The Irish Football Association last night admitted they have been put in a “ very difficult position“ after betting was suspended on an Irish League match at the weekend.
Bookies say they got suspicious after an unusual amount of bets went onto the Glenavon v Armagh City game at Mourneview Park, which ended in a 5-0 win for the home side.
Some firms reported bets being put on the match as early as Thursday, which they said was „abnormal“ for a Saturday afternoon league match.
However, a leading bookmaker said this did not mean anything suspicious or underhand was going on.
Armagh City last night issued a statement saying that the club would fully co-operate with any investigation into the match.
„We believe that the good name of Armagh City FC, the Carnegie Premier League and the Irish FA are all being damaged by these allegations,“ club secretary John Hynds said.
Glenavon secretary Jim Hewitt said: „The club was not involved in any way but we know betting was suspended on Friday.
„We didn’t notice anything untoward on the day.“
The IFA were alerted by a William Hill representative but last night the Association’s chief executive, Howard Wells, told the Belfast Telegraph that there was little they could do.
„We’re in a very difficult position and powerless to do much more than note it,“ Mr Wells said.
„Without clear facts and information, there isn’t very much we can do. Basically, under current gambling laws, we don’t have the powers that they do in England to fully investigate this.“
This is the second time in two years that this particular fixture has been under scrutiny by local bookmakers.
Back in 2006, a major firm lost GBP 35,000 on a Glenavon win.
On this occasion, the betting patterns appeared to be on Glenavon to win and on the half time and full time scores. The Lurgan men led 2-0 at the interval, scoring three more times without reply in the second half.
Most firms stopped taking bets on the game on Friday afternoon, after initially slashing the odds on Glenavon from 5-4 to 8-11.
Shaun Lynch confirmed that Ladbrokes voided the fixture on Friday morning because of „irregular betting patterns“.
„We saw a lot of bets on Glenavon on Thursday night and at 10.10am on Friday we stopped taking bets,“ he said.
„We knew about the Armagh Glenavon match two years ago, so automatically alarm bells started ringing.“
William Hill spokesman Graham Sharpe said the company had notified both the Gambling Commission and the IFA after becoming suspicious.
„We saw an unusual betting pattern and couldn’t discern a reason for that and so we decided to close the book on Friday afternoon,“ he said.
Spokesman for Paddy Power bookies, Barni Evans, confirmed the book on the Glenavon v Armagh game was closed early after they received „a flood of bets“ backing the Lurgan blues to win.
„We did close the book early,“ Mr Evans said.
„The starting price was 7-5 but they were backed to evens and in a football game, especially a lower league football game, that’s a fairly significant shift.“
Asked if it had happened in the Irish League before, Mr Evans said it had happened „in every league“.
More than GBP 27,000 was matched on Betfair, the world’s leading online betting exchange, all bar GBP 100 on a home win, with odds as low as 1-3 being taken.
On Friday night, the Association of British Bookmakers issued a statement to beware of taking bets on that game.
ABB spokesman John Johnson last night said: „It seems likely that the change in betting occurred after Armagh were denied a Domestic Club Licence by the IFA on Thursday, which changed the position of the match.“
Mark Lepkowski, Communications Manager at the Gambling Commission, said they didn’t regulate gambling in Northern Ireland.
Earlier this season, eyebrows were raised when Dungannon Swifts, who were one point off the bottom of the table, hammered champions Linfield 4-0 at Stangmore Park. But the bookies reported no unusual betting patterns in that game and dismissed the result as „a freak“.