Former Ħamrun Spartans players Roderick Fenech and Massimo Grima were yesterday banned from football for life after being found guilty of match-fixing.
Fenech and Grima had been suspended indefinitely since July 2013 when the match-fixing allegations surfaced but any hopes they may have had of proving their innocence after a lengthy inquest were shattered yesterday when the Malta FA announced that the duo had been handed life bans.
The case goes back to season 2012-13 when Fenech and Grima turned out for the Spartans in the Premier League.
Along with Elton Borg and Julian Friggieri, two former members of the Ħamrun Spartans FC committee, Fenech and Grima were accused of colluding to fix a number of top-flight games.
Borg and Friggieri admitted the charges and voluntarily barred themselves from all football-related activities but, a few months later, the Malta FA Council imposed life bans on the two disgraced officials.
As Fenech and Grima pleaded not guilty, the MFA Board to adjudicate charges relating to bribery and illegal betting launched an inquiry which was concluded recently.
The two former players were accused of approaching Andrea Cassar (former Ħamrun goalkeeper) with the intent of influencing or changing, through an anti-sporting act, the course of the game or result between Ħamrun and Hibs, played on January 19, 2013.
The Spartans lost the match 6-0.
They were also charged with rigging the match between Ħamrun and Birkirkara, on February 13, 2013, which game ended in a 3-0 victory for the latter.
Fenech alone was accused of failing to inform the MFA general secretary within 24 hours after he, together with Gianluca Calabretta, had been approached by Friggieri and Borg with the intention of fixing the game between Ħamrun and Balzan Youths, played on November 17, 2012.
Calabretta, who also turned out for the Spartans at the time, had been suspended provisionally after initially being charged together with his two former team-mates but, a few months later, the MFA withdrew all the accusations against him and gave him the all-clear to resume his career.
“In its decision, the board made it clear that there is no place in football for persons who profit from the sporting dedication of our youths for malicious and destructive purposes which stain the beauty of sporting competition,” the statement, posted on the Malta FA’s official website, said.
“Neither is there a place (in football) for those persons involved in committees and other posts who, while not being directly involved in the bribing of players, they pretend not to know what is happening around them when the systematic corruption is such that makes it almost impossible for a person with an intellectual capability, even if poor, not to smell it from seven miles away.
“He who turns his face away not to see is as corrupt as those who take the money.”
In its conclusions, the board noted that, while it was analysing this case, it was aware of what the club of Ħamrun Spartans was going through at the time.
“The protagonists in this case were part of Ħamrun Spartans FC during the time of this unfortunate episode for the club and its loyal fans,” the board noted.
The board also remarked that it had the opportunity to compare and assess all the witnesses summoned by the two parties and felt that the Malta FA succeeded in proving its case.
“After taking into consideration the gravity of these accusations, the board condemned them (Fenech and Grima) to a life ban from all football activities,” the board said in its sentence.
Fenech, 28, and Grima, 35, can appeal against the decision.
Ħamrun Spartans lost their top-flight status at the end of season 2012-13 after finishing second from bottom.
In August 2013, they were handed a seven-point penalty and fined €10,000 after the club was held responsible for the offences committed by Borg and Friggieri.
The Spartans, who are now relying mostly on homegrown players after being relegated from Division One last season, are top of Division Two, level on 25 points with San Ġwann.