Former Socceroo captains Kevin Muscat and Craig Moore, both A-League captains, and recovering gambling addict Grant Brebner — Muscat's Melbourne Victory teammate — were yesterday hit with a combination of match bans and fines after being implicated in the league's first betting scandal.
Muscat and Moore bet trifling amounts and not against their own team — unlike Brebner, who had a small bet in an Asian Champions League game this year and stood to win a paltry amount if Victory drew or lost to Thai opponent Chonburi. Melbourne lost 3-1 in the match played in Bangkok.
For all three, the punishment will hurt less than the shame that their transgression has produced. Brebner copped a four-match ban, with two games suspended, and a $5000 fine, with $2000 suspended, while Muscat and Moore were hit with the same monetary fines.
Victory football operations manager Gary Cole last night said the club would stand by the two players and would take no further action against Muscat or Brebner.
"He (Muscat) won't be sacked from his role as assistant coach or captain," said Cole, who said Brebner would receive ongoing counselling for his gambling problems.
"Kevin Muscat has been and continues to be a fantastic leader for Melbourne Victory Football Club on and off the field.
"He has made a mistake and he has apologised and he's extremely remorseful. He's a tough man and this is going to make him stronger. Whilst this is very uncomfortable we will all be stronger."
After the Victory lost to Newcastle Jets 4-2 last night, Muscat said: "I have made an error, stuck my hand up and I will take it on the chin. It's certainly not something I will walk away from. I addressed the team last night in a brief meeting and expressed what was going on. The first I heard was yesterday. I thought it was important they heard it from me not in the paper.
"I have had one betting account ever, that was two weeks ago, and I have made one bet, to the stake of $100. Whether that was $100 or $100,000 … I realise it was a mistake."
Earlier, Muscat and Brebner issued public apologies.
"I accept and apologise for my actions," Muscat said. "I have clearly done the wrong thing and accept the sanction that has been handed down by Football Federation Australia.
"I am captain of our club and realise I have a responsibility to the club, my teammates and our fans. I apologise profusely and can assure you all that I have seen the error of my ways. It was a momentary lapse and a clear error in judgement."
Brebner said: "I apologise to my club, teammates, our fans, my family and FFA (Football Federation Australia) for my actions. I want to make sure everyone is aware that I haven't involved anyone else. I understand and accept the consequences that come with my actions."
Melbourne Victory chief executive Geoff Miles said the players were "very remorseful and regretful" for their actions.
"While the club is disappointed, we will support our players 100 per cent through this situation. Kevin is an outstanding leader of our club, however … he has made an error, which he realises was totally unacceptable.
"In Grant's case, it has been well documented that he has had an ongoing issue with gambling.
"The club has always supported Grant in addressing this issue, and it is unfortunate that this breach of the code of conduct has occurred."
For all three players, experienced professionals in their 30s, the placing of the bets, for relatively trivial amounts, can at best be described as thoughtless, at worst stupid.
It calls into question their judgement and brings unwelcome publicity to their sport.
Muscat made one bet and lost $100 on a match not involving Melbourne, while Moore bet a total of $600, winning $72, on two matches not involving the Roar.
Brebner's case was viewed more seriously, and not just because he has a long track record of gambling problems in his native Britain.
He placed bets on two matches, including the Victory's loss to Chonburi.
From the bets placed on that match, Brebner collected $540 for picking the number of goals scored in the game. He also had $2.48 on Chonburi either beating or drawing with Melbourne. The Scotsman was not in the squad for the match, nor was he in Thailand with the team.
The wagers came to light after betting agency Betfair supplied information to FFA under an "integrity management agreement".
The chief executive of the Professional Footballers Association, Brendan Schwab, said it was important for FFA to "send a clear message that betting on any form of football is unacceptable".
FFA chief executive Ben Buckley said Brebner's case was deemed serious enough to warrant a suspension.
"For Kevin and Craig, we felt the financial penalty was warranted and appropriate, but we think there is a difference when a player wagers on their own team, and hence (Grant) was issued a suspension," he said.
Buckley said the suspensions and fines should serve as a warning to players.
"It's a very clear and a very strong message that betting on any form of football is unacceptable," he said.
"(It) has no place in the game. It won't be tolerated."
Buckley said he did not believe that betting was a widespread problem in the A-League.
Queensland Roar said its star defender had made an honest mistake and there were no sinister implications from the bets.
Brebner, who began his career at Manchester United after leaving his native Edinburgh, came to Australia in 2006 to try to relaunch his personal and professional life after succumbing to gambling demons.
He was a crucial member of Victory's title-winning team and this week signed a one-year contract extension.
At one stage he developed a $6200-a-week gambling addiction and in 2004 spent a month in a rehabilitation clinic run by Sporting Chance, the charity founded by recovered alcoholic and former England and Arsenal captain Tony Adams.