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ROBERT HEYS' STATEMENT IN RESPONSE TO FA APPEAL HEARING
WEDNESDAY 16TH OCTOBER, 2014
On Tuesday 8th October I attended a hearing at the Football Association offices at Wembley Stadium to appeal against the length of the ban imposed on me back in August following infringements of the governing body’s regulations concerning betting. The appeal was unsuccessful and the original decision to fine me £1,000 and ban me from football and all football activity for 21 months was upheld. I am hugely disappointed by this and now that the process has been completed I consider it appropriate to make a number of observations relating to the issues surrounding my case.
I seek no sympathy for my situation – I have broken the rules – but I do wish to highlight what I believe to be great inconsistencies in the way the FA have dealt with individuals who have fallen foul of these rules.
Firstly I fully accept that I have broken the FA’s rules concerning betting, however at the time the infringements took place I was not aware that this was the case. The period under scrutiny goes back ten years, though no bets were placed on any game involving Accrington in the last three years and no other betting infringements occurred in the last twelve months.
The very fact that I was caught breaking the rules due to a tweet I put out last season regarding a bet I had placed on a League Cup match long after my own team had been knocked out of the competition highlights this – if I was knowingly breaking the rules then clearly I would not have announced it through social media.
The FA rules concerning betting take up a small paragraph in a handbook containing hundreds of pages that is issued by the FA each season. We receive similar sized publications from the Football League, the Lancashire FA, together with many separate handbooks covering areas such as competition rules and commercial regulations, and specific areas such as youth development come with hundreds and hundreds of pages of regulations and guidelines. In addition to these as a football club we are governed by the Sports Ground Safety Authority and Lancashire County Council, each with similarly weighty documentation, and expanding further, as a business we operate under many more rules and regulations of company, environmental and employment law.
Out of all of these regulations I broke one rule, and have always accepted there would be a consequence of this. Even now the rule refers to the restrictions on what participants can and cannot bet on, with a line only added in the last three years to clarify that employees of the club should be regarded as participants. In my reading of the rule before that time I would never have considered myself a participant in an Accrington Stanley game.
The matter was brought to my attention twelve months ago and not only did I admit the breach immediately, I then went over and above what was asked of me to provide the FA with details of every breach of this rule over a ten year period. Had I not done this the number of charges against me would have been significantly reduced. I believed this was the correct thing to do, however in hindsight maybe I was somewhat naïve, and I would have to suggest to others questioned about rule infringements in the future that they may do better by being far more guarded in their response to questions.
The fact remains there is very little that has been done to educate those involved in the game as to the extent of the regulations regarding betting in football. The players receive visits from the FA compliance team every summer at which topics such as betting, social media and drug testing are covered, however no such education is aimed at those behind the scenes. How many of those who have been involved already in this season’s preliminary FA Cup rounds will know that they cannot bet on the final in May? Not just the players but anyone employed by the club including stewards, bar staff and kit men?
I also believe that match betting slips will no longer be placed on tables in hospitality lounges set out for club representatives at future cup finals, a point I highlighted at my hearings to illustrate how little is known about the regulations by those involved in the game. Previously not only were the facilities provided for guests to bet on the day’s match, but the master of ceremonies actively encouraged people to do so too.
Secondly I still firmly believe that the length of ban is excessive and that an overly harsh punishment has been handed out in order to send out a message, particularly when compared to others who have broken the same rules.
As stated above, I was fully prepared to accept that there would be consequences for my breach of the rules, however what is effectively a two season ban from the sport is very hard to accept.
The guidelines that the disciplinary panels used to determine my punishment are the same that would have been used had I been a goalkeeper who had put thousands of pounds on my own team to lose a game that I had then gone on to play in.
In terms of the impact this has on me personally, I have lost my position as managing director of Accrington Stanley – the club that I have supported as a boy when my dad and granddad used to take me along to games. I was never going to be good enough to play for the team but I have been proud to make what I believe to be a positive contribution to my club over the last eleven years or so. This now leaves me without an income and as technology moves at the pace it does I am in a position where the skills I had before giving up my job as a computer programmer to join the club are no longer relevant. I have now been unemployed for three months.
It could be argued that these points are largely irrelevant, however it has been a high price to pay for what I would argue is a lesser offence than some of the high profile cases we have seen in recent years – racially abusing someone or attacking a player, match official or supporter in the crowd – all of which have attracted significantly lesser punishments from the Football Association.
Even punishments handed out by the FA specifically for infringements of the betting regulations appear to be inconsistent. Since the guidelines were issued only two other people have had disciplinary action taken against them. Premier League player and England star Andros Townsend was banned for one month with three suspended earlier this year for placing bets on his own team, however as the punishment was handed out in the summer his club did not suffer and he attended pre-season training as normal. Then immediately before my own hearing another Premier League player Cameron Jerome was handed a fine of £50,000 with no suspension for a similar number of offences to those I was charged with, although none of these involved his own team. It is reasonable to state that neither of these players have suffered any hardship following their hearings and punishments.
Historically George Rolls, the former Chairman of Weymouth FC was charged with in excess of 3,000 betting breaches and also with obstructing the subsequent FA enquiry and whilst he received a five year suspension it did not impact upon his life and livelihood as it has mine. Mr Rolls, according to Companies House still sits as a Director on four companies – two of which are PLC’s. The Chief Executive of the PFA was recently on the front page of a national newspaper for his involvement in betting in the game – also an FA Councillor and FA International Committee Member – but the FA have taken no action. Also in my appeal I drew the attention of the panels to an article in this month’s 442 magazine entitled the top ten bets and wagers, and football autobiographies are littered with tales of betting in football, however as all involve high profile personalities then no action is taken.
I certainly don’t want to see any of the above hit with harsher penalties, particularly as like myself, most if not all were unaware that they were breaking any rules – and indeed if Andros has received a lengthy suspension then England might not have been going to Brazil next summer! It does appear though that the FA are prepared to show far more leniency to higher profile individuals.
One very important point I wish to make is that I have only ever wanted Accrington Stanley to win, in any game that we have ever played in. Anyone that knows me will know that this has always been the case.
I touched on above the fact that I am an Accrington Stanley supporter, and always have been, for as long as I can remember. The 37 bets over ten years that involved my own team not to win would fall into two categories, either as part of an accumulator that would have a series of events I would not like to happen with teams that I don’t particularly like down to win and my own side to lose, or would have Accrington not to win a game.
Nobody hates losing more than I do, when my team loses I don’t watch the football on the television in the evening, I don’t look at the internet and I don’t read any newspapers on the Sunday morning. These small wagers against Accrington winning would be placed to seek to compensate for this feeling, but in reality would only cover the cost of a few drinks in the evening after the game.
In closing I would like to reiterate my genuine apologies to all involved with Accrington Stanley for any negative impact that my actions may have had on the club.
I would however hope that I could ask people to balance this against the positives that I believe I have brought to the club during my time here, often in difficult circumstances with financial battles and ownership wrangles. Last summer I wrote off a loan to the club of £17,000, and then invested a further £10,000 when I took my position on the board – amounts that I am still repaying – and this summer I took out a short term personal loan of £30,000 to ensure that the wages were paid on time at the start of the season. These might not be large sums to a millionaire from the Premier League but I am certainly not a wealthy individual by any stretch of the imagination, I received a salary of £26,000 per annum as managing director of the club, and even out of this I paid the mortgage and all the bills and expenses for my house in Accrington that I have allowed the club to use free of charge to put up for four or five players for the last three years. This isn’t blowing my own trumpet – we all do our bit to help the club – but I offer these facts in the hope that they are taken into consideration when people are forming opinions.
Thank you to all those who have supported me over the last few months. I have been truly humbled by the backing I have had from supporters, staff and directors of Accrington Stanley, together with those from the wider football world and other members of the community who have sent in letters and emails of support.
Again, it has always been a privilege and an honour to have been a part of the famous historic club that I have supported since being a young lad. I do hope that I can continue to be involved in the future, however whatever happens I will always remain a shareholder and, most importantly, a passionate and ardent supporter of Accrington Stanley Football Club.
On Stanley On