Interesting to read about this years after the fact.It makes me wonder if and how often that things like this occur in sport. As we know whenever money is involved there is an opportunity for greed to corrupt anyone…
YOU don’t forget faces like the one that belongs to Dave. Mean and reckless faces with unforgiving eyes that give nothing away. The last time I had looked into those eyes was 15 years earlier at Long Bay jail.
I was a teenager and he was a brutal king pin of the yard who terrorised anyone who threatened his supremacy. He was holding a bloodied shiv, having just stabbed another prisoner on the oval.
He didn’t so much as see me witness the attack, he saw through me. I was terrified and refused to say a word, even when the cops offered me an early release to give him up.
I knew Dave appreciated my silence and now, a decade and a half later, he had found me. I saw his face and was transported back to the Bay. The sweat of the gym, the odour of the shower, the sterility of the detergent – these smells struck me at once as he looked down upon me one cold night in August 1994.
Moments earlier I was relaxed. So relaxed. Lee, my favourite masseur, had just started his weekly foot rub as I sipped on a glass of watermelon juice. Lee had incredibly strong hands that could elevate you to another level, a place that felt good the night after a game.
I visited him every Monday at Chequers in Chinatown, a massage joint that offered the full range of hands-on services.
My friends would often order from the other menu, but I always played it straight and opted for a simple foot massage followed by a spa.
I don’t know how Dave found me. It didn’t matter. You don’t ask a man like him unnecessary questions.
The recognition was immediate. Dave smiled and said “Hello, John”.
Dave had a presence. I could feel it as he sat on the couch next to me. He leaned low so Lee couldn’t hear and whispered: “John, I’ve come to see if you are interested in making a very big earn. I’ve got 50 large for one afternoon’s work.”
Given Dave had taken the trouble of seeing me personally, I owed it to him to at least listen. But not here. Chequers was frequented by all sorts, including detectives. Its old walls sprouted ears a long time ago, so I suggested to Dave that we meet for dinner across the road at my favourite Chinese noshery, BBQ King.
“Whatever it is that you’re offering … I will only agree if it’s a one-off job,” I began.
Dave looked back at me with those eyes and stuck his right hand out. As we shook, he said: “I promise, John … it will be a one-off.” His word was good enough for me. “I’m involved with some boys who wanted me to visit you tonight,” he continued. “Some of them are guys you once knew in prison and they are very proud of how far you’ve gone in rugby league.”
I knew this spiel was a sugar-coated prelude to something that wouldn’t sound so sweet, but I didn’t utter a word.
He went on: “John, the thing is that you aren’t getting younger. I’d say this is probably your last season and it’s your final couple of games that I want to discuss with you.”
At this stage I was playing for South Sydney, having secured a mid-season transfer from Balmain. There was no ill-will in the move. Alan Jones, who had switched to Redfern that season, sounded me out in May with a good offer for the remainder of the season.
I was playing well for the Tigers, but the team was running dead last. The Rabbitohs, on the other hand, were having their best season in five years. Not only had they won the pre-season competition, but they were also finals-bound on the back of a youthful team of potential superstars headed by halves Craig Field and Darrell Trindall.
Unfortunately, the team’s form had dipped and the finals had disappeared from reach with three matches to play.
I still didn’t put two and two together when Dave raised football. “My people want to offer you $50,000 to pull up against Wests in two weeks’ time,” Dave said. “And they are also offering to give you another $100,000 to buy whatever players you need to pull off the fix.”
The fix. They were two words I had uttered plenty of times in trotting circles, but never in rugby league.
I told Dave to give me two days to think about it.
I thought hard about which Souths players to approach. I decided that I needed four to make it happen.
For months and years later the big question would always be: who were the players? No one said a word, but the media reported Craig Field, Darrell Trindall, Tyran Smith and Jacin Sinclair. They and I were the obvious ones because we were the knockabouts in the side. The four of them later sued for defamation and won.
So who were the players? I will not say. I get asked all the time but have never told a soul. What I will say is that people should never assume the obvious. Everyone has their price, including square heads.
I approached the first player before training began on Tuesday afternoon.. He was warming up alone in the middle of Redfern Oval when I made my way over. “Listen, I’ve been asked to approach you on behalf of some boys who want to pay you $25,000 to play poorly against Wests the game after next,” I said. Naturally the player was surprised, but not as taken aback as I had expected.The next player was told after training as he walked through the car park. Like the first player, he hesitated but I could see the pause was just the result of a natural reaction.
I was truly shocked by both players’ reactions. I was fully expecting them to knock me back, because what I was suggesting went against everything we stood for.
I spoke to Dave on the phone on Tuesday night and from that moment I believe he thought he had me. It was then he introduced a new element to our scheme. “I’m also going to give you $50,000 to pay the Wests players to have the game of their lives,” he said. Approaching them would be a lot easier, because it didn’t carry the stench of asking blokes to run dead on their team-mates.
I phoned a certain Wests player I considered critical to their chances of beating us. We knew each other and spoke every now and then. “Listen, mate, there’s a group of guys who are planning to have a go at Wests next weekend and they’ve asked me to offer you $15,000 to have the game of your life,” I told him. This little Magpie couldn’t agree quickly enough.
I still had two Souths players left to speak with before the fix could be seriously contemplated.
Wednesday was our day off and I made arrangements to meet both for coffee during the morning. They both baulked, but then I said: “There’s a lot of money involved.” I was getting better at the routine. Interested, despite themselves, they replied: “How much?” When I mentioned the figure, their attitude changed. It was a stack of money and I’ve no doubt many players today would be swayed if they were in the same position.
The fix was starting to go from a possible to a probable.
Dave was willing to outlay $200,000 to ensure players from both sides did their job. If that was his investment, then how much money was his crew actually betting on Wests? It had to be considerably more – millions perhaps. I suddenly realised I was at the centre of the plunge of the century.
It was then that a very dangerous possibility emerged, more dangerous than even entertaining this idea in the first place.
Why should Dave be the only one to get a collect out of this? I was making all the arrangements, assuming a lot of risk and had intimate knowledge of who was involved. If everything went to plan and Dave was so confident, then surely I could have a bet with the same certainty. It suddenly ranked as a must-take opportunity to earn much more than $50,000. This was the chance of a lifetime to clean out the SP bookies and make more money than I could ever imagine.
Although Souths were falling away in late 1994, we were still placed much higher on the ladder than Wests. That meant we would start the game warm favourites. I estimated the bookies would give Wests 6 1/2 points start at the line, or $1.90. Backing Wests with the start meant we could still win the game and collect, so long as we didn’t win by more than six points. Yes, yes … this felt right. We could still win and collect. I could have it both ways – make a motza without having to deal with the guilt of running dead.
I was so swept up in the plan that I picked up the phone and re-dialled the Wests player. Then and there I offered him another $25,000 to find some team-mates to play well. I kept up the story about some guys having a big bet who were Wests fans. He didn’t question me and I honestly think he didn’t see me as anything more than a go-between.
My conscience felt like it had been released from a vice. I woke on the Thursday morning feeling like I had solved world poverty. My next step was to shore up my four team-mates and then meet Dave. I spoke to each of the players at Redfern Oval that afternoon. Each one of them said he was willing to go ahead.
That night Dave and I met at Chequers. He was wearing a big grin even before I told him about the players agreeing.
I didn’t say a word to Dave about my plan to have a bet. It was a tricky operation, because I couldn’t lay the bets on Wests myself, given I was a member of the opposition. Someone else needed to put their face on show.
Who else but this one loyal mate and accomplice? My loyal mate and I did everything together and when told of Dave’s arrangement he agreed to lay the bets.
But these just weren’t any bets. This was the blitz to end all blitzes. Because we thought Wests winning with the start was a sure thing, we decided to hit every SP bookie for as much as we possibly could. The problem, however, was that we only had contacts with about three or four illegal SPs.
There were many more operating but none that knew or trusted us well enough to hold the type of money we intended on betting.
There was only one man who could bring them into our grasp: Neddy Smith. In 1994, he was back in prison after a couple of fleeting releases since my stretch 15 years earlier. Unable to put my head on show, I arranged for my loyal mate to meet a contact of Neddy Smith over the weekend for a leg-up with every SP bookie in town. My loyal mate returned with instructions to talk to a bloke called Willy. Willy had contacts with about 17 bookies, which, including my handful, made 20 all up.
On the following Monday, my loyal mate and I decided on an insane figure to bet – $1 million. The plan was for my loyal mate to whack all 20 bookies at once as soon as betting opened on Tuesday morning.
He was to place $50,000 with each bookie on Wests to win with 6 1/2 points start at $1.90.
We were betting $1 million to win $900,000. Suddenly, my $50,000 cut from Dave seemed inconsequential.
At this time, none of the players knew who the others were. In fact, they had no idea there was anyone else involved. I didn’t tell them a thing.
All that was left was for the betting to open and my meeting with Dave.
At BBQ King, I told him about the line betting without mentioning my personal plunge. Instead, I said the players had only agreed to be in it if the fix was to win by no more than 6 1/2 points. I said no one would agree to lie down and lose. Dave understood their attitude and agreed to back Wests on the line. All he said was: “Just make sure you keep quiet.”
When the odds came out on Tuesday morning Wests were given 6 1/2 points start, just as I had predicted. My loyal mate didn’t waste any time. Within 10 minutes he had spread $1 million worth of bets among 20 illegal SP bookmakers at $1.90. We were set.
The rest of Tuesday and Wednesday passed without incident. I was happy, particularly because our coach Ken Shine had named me on the bench. The less game time I had in this match, the better.
Then the bloody phone rang. It’s 10am on Thursday. Dave is on the other end. Oh shit. Even before he spoke, I knew it wasn’t good news. “John, I need to meet you in Balmain asap.”
This was an order, not a request. “John, there’s been a change of plans. Forget the handicap betting, my boys have backed Wests straight out to win at $2.60.” I froze. I folded my arms in silence, sat back and let a world of pain descend on me. I began to speak quickly, telling Dave that the players had only agreed to the 6 1/2-point handicap.
Dave looked at me and smiled. Right at that moment I felt embarrassed to have insulted his intelligence. “John, I knew you’d have a go with the bookies, but you got in before us,” he said. After my loyal mate had smashed them, the bookies wouldn’t take a cent more on Wests with the handicap.
They had obviously spoken to one another and sensed a fix. That left Dave and his mates in a tight spot. Their only option was to back Wests straight-out at bigger odds.
I now had the horrible task of going back to my team-mates and telling them to run dead. Sensing I was in strife, Dave said he could guarantee extra money for the Rabbitohs players to run dead instead of winning by less than a certain margin … the fix began to collapse after training on Thursday night when one player approached me to say he was pulling out. “It’s just not worth the drama,” he said. “I can’t bring myself to run dead.”
Secretly I agreed, but my outward emotions were still on autopilot. “A deal is a deal,” I fumed. “You can’t back out. How much more money do you want?’ But he was adamant. And what’s more – he was right. “We never had a deal to run dead – the deal was to win but by less than 6 1/2 points. You’re now asking me to do something else.”
I couldn’t have felt a more extreme mix of emotions at that point in time. On one hand there was an incredible relief because we weren’t going ahead to lose the game. Looking back, if I had cheated Alan Jones and the team it would have been something I couldn’t have lived with.
But then again, I might not live that long. All of a sudden there was no certainty. The Souths players were now determined to win and on form there was no reason why they shouldn’t. If that happened, I was a dead man walking.
By Saturday, all four players had told me they wanted no involvement. I accepted their decision. They were entitled to pull out, because the rules had been changed midway through the game. What’s more, rumours had started around town about an orchestrated sting on the Souths-Wests game. It was far too hot for these players to handle.
We were in deep strife. Only two options remained – the Wests players and Neddy Smith. On the eve of the game, I rang my man at the Magpies and offered him an extra $50,000 to spend as he saw fit to ensure Wests played the game of their lives. This player must have thought I was Father Christmas, throwing money at him just to play well. He said he’d been in touch with another four players who were primed to cash in with big games.
At 8.30am on Sunday, less than seven hours before kick-off, my loyal mate went and saw Neddy Smith’s contact again. He needed to ask for Neddy’s help with the bookmakers in the event of our bets losing. He told the contact he would need extra time to pay the money. When my loyal mate pulled up at my house around 10am I was a human wreck.
To top everything off, the Sunday newspapers had published a story detailing the rumours about a suspected fix on that afternoon’s game between Souths and Wests at Campbelltown.
When I went outside to meet my loyal mate, my heart skipped a beat. Sitting in the passenger seat of his car was Dave. F…! The last thing I needed Dave to know was where my family lived, particularly given what was likely to happen if Wests didn’t win that afternoon.
Once again, Dave looked at ease. In fact, he was even smiling. It turned out Neddy had told my loyal mate to get in touch with Dave asap. My old friend in prison knew exactly what was going on. I should have known better.
“Neddy was filthy that you beat him to it,” Dave joked. “He wanted part of the sting.” I couldn’t bring myself to laugh along.
Dave was still smiling as he continued. “Now look, John, about these SP bookmakers, you and my loyal mate don’t have to worry because I’ve bought the debt. I still remember what you did for me in Long Bay all those years ago. I would have got an extra decade if you hadn’t stayed quiet. The last 10 years have been kind to me and I owe that to you.”
My eyes widened. I couldn’t believe Dave was willing to cover us, but was still wary of being in his debt. Nevertheless, I didn’t have a choice. “Will my family be OK?” I asked, still petrified about the consequences of anything but a Wests victory.
“They will be OK,” he promised. “But if Wests don’t win you will have to leave the country. I’ll have a passport organised for you within a week.”
The fix was now well and truly off, with Dave also withdrawing my $50,000 fee. My loyal mate and I were saved from a debt that could have had us killed, but the price could be leaving Australia.
The Souths team bus was due to leave Redfern at noon for Campbelltown.
The only thing that jerked me to attention was Ken Shine’s fury before we boarded the bus for Campbelltown.
Ken was brandishing the newspaper articles about the fix. He screamed that if any player planned to lie down, they should get off the bus immediately. No one moved a muscle.
Several players denied any knowledge and insisted the story was bullshit. I didn’t say a word.
By complete coincidence, I ended up bumping into the Wests player I had been speaking to about 30 minutes before kick-off. I’ll never forget his words. “John, we’re treating this game like a grand final,” he said. I had the chance to speak to the four Souths players I’d tried to pay off. I told them the fix was off – to go out there and play the game of their lives.
From then on my mind went blank and the next 80 minutes passed as if I wasn’t there.
All I knew afterwards was that Wests had won.
I read in the paper the next day that the score was 34-26.
Thankfully, Dave was off my back. He was also $900,000 richer – money my loyal mate and I would have collected if not for the change of plans.
My street sense told me that we might have been the victim of a double cross, but it was all academic now.
The truth was that Dave had probably been too smart for us.
When we met the following night at Chequers, he told me: “Don’t worry, John, I was never going to make you go overseas because Wests were never going to lose that game.”
I didn’t ask any questions. There was nothing more I needed to know.