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Athlone keeper vows to clear his name as he denies match-fixing

Igor Labuts
Igor Labuts

THE goalkeeper of Athlone Town Football Club has strongly denied he is involved in match-fixing saying: “I made mistake on the goal... In the second half I made a lot of saves.”

This week, it emerged that the club are at the centre of a match-fixing probe after UEFA said there was “overwhelming” evidence of betting corruption.

The investigation will focus on Athlone’s game last week against Longford, where they lost 3-1.

More than €400,000 worth of bets had been placed on Asian betting markets on the match, where Athlone conceded easy goals. 

However, goalkeeper Igor Labuts told the Sunday World this week that he is not involved in throwing games. 

He said: “No. I’m not involved. 

“We spoke about it with the player union and on Monday we’re going to get interviewed. 

“We’re going to cooperate with the FAI. I hope everything is going to be good because from my side I’m not doing this. I played the game and yeah maybe I made a mistake on the goal, but okay I don’t want to talk about this. In the second-half I made a lot of saves and nobody cares about this. 

“I know I’m not a top-class keeper. I’m trying to play and do my best.Maybe before I think I can play top level but now I understand I’m not top class keeper. 

“If I’m top class keeper I’m playing for Real Madrid.” 

It is believed that the Asian betting patterns were all focused on there being at least two first-half goals and at least four goals in total in Athlone’s 3-1 loss to Longford. 

Investigations are also underway into at least two more Athlone games, including a 4-1 loss to UCD in April where there was large amounts of money placed in Asian markets. 

A Chinese man known as Eric Mao, also known as Eric Xiaodong, is believed to be the mystery investor who invested in Athlone this year. 

Mao has been linked to a number of other clubs around Europe where UEFA has suspected match-fixing, including Atletico Clube de Portugal. 

Labuts was signed this year from Atletico. UEFA has suspicions about match-fixing in 17 games that Labuts has played in with various clubs around Europe. 

Labuts told the Sunday World that he understood why people had suspicions about him, but denied he was involved in match fixing. 

He acknowledged he was under suspicion in other games, including the match against UCD where he made mistakes. 

“I read that fans said I conceded a goal against UCD when it slipped from my hand. I know about this. 

“I lose this goal, I know and people can say a thousand words, but here in my head it’s much harder. 

“It’s hard to explain, but afterwards I made really hard save, but nobody cares.”

He said he was never questioned about the 17 matches he was involved in that UEFA had suspicions about. 

“I was never questioned by police or federations.”

He also claimed he had never been offered money to throw a game, despite being quoted in an interview at a previous club claiming he had been offered money but declined to take it.

He added that he was determined to clear his name and stay at the club, but it will be difficult. 

“It’s hard. I start coaching here, so I want to progress as a football player.

“If I want to move in Ireland to another club or even start another job here with coaching people can say, ‘oh, bad guy’, but it’s not true. 

“I hope the investigation will go well and clear me.”

He added that he had never met Eric Mao. 

Attendances have been dwindling at Athlone’s home games for the past year with fans upset at the way the club was being run. Fan groups had also been raising concerns about potential match-fixing since the beginning of the season. 

Mao is understood to have invested around €70,000 per year into Athlone. They won the first two games of the season under coach Colin Fortune, but eyebrows were raised after he was sacked following the victories. 

They failed to win another game under Portuguese manager Ricardo Monsanto, who was subsequently replaced by his fellow countryman Ricardo Cravo, who also went on a losing streak. 

Romanian midfielder Dragog Sfrijan also told the Sunday World he is set to speak to the FAI this week. 

“I don’t want to say nothing. We will say what we have to say to the federation,” he said. 

Asked if he thought there was any match-fixing in Athlone, he said: “No, I don’t think so.”

Cravo came out to watch as the Sunday World spoke to Igor, but did not speak to us. 

Hours later, Athlone Town had a fixture against Cobh Ramblers with Labuts in goal. They won the match 2-1.