- HOUSEHOLD-name football managers were placed under illegal rolling surveillance by newspapers
- MEDICAL records of two icons of the English game were stolen, showing they had health problems
- TABLOID sports editors then ‘hack-mailed’ the managers – seeking cooperation in return for keeping the information private
- ONE agreed to work for a well-known newspaper, while the other used lawyers to see them off, as;
- MORE Premier League managers tell our investigation into the biggest espionage scandal in football history how they too were illegally targeted
TWO Premier League football managers were “blackmailed” to “work with” tabloid newspapers which threatened otherwise to publish information stolen from their medical records, Byline Investigates can reveal.
The managers – both icons at their clubs and known to millions of fans worldwide – were confronted on separate occasions by sports reporters armed with highly personal information acquired illegally using private investigators.
We are not identifying the managers today – who are among some 15 we have spoken in an 18-month investigation into football espionage – but their testimony shows the shocking reach into the English game of the biggest sporting spy-ring ever uncovered.
One high-profile manager told us: “I was contacted regarding a very private issue regarding my health and told there was a deal to be done, and if I helped the newspaper then no information would be published.
“Naturally I was absolutely mortified, and if they did publish that information it would more than likely compromise me and lead to me losing my job. I had absolutely no idea how they had found out about my medical condition.”
Byline Investigates has uncovered dozens of examples of illegal surveillance by tabloid newspapers on key figures throughout the game, from stars and their aides to clubs, their staff and administrators, with the aim of securing sensitive or compromising material.
In the first two parts of this SpyGate series, we named 11 former England captains whose phones were hacked and most private personal information stolen to order for Fleet Street editors seeking sensational stories to sell newspapers in the 1990s and the noughties.
The first leading manager told us he was already fearing for his career because of illness when a sports reporter confronted him with an intended expose based on stolen records – and the offer to suppress the story in return for which the manager would write a column for his paper.
He said: “Solicitors became involved but it was futile because they had evidence to support their claims so we had to come to the table and do a deal.
“In some respects, I had created a problem for myself as I had cooperated with the paper in the past when they had stories about my players, based on information that I can only assume now they also obtained illegally.
“But I had to protect people. I couldn’t have national newspapers printing stories about my players and their lives off the pitch.
“It made it that much easier for them to put leverage on me, and they used a face I knew and had trusted, a sports reporter, to deliver the message.”
A second leading manager, a European legend, was also targeted by tabloid sports reporters who had access to medical assessments showing he had a serious condition.
Again, the manager was confronted by sports journalists asking for cooperation in return for minimising or completely “spiking” the story.
The manager told us: “I wasn’t buying any of their claims whatsoever and contacted my lawyers immediately.
“They had knowledge that could have only come from certain people and it was a clear breach of privacy.
“It wasn’t the first time I had held this paper to account either. In two separate occasions I successfully won out of court settlements against the paper’s sport pages.”
Our investigation has found examples of such behaviour among the sports-desks of British tabloid newspapers to have been commonplace, as phone hackers and data “blaggers” targeted the game at large and its leading lights in particular.
We have discovered that an organised network of private detective agencies and specialist communications hackers infiltrated the game on behalf of at least five national newspapers, whose editors directed surveillance and often deployed its illegal fruits via their ‘sports desks’.
Their brief was simple – dredge dirt for use in stories or to trade for information, favours, or editorial patronage. To maximise access, sports reporters, trusted by the clubs they covered weekly, were used to deploy the “kompromat” – and soft-sell to managers deals for cooperation in return for retaining their privacy.
A whistle-blower former journalist told us: “I was assigned to deal with the manager. They were blackmailing him and to be honest I felt extremely uncomfortable dealing with him as he wasn’t exactly happy about the situation.
“You could blame me for participating in the blackmail, or hack-mail, but in my defence I had absolutely no idea where they had got their information from other than claims they had a close family source for the story.”
Sometimes the information uncovered from the unlawful analysis of people’s phone records, bank and credit card statements, medical and criminal backgrounds, as well as close physical surveillance, showed up matters that might cause personal embarrassment.
Such details, involving the sex-life of a third top-flight manager, who again we are not identifying, were uncovered by phone hackers on a leading daily tabloid who then placed him under surveillance until they had pictures to support a story alleging infidelity.
A prominent former sports reporter “fronted up” the manager – a married man with young children – and said the story would not appear if he provided information about employees past and present at his club, including confidential salary and contract severance details.
The reporter told us: “Naturally I wasn’t happy approaching him as we were very friendly and that totally compromised my relationship with him being dispatched to broker a deal to keep him out the paper.
“Can you imagine how humiliating it was for him being blackmailed? Hindsight is a great thing, but at the time I had no idea how they had obtained the information.”
“He couldn’t assist us anyway so the paper just went ahead and published the story.”
On a separate occasion, a fourth manager fell victim to a sting based on illegal spying by a well-known weekend newspaper.
The manager was followed and his private life photographed. On this occasion, when the paper confronted his wife with ‘revelations’ of his apparent infidelity, she killed the story by saying she knew of, and condoned, her husband’s private life.
The manager, whose club appears regularly in the Champions League, told us: “They came to me with all sorts of accusations and claims but I said I couldn’t care less what they did with it. I don’t think they believed me when I said my wife knows what I got up to.”
On another occasion, a Murdoch-owned tabloid illegally acquired details of a club’s disciplinary action against its manager – who we can reveal was being hacked by four different papers at the time – who responded with a legal letter threatening to involve police if it a story was published.
A journalistic source said: “So much depended on the reaction of the story subject. If they pushed back aggressively using lawyers who knew which questions to ask about illegal surveillance, they could come out unscathed, although there were other prices to be paid for such defiance down the line and newspaper editors had long memories.
“But because it is maybe in their nature, lots of managers responded to offers of ‘doing a deal’, and it became a way of getting the business of dirty laundry done.
“Once you recognise the whole mechanism was just a face-saving technique for the victims, it’s accurate to say it was essentially simple ‘blackmail-model journalism’.”