The Insider - April 20
By Ashling O'Connor
WITH all the concern around footballers and gambling, there is keen focus on the betting market surrounding the 2006 Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) Player of the Year award.
The annual award, to be handed out at the Grosvenor House Hotel in Central London on Sunday night, is voted for by the players themselves and could be open to abuse by punters seeking inside information.
With money riding on the outcome, PFA staff are understood to be on special alert this year to ensure the identity of the winner is kept secret.
Thierry Henry is tipped by football writers to win, but odds on the betting exchanges suggest that the clever money is going on Steven Gerrard after he lifted the European Cup with Liverpool. The other contenders are Wayne Rooney, John Terry, Frank Lampard and Joe Cole.
Brendon Batson, the former deputy chief executive of the PFA, said that interest in the award has always been high among players because of the honour of being voted for by their peers. “When I was at the PFA, only a handful of people knew the name of the winner and it was a closely guarded secret. There was never a leak. The best player always wins,” he said.
This year’s ceremony occurs after a week in which the Government shone a spotlight on illegal betting and hailed the acceptance by the leading sports of a ten-point code of practice to eliminate fraud.
One of the issues for debate was whether footballers, like jockeys, should be prevented from betting on their sport at all. At present, players are not allowed to bet on a match in which they are involved or to pass on inside information, but they can and do bet large sums of money on the game.
- SEAN BEAN, the British actor and a Sheffield United fan, will be among the guests at an informal party at the House of Commons tomorrow to celebrate the club’s return to top-flight football after 12 years. Richard Caborn, the Sports Minister and a diehard Blades fan, is hosting a drinks reception on the terrace and dinner in the Churchill Room for a select group connected to the Yorkshire club. Neil Warnock, the manager, infamous for his brushes with officialdom, is expected to be on his best behaviour.
- IN LABELLING Nico Rosberg the “David Beckham of Formula One”, Sir Jackie Stewart presumably meant it as a compliment to the 20-year-old Finn who is taking the motor sport world by storm after only three races in a Williams car. But in typically blunt fashion, the Scot managed to disparage the England football captain. “He could become the most valuable commodity in grand prix racing ever,” Sir Jackie told Autosport magazine. “He could be the David Beckham of F1 — but very articulate. The talent, the looks, four languages, well educated.”