ACCRINGTON Stanley captain Peter Cavanagh has spoken exclusively about the £5 bet that has wrecked his life.
The 28-year-old says although he didn’t personally place the accumulator on the Accrington Stanley v Bury game in May 2008, the Football Association has still found him guilty, banning him for eight months and fining him £3,500.
It has left Cavanagh – who has been the club’s most successful captain, despite only joining Stanley in August 2001 – facing a bleak future. He must now contemplate at least a year without football and the full implications of the ban, including costs so far of more than £20,000, even though he hasn’t had any income since June.
Liverpudlian Cavanagh is also awaiting news on whether he can continue working at the Liverpool Academy, where he has coached for seven years.
"It has been a real kick in the teeth," said Cavanagh.
"It’s even made me think about whether I want to come back and play football. I feel I have been treated really harshly by the FA. I have a wife, mortgage and baby on the way and I am devastated by everything."
The betting scandal has been one that has dogged Stanley ever since that match with Bury where £300,000 was placed on the game – League Two matches usually attract about £30,000.
Footballers are not allowed to bet on games in their own league and Robbie Williams, David Mannix, Jay Harris and Andy Mangan were all found guilty of breaching the FA’s rules on betting last month. Their bets ranged from £2,000-£4,000 with their bans being between five months and one year.
Cavanagh said he was shocked to learn he was one of those investigated.
"The first I knew of it was on Sky Sports. I didn’t have a clue – I knew about the investigation but as far as I was concerned I had nothing to worry about.
"Then I saw the charges and tried to fathom out where the bets had come from. I soon realised it was my accounts with Coral which myself and my brother-in-law Martin have access to. I admit, I do gamble – not on my own football league – and my bets were bigger than £5 and I was a phone better rather than an internet one so I knew it must be him.
"It was so old he couldn’t remember but it turned out it was a six team accumulator that lost. Martin was gutted but he didn't know the rules – why should he?"
Cavanagh, who was given his regular Number two squad number at the start of this season, then had to attend the hearing last Friday in the presence of his legal team, the commission and members of the FA.
"We discussed the matter with witnesses before the FA and then I left the room for about five minutes, they called me in and said I was guilty, then I was told me I was banned for eight months.
"I was absolutely stunned. I had thought, when they said I was guilty, I might get a slap on the wrist as the amount they were charging me with wasn’t like the others.
"It was a real kick in the stomach and I rang my wife and she couldn’t stop crying.
"They said I was the club captain and I should have set an example but I think it’s harsh.
"I am innocent which makes it worse but it is just a £5 accumulator and no allowances have been made for that."
"It’s bad enough not being able to play for Accrington but then "football activities" look likely to include my Liverpool role. That's devastating. Liverpool have been good to me and wrote me character references for the case.
"I guess I will be suspended at least. It’s a double whammy."
However he is trying to stay upbeat and has been touched by the messages of support from fellow footballers, the club and the Stanley fans. "I have had great support and am really grateful," he said.
Cavanagh’s appeal is set for September but he doesn’t know if he can afford it.
"My fine is £3,500; the commission costs and the voice analysis I have to pay for is around £9,000 and my legal fees in excess of £12,000 – and I have had no real income since my contract finished in June and my wife doesn’t earn a lot.
"I have spent the week applying for jobs as we have got a mortgage to pay and it has got to be paid. I just feel embittered by it all and don't know if I will go back to playing football."
The club must move on ...
THE chief executive of Accrington Stanley said the club must move on from the Peter Cavanagh betting saga, despite frustrations over the way the Football Association handled his hearing.
Stanley's Rob Heys said: "Holding the hearing one day before the new season and not knowing whether you have your club captain for then isn't good.
"It has been handled very poorly. If it was Manchester United, Liverpool or Chelsea it wouldn't have happened the way it did."
Stanley's former captain Peter Cavanagh was last week banned from football activities for eight months and fined £3,500, after being found guilty by the FA of placing a £5 accumulator on an Accrington Stanley v Bury game in May 2008.
Rob Russell, 32, has been an Accrington Stanley fan for 26 years.
He said: "Had it been a court of law they would have probably found him innocent which is why it's a tricky one. It's a shock but now it's about what is good for the club, not what's good for Peter Cavanagh."
Rob Heys added: "I think people forget some times that no one has suffered more than the football club.
'It does seem a very harsh punishment but we must draw a line under it."