European football chiefs were given evidence of one of football's greatest corruption scandals years before taking action, it has been claimed. In 1984 the president of Belgian side Anderlecht bribed the referee ahead of their UEFA Cup semi-final victory over Nottingham Forest. The facts were finally revealed in 1997 and Anderlecht was banned from European competition for a year. But new evidence shows UEFA was told about the bribe as early as 1992.
Four years after winning their second European Cup, Brian Clough's Forest faced Anderlecht in the semi-final of the UEFA Cup. After convincingly winning the first leg 2-0, Forest had a dubious penalty awarded against them and a goal disallowed in the return tie, finally going out 3-2 on aggregate. The truth behind those refereeing decisions only emerged during a 1997 criminal case when Anderlecht admitted paying the Spanish referee Emilio Guruceta Muro. At first, UEFA insisted it could take no action because the bribery took place more than 10 years previously, but eventually a one-year European ban was imposed on Anderlecht.
Now, BBC's Inside Out has found evidence that UEFA had a dossier of evidence as early as 1992. The evidence showed that shortly before the match Anderlecht president Constant Vanden Stock had approached local criminal Jean Elst. Belgian journalist Frank van Laeken said: "Elst contacted a friend in the region, who went to Alicante and spoke to the referee. The referee said 'OK, I'll do it for 1.2m Belgian francs'." But another criminal, Rene Van Aaken, stole details of the deal and blackmailed the club. Van Aaken then sent information to the Belgian FA in 1990 and 1992. Van Laeken said: "If you receive something like this, a bunch of documents on possible games that are tampered with, you should investigate it." The Belgian FA said it did not have the powers to investigate corruption and passed the information on to UEFA, but no sanction was imposed for more than four years. Despite repeated requests from the BBC, UEFA has not offered an explanation of the delay. Referee Guruceta died in a car crash in 1987, aged 45, but Anderlecht's stadium is still named after former club president Constant Vanden Stock, who died in 2008. Elst and Van Aaken were both jailed. Elst died in prison while Van Aaken's conviction for blackmail was overturned on appeal. But for the players, the events of 25 April 1984 remain as painful as ever. Forest goalkeeper Hans van Breukelen said: "For me it was building up that the referee was cheating. All the 50-50 balls around their 18 yard box, he blew the whistle and gave a free kick to Anderlecht." Then Anderlecht was awarded a penalty for a challenge by Forest's Kenny Swain. Striker Garry Birtles said: "That penalty was the most embarrassing decision I have ever seen in football. The distance between Kenny Swain and their guy who went down was absolutely ridiculous." A last-gasp Forest goal, which would have been enough to win the tie, was also controversially disallowed. Anderlecht won 3-0 and went through. Birtles said: "It was wrong then, it's wrong now and it will be wrong always. If you don't go after these people then they will think they can do it again." Paul Hart, who scored the disallowed goal, said: "The whole thing stinks, it really does. When it's brought up, it still rankles".