Gangsters, blackmail and sleazy player agents
The nature of the revelations contained in John Sweeney’s book Rooney’s Gold about the dubious dealings by Wayne Rooney’s agent Paul Stretford and various other characters prompted a Google search for any other information which may shed further light on the world of footballers, their agents and big money transfers. The following is a six year old newspaper report written by Jamie Jackson and published in The Observer on October 17, 2004. It’s about a court case that involved many of the people Sweeney wrote about in his book and shows an entirely different face of football which many fans will find highly disturbing.
Gangsters, blackmail and sleaze in the ugly game by Jamie Jackson: The Observer 17 October 2004
It might be our favourite sport but a shocking tale of soccer greed and corruption emerged in a court case last week The phrases would be more at home on the pages of a dark detective novel, full of wincing insights into the world of gangsterism, corruption and physical violence. “Cut me in or you’ll regret it.” – “The man was stripped to his underpants, tied to a chair with his own silk tie and threatened with a shotgun.” – “Give us half of that man or you’re dead.”
But these are not phrases to do with lurid tales from the underworld, these are stories from the Premiership. There have been plenty more to add to the lexicon this week after the collapse of a court case that revealed the glamorous, multi millionaire world of football’s top league to be a seedy, sleazy, unregulated cesspit of financial mismanagement and rank thuggery.
It was a tale of gangsters, blackmailers, a young British footballer already approaching legendary status, a surveillance expert, London’s most notorious gangster family and a crooked solicitor. John Hyland and brothers Christopher and Anthony Bacon were charged with demanding money with menaces from Paul Stretford, agent to British football’s hottest property Wayne Rooney.
But the charges against all three men were dropped and not guilty verdicts entered by the court when a document subpoenaed from Proactive indicated that the prosecution were unable to rely on Stretford as a credible witness. Although Stretford broke down in tears during the case and said he had developed an ‘arthritic nature in my foot caused by the stress’, the founder of Proactive, one of the top three sports agencies in Britain who broker deals between clubs and their famous players, is not averse to using his own means of closing a deal.
“If you looked up the definition of a dodgy agent in the dictionary then there would probably be a picture of Paul Stretford” says one Premiership football agent who spoke to The Observer.
When Rooney made his debut for Manchester United a fortnight ago, scoring a hat trick against Fenerbahce SK in the Champions League before a packed house at Old Trafford, it immediately provided vindication of his £27m fee for the United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, and the club’s chief executive and purse holder, David Gill. But beyond the transfer and the fans’ adulation for the young striker from Everton are revelations that highlight just how badly football needs regulating.
“Stretford was a down at heel businessman who had no real knowledge of the football world who became friends with players and ended up being in very powerful position because he got into the industry quite early” says the agent.
Hyland, an associate of Rooney’s first agent, Peter McIntosh, had been negotiating with 42-year-old Stretford for more than a year to get Rooney.
The court was told a remarkable story of hard men battling for big money. The prosecution case centred on a meeting in a Cheshire hotel in June 2003, with Dave Lockwood, the business partner of McIntosh. Stretford, who had secretly set up a video camera, was talking with Lockwood when Hyland, another business associate of McIntosh, and the Bacon brothers burst into the room.
“I’m the muscle” said Christopher Bacon, while Hyland banged his fist on the table and demanded that Stretford sign an agreement that would give him half of all the agent’s earnings from Rooney.
Stretford, a former vacuum salesman, was desperate to control Rooney. The £1.5 million he received for the player’s move to Old Trafford and the £500,000 Rooney also paid him shows how high the rewards can be. The fact that Stretford withdrew £250,000 in cash to pay off Hyland illustrates how murky football deals can be.
The court was told that the money never changed hands. But William Linfield, a surveillance expert and former soldier, told police that Stretford had left him in his black Mercedes with the money stuffed in a bag ready to produce it. Again, the case sounded like a detective novel. Whatever the precise details, the case has brought into the open the secrets of how some of football’s deals are done.
Jake Duncan has been a players’ agent since 1995 and is also tour manager of the pop group Westlife. “The problem is that no agents or tabloid press are prepared to stick their heads over the parapet and speak out” he said. “I could graffiti Alex Ferguson’s house tomorrow but if the very next day I happen to represent the player who could all but guarantee his club’s entry into the last four of the Champions League, then they would send a helicopter for me. No question”
With Rooney all the parties involved knew they had such a player. The court case heard that at an earlier meeting in November 2002, the former Liverpool and Scotland footballer Kenny Dalglish, invited Tommy Adams – described in court as a ‘notorious gangster’ – to a rendezvous at a Heathrow hotel.
It was alleged that Dalglish, a major shareholder in Proactive which represented Rooney and a long standing friend of Stretford, wanted Adams, head of London’s top criminal family who had served seven years for importing cannabis, to provide protection for Stretford at the meeting with Hyland and McIntosh.
Stretford claimed in evidence that he felt intimidated at seeing a ‘London villain’ present and the meeting became heated when Hyland and the others could not get Stretford to sign a deal on their terms. Dalglish and Adams apparently said little but Dalglish, a former Footballer of the Year, then refused to give police a statement.
In court, Stretford said he felt let down by Dalglish. “I have had a great and long relationship with Kenny Dalglish and yes, I felt let down by him.”
Stretford himself was accused of wanting Adams present. “You knew full well that Kenny Dalglish had engineered for one of his unsavoury friends to come and facilitate this meeting” Lord Carlile, Hylands’ barrister said in court. “It was you who brought the heavy mob, wasn’t it?” Stretford denied this and said it was ‘fear and confusion’ that prevented him from leaving the meeting.
Dalglish was also accused of influencing Rooney’s switch from McIntosh to Stretford, visiting Rooney’s home to convince his parents, Wayne senior and Jeanette, that their son should change representatives.
The Rooneys were already in slightly warm water, the court heard. They had sought legal advice from a crooked solicitor, Kevin Dooley, brother-in-law of former Liverpool manager Roy Evans and a friend of Dalglish who was recommended to them by Stretford. Dooley was later struck off for defrauding clients before his death this year. “We decided Wayne would be better off in Proactive’s hands. They seemed more professional” said Wayne senior.
Rooney’s move to United had been precipitated by apparent interest from Newcastle United who, despite the presence at the club of four top class strikers including former England captain Alan Shearer, tabled a £20 million transfer bid.
In court Carlile asked Stretford about this, wondering if the bid was genuine or a ruse to inflate Rooney’s eventual price and draw Manchester United into an early deal. “I don’t think anyone makes a bid of £20m to another club if they don’t mean it” said Stretford. “We were very prepared for the Newcastle bid to be accepted and for Wayne to negotiate with Newcastle United.”
Others beg to differ. “Rooney was never going to sign for Newcastle” says the agent who spoke to The Observer . “I think Newcastle’s chairman Freddy Shepherd was used by Stretford. He won’t think he’s been used but that is what has happened.”
What, then, can be done to clean up the mess? “There is no indication that any regulations have been broken in this case” a spokesman for the Football Association rather mysteriously said in the immediate aftermath of Monday’s case collapse.
On Thursday, Stretford stepped down as director of the Formation Group which owns Proactive, for ‘personal reasons’. He remains head of their player representation division.
A full six years after this account appeared in a major newspaper, John Sweeney’s book Rooney’s Gold continues to uncover details of a story which further taints the whole player agent industry, football transfers and sadly, the game itself.