I can reveal that a massive secret investigation is under way by the Inland Revenue into financial malpractices involving under-the-counter cash deals with both players and ground staff.
One investigator told me yesterday: “You can expect arrests at one of the big clubs in the near future. Officials are going to get a knock on the door at 6am.”
A special Revenue investigative unit, with a crack team of ten tax inspectors based in Sapphire House, Solihull, is spearheading an inquiry that has looked at all 130 professional clubs in Britain.
Only last Friday, Revenue men arrived on the doorstep of a top free-spending club and demanded to look at the books. Files relating to signing-on fees and transfers were examined.
I have discovered that many other clubs have had similar visits.
The mandarins at Somerset House, the Revenue’s London headquarters, began to target the soccer barons in 1990.
It was decided to make an example of one club and Swindon Town drew the short straw.
The club was raided at dawn on January 31, 1990. Manager Lou Macari and chairman Brian Hillier were arrested. Macari was later acquitted; Hillier jailed for tax fraud.
THE inquiry uncovered illegal cash payments to players, petty cash being paid as a perk to club officials and the understating of gate receipts.
Mike Foster, secretary of the FA Premier League and a former executive of the Football League, is “only too well aware” of the Revenue’s campaign that followed the Swindon scandal.
“The inquiry is not just confined to the Premier League,” he said.
“Football in general has been the subject of an ongoing investigation for several years.
“It came about because clubs were making regula ex-gratia payments to players. During my time at the Football League, we were involved in extensive negotiations with the Inland Revenue. “They appeared to act reasonably.”
But Foster added: “The punishment must always fit the crime.
The Revenue must check every case on its merits otherwise things could be very bleak for the game.”
The Inland Revenue refuses to speak of its campaign. But a spokesman pointed me to the example of Swindon Town.
“What was going on there is an indication of what we might be looking at.”
I asked about the special team at Solihull. “We do have an office there which undertakes special projects – like looking into a sport or an industry.”
The inside story of the Revenue investigation has been told to me by a taxman who was in it from the start but who cannot be identified.
SOME of these clubs have a lesson coming to them, he said. “Tax fiddles are rife through all four professional divisions.
The high-profile Swindon case took the taxmen four months to turn over.
“We interviewed everyone. Players, stewards, gatemen – even the guys who washed the players kit”.
The inspectors were amazed by Swindon’s barefaced actions.
“One practice was to turn off the turnstile. Then the rest of the fans who are paying to get in don’t appear on the books.
“When the tannoy announces a gate of only 23,000 and you’re standing shoulder to shoulder in the crowd, you know some thing’s going on.’
Other fiddles being uncovered at some clubs include undeclared cash payments to stewards and bulging brown envelopes for players and their agents.
There is also the practice of leaving cash for players in their boots after a match – called “boot money.”