The Strange Case Of The Rooney Clan And Motherwell's Red Carded Scouser

The father and uncle of Manchester United and England striker, Wayne Rooney, have been questioned over alleged unusual bets surrounding Steve Jennings' red card for Motherwell. They could do with some serious betting advice...
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The father and uncle of Manchester United and England striker, Wayne Rooney, have been questioned over alleged unusual bets surrounding Steve Jennings' red card for Motherwell. They could do with some serious betting advice...

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The father and uncle of Manchester United and England striker, Wayne Rooney, have been questioned over alleged unusual bets surrounding Steve Jennings' red card for Motherwell. They could do with some serious betting advice...

At various times in his career, Motherwell midfielder Steve Jennings will doubtless have been warned about the perils of drawing attention to himself through the company he keeps.

He will surely learn the wisdom of that advice over the next few days as his error of judgement becomes a major international news story, thanks to the involvement of Wayne Rooney’s father and uncle, in what can only be described as one of the most cack-handed betting scams in history.

As we now know the Liverpool-born midfielder, Wayne Rooney's father Thomas Wayne Rooney and Rooney’s uncle Richie are among nine men to have been questioned yesterday over alleged unusual bets placed on there being a red card in the SPL match between Motherwell and Hearts played on 14th December 2010, a game in which Jennings was sent off.

The arrests were made after detectives were asked to investigate by the Gambling Commission following a tip off from the internet bookmaker Blue Square. The bookies, who also sponsor the English football Conference, were themselves reacting to suspicious betting activity by a new client resident in Merseyside with demonstrable links to Jennings.

My understanding is that Blue Square revealed that their new account holder had placed his first bet with the firm as £200 on a Motherwell red card at odds of 10/1. Clearly a novice punter, unaware of the small automated limits placed on such obscure betting markets, the person in question then made a number of further attempts to get more money on that were rejected by Blue Square’s system. Presumably, the other Merseyside residents being questioned were involved in similar activities.

In a statement, Merseyside Police said: "Detectives have executed warrants at ten addresses across Merseyside and Glasgow and arrested nine men as part of an investigation into suspicious betting activity.

"Those arrested are a 29-year-old from Bootle, a 48-year-old from West Derby, a 54-year-old from Norris Green, a 26-year-old from Croxteth, a 22-year-old from Kirkdale, a 31-year-old from Litherland, a 68-year-old from Fazakerley, a 36-year-old from Kirkby and a 26-year-old from Glasgow.

"The investigation relates to a match between Motherwell and Hearts on December 14, 2010."

Jennings a former Tranmere player and erstwhile club mate of Wayne Rooney as an Everton youth teamer, was arrested on suspicion of fraud at his home in Glasgow by officers from Merseyside Police, and taken to a station south of the Border. Wayne Rooney Sr., 48, was detained at his home in the West Derby area of Liverpool.

In the match in question - which I personally attended - Jennings was shown a straight red card seven minutes from time during Motherwell's 2-1 Clydesdale Bank SPL defeat. He was sent packing for complaining to referee Stevie O'Reilly about a rejected penalty, after already being booked for a tactical foul on Kevin Kyle. It is suggested that the midfielder questioned the notoriously vain referee’s integrity.

As Jennings seventh booking of the SPL campaign he incurred a two-match suspension, with the red card sparking an automatic one-game ban.

Jennings was shown in Sky’s live feed of the game clearly distraught in the dressing room following his red card and I am told he was also seen on the touchline deep in conversation on his mobile as his teammates warmed-down after the final whistle.

It is a customary knee-jerk reaction for the public to bay for blood whenever footballers are involved. But in the relative football backwater of Lanarkshire, the likes of Steve Jennings are a million miles away from the rarefied environs of the pampered Premiership.

On the face of it the circumstantial evidence alone doesn’t look good for him and that’s a sobering thought given that under English law, fraud carries a maximum prison sentence of ten years.However, as far as I am concerned, as someone with feet firmly in both betting and football camps, there is something about ‘Jennings-gate’ that has never quite rung true to my eyes.

Indeed, my view is that there is an extremely good chance that Jennings is completely innocent of a conspiracy to defraud – although his intentional sending off is clearly a sporting offence.

Motherwell F.C., Jennings’ employers, have been consistent, and indeed quite bullish in their support of the 26-year-old from the moment the story broke.

Last December, The Steelmen’s then caretaker manager Gordon Young claimed he was confident any suspicions would prove "unfounded". He said: "The first and foremost thing is for the player to be exonerated because it has no bearing on the individual. “Everyone at the club is 100% behind him."

It is this peculiarly precise statement from Gordon Young, a renowned straight arrow in the Scottish game, which makes me believe that Jennings has been naive rather than devious. Indeed I’d go as far as to suggest he has likely been ‘done in’ by the actions of his opportunistic ‘friends’ on Merseyside.

Indulge me for a moment folks, because here is what I think is an extremely plausible explanation for what has actually happened here.

Obviously Jennings, like all players do, will have known the precise state of play with his disciplinary status, and indeed by getting himself sent off in the final minutes against Hearts some may argue that the midfielder was even acting with his employer’s tacit approval. In this case, a Festive Season suspension may have served the interests of both parties.

By getting sent off Jennings will have ‘managed’ his ban to miss games against The Old Firm and Hamilton, which would not neccesarily be listed as a highest priority fixtures for Motherwell. Realistically Well would not expect to take anything from games against Celtic and Rangers, while they would likely 'gamble' on beating derby rivals Hamilton without the midfielder. In the process, he will have earned himself that most prized of commodities for footballers: a Christmas break back home with his friends and relations. Something, I am sure, we’d all want in his position.

Indeed, there are numerous examples of clubs and players managing their bans in such a way.

None other than England captain David Beckham incurred a deliberate yellow card v Wales in 2004 to miss a low priority game against Azerbaijan. And last season Jose Mourinho faced a UEFA investigation after Real Madrid were accused of having two players deliberately sent off at Ajax. Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos were sent off in the dying stages for time wasting - despite Real comfortably leading 4-0 in Amsterdam. Both players were shown second yellows, suspending them for a meaningless final game against Auxerre and ensuring their availability for the start of the Champions League knockout stages.

I can certainly imagine the scenario where an overjoyed Steve Jennings will have called his friends in Liverpool to smugly tell them how he’d managed to wangle himself a Christmas break back home. And how did those pals respond to Jennings’ great news? By getting on the jungle drums and sparking a ludicrously obscure gamble that, given the sums involved and the manner of its amateurish execution never had any chance of success.

To date there has never been any suggestion anywhere that Steve Jennings stood to profit from the proceeds of the bet and with Motherwell claiming that they expected the player to be exonerated because the accusation ‘has no bearing on the individual’ you have to feel sorry for the player if he is indeed innocent of the ‘greater crime’ of attempted fraud.

It is a customary knee-jerk reaction for the public to bay for blood whenever footballers are involved. But in the relative football backwater of Lanarkshire, the likes of Steve Jennings are a million miles away from the rarefied environs of the pampered Premiership.

If the Motherwell player is ultimately found culpable for what should have been a relatively victimless sporting misdemeanour, it would be only right that his punishment should fit the crime - regardless of the newsworthiness of his so-called ‘friends’ in Liverpool.

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