Italian soccer scandal of 1980

By Ken Pendleton- USSoccerPlayers (October 19, 2006) -- The last major Italian match-fixing scandal, which came to light in 1980, was far less subtle than the one that unfolded this past spring. More than 30 players accepted money from two Roman businessmen -- Massimo Cruciano, a 32-year-old fruit and vegetable trader, and Alvaro Trinca, a 45-year-old restaurant-owner -- to throw matches, and some of them wagered against their own team.

Since 1946 there have been two ways to wager on soccer in Italy. Totocalcio, is a legal, state-run pool, where fans have to successfully predict the outcome of a dozen or so matches to win money. Until the late 1990s, fans who wanted to bet on a fewer number of matches, or on single matches or the outcomes of championships, such as which team would win Serie A, had to resort to Totonero, or black-betting, which involved going to illegal bookmakers. Totocalcio was virtually impossible to manipulate because of the large number of matches involved, but attempts to fix individual matches have been regular feature of the history of Italian soccer.

This particular plot was hatched at Trinca's restaurant (the owner was famous for making frozen food taste fresh) where several Lazio players dined regularly. Some of Lazio's players, including some internationals, agreed to fix matches for a fee. One of the co-conspirators, Carlos Petrini, later admitted that the money, which had to be divided among many people, was less of a lure than the feeling of power that came with being above the law.

The operation was not exactly a model of efficiency. The first attempt to fix a match, a friendly between Lazio and Palermo in late 1979, did not come off because the Lazio players missed their plane flight. The second attempt, an arranged draw between Palermo and Taranto, ended up an away win even though one player did everything he could to concede a penalty in the second half.

The third attempt, which occurred during a match between Avellino and Perugia, netted Cruciano and Trinca £3,000, but the duo continued to have problems. Some bookmakers refused to accept their wagers, one Lazio player, Montesi, refused to participate, and they lost huge sums on some matches. After a Milan-Lazio match did not turn out as planned, the dishonest duo became convinced that the Lazio players were conning them.

"From that moment on," Cruciano later confessed, "we stopped dealing with the Lazio players."

Matters reached a crisis point in February of 1980 when one of Bologna's players, Guiseppe Savoldi, scored the winning goal in a match against Avellino that was supposed to end a draw. Cruciano and Trinca did not have enough money to fix any more matches and they owed a lot of money to bookmakers. Furthermore, they had left behind a lot of incriminating evidence, including cashed checks written to players.

Rumors were rampant, and Montesi, the above-board Laziolo, gave an interview, where he alleged that "corruption exists everywhere" in Italy and specifically condemned the "generalized" system of illegal betting. He, however, did not give specifics and matters might very well have to come to a close if an anonymous bookmaker had not claimed that players regularly bet against their own team as a kind of "insurance policy." They would either get a bonus for winning or tax-free payout from their wager.

The logic of taking advantage of black-betting, as John Foot explained in his recent book Calcio; A History of Italian Football, was simple: "Totonero offered far greater opportunity for fixers, and was especially appealing to seasoned professionals, eager to make their last tax-free sums before retirement. Totonero also meant that players could bet on matches that had already been fixed for footballing reasons." (When a team was instructed to throw a match because they had no stake in the outcome while their opponent was facing relegation.)

Trinca and Cruciano's families began to receive threats because of the money they owed and Cruciano's father, Ferruccio, decided to go to the authorities after one of his vegetable trucks as set on fire. Meanwhile, Massimo Cruciano and Trinca hired an attorney who decided to publicize what was happening in a Roman newspaper and warned the head of the Italian FA, Artemio Franchi, that his clients would go to the police if something was not done about the fact that certain players had cost his clients more than a billion lire.

The thinly-veiled attempt at blackmail failed and Cruciano and Trinca went public on the first day of March 1980. Fraud clearly had been perpetrated, but the courts were unlikely to have sympathy for the fact that the match-fixers themselves were conned. What's more, match fixing was not against the law in Italy at the time (such a law was finally enacted in 1989). Nonetheless, on the 23rd of March, 11 players and clubs officials were arrested during halftime of matches all across Italy. The police used this coordinated tactic to prevent the suspects from collaborating on their alibis. The entrance to Milan's locker room was blocked, so that two players and the club president could be arrested. Palermo's injured captain Guido Margherini was handcuffed in the stands, but some players were allowed to turn themselves in more inconspicuously, and two players were even allowed to shower before being apprehended.

The players were released after 11 days, but formal charges of aggravated fraud was eventually filed against 33 players and five others, including Cruciano, Trinca, and Milan's president Colombo. Everyone was acquitted in by December, in large part because there were no sporting fraud statues on the books, but the Italian sporting authorities meted some meaningful punishments. President Colombo was banned for life and Milan's goalkeeper, Ricky Albertosi, who starred for Italy in the 1970 World Cup, was kicked out for four years. Paolo Rossi, who at most played a minor role, received a three-year sentence, which was shortened to two in time to allow him to play in the 1982 World Cup. In addition, Milan and Lazio were relegated to Serie B and 25 points were deducted from various clubs.

The one player who cried foul, Montesi, received a short suspension "for failing to inform the authorities of the match-fixing plan." His career never rebounded, and a good case can be made that he was punished precisely because he blew the whistle. That's not surprising. After the dust settled, many authorities expressed the conviction that nothing like this would ever happen again, but corruption is such an endemic part of Italian soccer, and culture, that there is still a tendency to punish the few people who have the courage to try to clean up the sport and lightly punish those like Luciano Moggi who continue to dirty it.

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