Brentford FC have charged up the English football pyramid to a position where they can today be described as one of the top best clubs in the land.
One of the main factors behind their success has been the savvy ownership displayed by Matthew Benham, a numbers whizz who has implemented a sort of Moneyball-esque approach (not that he’ll thank you for describing it as such) to data analysis and player recruitment.
Benham has made his money, for the most part, from the betting industry. He owns the Matchbook betting exchange and the SmartOdds company, which provides research and data to professional punters.
It was another football club owner, Brighton’s Tony Bloom, who handed the physics graduate his big break, employing him at Premier Bet. Using those learnings and his own models, Benham reportedly did rather nicely betting on Asian handicaps, which provided him with the finance to set up SmartOdds in 2004.
It’s all rather ironic, as Brentford have made the headlines twice this week in unrelated (as their PR team will have you believe) betting matters. The first is that Ivan Toney, their star striker, has admitted a series of betting rule breaches while playing for the Bees and a number of his previous clubs.
In the same week, Brentford have also announced plans to stand down from their Hollywoodbets sponsorship when the deal runs out this year.
All Bets Are Off
As you can probably imagine, professional footballers aren’t allowed to bet on the beautiful game.
Football Association rules dictate that any player caught betting on games – even ones they’re not involved in – will be punished, as will those that share inside information to others in the pursuit of financial gain. Possible sanctions include fines and bans.
Why Ivan Toney’s case is so extraordinary is the sheer number of charges he faces – a staggering 262 in total, of which he has pleaded guilty to some and not guilty to others.
Because of the scale of the rule break, if Toney is found guilty of breaching the FA’s betting rules then he could be banned from playing for a number of months.
To make matters more difficult for his legal team, the alleged breaches occurred over a near four-year period – this was a sustained, long-term flouting of the rules, if Toney is guilty, which somehow feels more punishable than a shorter, frenzied burst.
The 26-year-old, whose goalscoring exploits took him to the brink of a World Cup call-up for England prior to the news of his alleged breaches breaking, might be able to serve a lengthy chunk of any possible suspension during the summer hiatus.
Toney has faced a trial by media to some extent – par for the course, sadly, these days, and even believes that an insider at the FA leaked details of his charges to the press. “It is especially disturbing for me to read that the FA is saying I shall be banned from football for six months before there has even been a hearing, and it does make me worried about the process,” he said.
“My lawyers will be writing to the FA to request that they conduct a leak inquiry as this is the second time stories have appeared in the newspapers.”
Hollywood Bowled Out
A rather inconvenient coincidence, Brentford’s front-of-shirt sponsor is currently the South African gambling firm Hollywoodbets.
It has been speculated that the government will introduce a ban on betting sponsorships on football kits as part of their gambling industry reform, and given the bad press of Toney’s alleged infringements Brentford have made the rather timely announcement that they will see a new sponsor in due course.
Their deal with Hollywoodbets runs out in May anyway, with the Daily Mail reporting that Benham’s Bees will seek a ‘non-betting company’ as a replacement.
In the same report, it has been suggested that a number of the eight clubs currently sponsored by a gambling firm, including Newcastle United and Leeds United, will also seek to walk away from their current commercial deals.
It has previously been suggested that all top-flight sides would sign up to a voluntary agreement to outlaw front-of shirt gambling sponsors, although it’s thought that the government will instead clinch an ‘easy win’ by banning them outright as part of their White Paper, which is due to be published (presuming it’s not delayed again) at the end of the month.