluded nothing else, it was that. Journalism is carried out in the public interest, or at least, that is the justifications for these kinds of exposes. Maybe, on the one hand, it was immoral for the Daily Telegraph to pose as businessmen to ‘entice’ Allardyce into thinking he was getting yet another payday out of flaunting the rules. But, on the other, the footage of the encounter only came to light after his appointment as England manager -from an investigation that began ten months ago. Was it in the public interest then, while he was overseeing Sunderland’s relegation battle? Yes, it could be argued. But once he is chosen to lead his country on a global stage, even more so.
These men were not entrapped. They were the authors of their own demise, motivated by money, and cared little about the consequences, just as long as they got paid. The worlds they operate within, business, politics, and even football, are engulfed in corruption, and individuals like these epitomise that. The backlash around Allardyce’s fall from grace in particular is telling, as we’ve just emerged from the biggest investigation into press ethics in British history, so the public will undoubtedly be weary of how this came about. Simply, he fell on his own sword, and the press were there to record it.