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Foul Play by David Thomas

Release date: 04th August, 2003
Publisher: Bantam Press

List Price: £12.99
Our Price: £10.39
You Save: £2.6 (20%)
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The interwoven themes running through Chaucer's 'Canterbury Tales' make them as compelling today as they were when first written. The heady Chaucerian mixture of avarice, greed, betrayal, corruption, sex and sleaze makes for irresistible content, yet the Canterbury Tales established moral guidelines without writing about specific individuals.

In 'Foul Play' however, David Thomas has managed to provide actual examples of several deadly sins and has gone on to name the people responsible for committing them. That he does so in a football context ensures that this book should be essential reading for any fan of the game.

It is little wonder that Foul Play is a contender for sports book of the year. The style and pace of the narrative allow it to read like a gripping novel as Thomas leads us through what is a tale of greed on an unbelievable scale.

The story revolves around former Liverpool goalkeeper, Bruce Grobbelaar, ex-Wimbledon footballers John Fashanu and Hans Segers, a Malaysian 'businessman' Heng Suan Lim and the one other central character, Chris Vincent. Were it not for a meeting between Grobbelaar and Vincent at a wine bar in Chester in 1992, the tale may never have been told, but a later betrayal in the African bush changed that and ultimately led to the 'sting' set up by the Sun to seemingly catch the former Zimbabwean international 'in the act'.

The occasional input of the author's well-founded opinion is another attractive feature of this book. Football, says Thomas, has been corrupted and could be so again: "The danger is particularly acute as the game√Ėis entering harder times. Bruce Grobbelaar was open to corruption because he was not rich enough to say, 'No.' He earned around ¬£150,000 a year. The offer of ¬£125,000, to throw a single game against Manchester United, was very seductive indeed."

Thomas manages to intersperse the greed and corruption with lashings of sex and sleaze, but it would be wrong to portray the book as a 'romp', over-run with leggy blondes or, as Grobbelaar refers to virtually every attractive female he clasps his eyes on as "fresh".

Foul Play establishes what many people have believed for some time, namely that it is possible to fix football matches. After all, it happened in the 1960's and, given the growth in our propensity to bet on games, it almost certainly will in the future.

If there is a criticism of the book it is on its dust cover. This portrays a pair of football boots stuffed with perhaps £60 worth of £5 notes. The cover undersells the narrative as Foul Play's absorbing nature proves to the reader that when it comes to football corruption, there is a lot more money at stake than this.

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