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Keeper who was fouled by false bribery claims

For two years goalkeeper Simon Agius lived in the shadow of unfounded bribery accusations. He speaks to Kurt Sansone about his ordeal.

Simon Agius was having dinner with his teammates at a hotel where they gathered for a retreat on the eve of an important football match.

I want my son to read that his father was innocent

The game had to determine which team would play in the Europa League, a European club competition.

But Mr Agius’s two-year career stint with Premier League club Sliema Wanderers came to an abrupt end that evening, two years ago.

The president, coach and a club official accused him of taking a bribe to sell off the game.

“I was shocked,” he says in a sombre tone, recalling the phone call he received in his room at 11.45pm from the coach. “They claimed to have proof but I was innocent and urged them to report the case to the police.”

Mr Agius, 34, a goalkeeper, was distraught. After a grilling session where he denied every charge levelled against him, Mr Agius was in no state to play and left the hotel.

He abandoned the team and the following morning reported the matter to the police. “I tried asking the Malta Football Association to postpone the game until the matter was cleared up but they could not and Sliema withheld every payment they owed me because I abandoned the team.”

Mr Agius’s ordeal lasted two years. The club officials never went to the police and did not bother reporting the matter to the MFA.

When the player took the case up with the association to recoup the money he was owed, the club asked for a lifetime ban from football. The association had turned down a request for a partial suspension until the case was decided because the club never produced a shred of proof. Convinced of his innocence, Mr Agius defended his own case.

“I was never approached by anyone to sell off the game and it was unfair and harmful for the club officials to tarnish my name and never produce the proof,” he says.

Mr Agius had also been questioned by the police after his report. No charges were ever filed but he risked losing his job as an immigration officer. “I am on the police payroll and if they charged me with a crime I would have lost my job. It was embarrassing.” Given the association’s rules Mr Agius could not seek recourse in the courts but the saga ended in December last year when Sliema Wanderers appointed Keith Perry as their new president.

Mr Perry wanted to close the chapter on the whole affair and called Mr Agius soon after. The club eventually withdrew all its allegations and paid Mr Agius the money owed, including the match bonus of the decider game he had abandoned.

Football is rife with corruption and bribery allegations but Mr Agius spent two years at the receiving end of unfounded claims that almost thwarted his playing career.

Today he plays with Gżira United after a stint with Vittoriosa – a club he feels indebted to for supporting him in those two years. Mr Agius wants to set the record straight so that his three-year-old son will know one day that his father did nothing wrong.

“In life you move on but I want my son to read that his father was innocent because it is those closest to you who suffer the most in these circumstances,” Mr Agius says, pointing to a file with cuttings and documents. He almost relived the ordeal some weeks ago when suspicions were raised about the Gżira v Naxxar Division One game.

“My heart stopped when the news came out,” Mr Agius says. It felt like the story would start all over again. But the police eventually filed charges against some people not connected to the club, accusing them of trying to fix the game. The court case will start next week.

There is another lesson Mr Agius wants to share with other players as a result of the black episode he passed through. He says players are sometimes abused by their clubs but many fear taking their case to the MFA because they believe it will side with the clubs.

“They end up suffering in silence. But in my case the association worked professionally and it made no difference who the club was,” he says. Mr Agius calmly closes the file in front of him. He insists on publicly thanking his wife for supporting him all the way. She also had to endure the abuse when Mr Agius turned out with Vittoriosa against Sliema.

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