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BBC TwoNewsnight
Last Updated: Monday, 5 June 2006, 11:02 GMT 12:02 UK
Diary of an anxious editor

By Peter Barron
Newsnight editor


    Peter Barron felt too anxious to think about his column this week, so instead the web team asked him to record a diary entry as he chewed the carpet in his office on Thursday evening...

    Fifa says it will investigate Arsenal following Newsnight's report
    Tense day today. After an investigation going back over several months on and off, we're on the point of broadcasting our investigation into Arsenal's relationship with the Belgian club Beveren.

    The story centres round a secret loan of £1 million to the struggling club in 2001, which the Belgian police initially thought might have come from the mafia. Our extraordinary investigative producer Meirion Jones discovered that the money had in fact come from Arsenal.

    Normally on days like today you'd hope to have the film done, dusted and legalled, but it rarely works out like that
    Normally on days like today you'd hope to have the film done, dusted and legalled, but it rarely works out like that. There have been so many twists and turns keeping Meirion and our reporter Liz MacKean on the phone, chasing interviewees, to-ing and fro-ing with Arsenal, that it'll be a few tense hours yet until the film is finally put to bed.

    Since we first talked to Arsenal about our story more than a week ago they've insisted they have no financial relationship with Beveren, a club which has used Belgium's lax rules in order to import footballing talent from the Ivory Coast and from there on to stardom and fortune with clubs like Arsenal.

    Last week they told us: "It is a technical relationship between Arsenal Football Club and Beveren, it involves no direct financial support."

    And that was that, which was puzzling as we had a document, given to us by a Belgian magistrate and signed by the Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein, detailing a loan of £200,000 pounds.

    So as we set off this morning on another Newsnight we felt sure we had a strong story, but we weren't quite sure what would happen next or what anyone else might make of it.

    Liz MacKean
    Reporter Liz MacKean broke the story with producer Meirion Jones
    But at the BBC-wide morning conference there was immediate interest and when our press release went out it all started to happen. I spent the afternoon nervously entering the word "Arsenal" in the ENPS wires service - did anyone out there care?

    At 17.22 reassurance from France.

    LONDRES, 1 juin 2006 (AFP) - Le club anglais d'Arsenal aurait contribué à hauteur d'un million de livres au rachat du club belge de Beveren en 2001, contrevenant aux règlements de la Fédération internationale de football (Fifa), selon une enquête diffusée jeudi sur le programme Newsnight de la BBC Two.

    Then at 17.24 a surprise. Arsenal, who had told us they had nothing further to add, sent us a statement.

    Click here to read the statement in full

    Huddles of producers, editors and reporters appeared in our office trying to digest what it meant.

    "Arsenal confirms that it has never owned, directly or indirectly, any shares in Beveren or had any power whatsoever to influence its management or administration. It did in 2001 provide funds of 1,570,703 Euros by way of loan to a member of the consortium to assist in stabilising the finances of Beveren."

    That seemed to confirm our story. But then this note to editors:

    "The current relevant FAPL Rule is Rule 3 of Section U. This prohibits a Premiership Club from owning shares in, or making loans to, or being involved in the management of, another Premiership Club or a Football League club. This is designed to protect the integrity of the Premier League competition and is not relevant to a club based outside England."

    Yes, said Liz MacKean, but that's not the relevant rule. The international body FIFA says:

    president Sepp Blatter

    "...the Member shall ensure that neither a natural nor a legal person (including holding companies and subsidiaries) exercises control over more than one club whenever the integrity of any match or competition could be jeopardised."

    Arsenal might have been drawn against Beveren in a European competition. Surely FIFA would want to know about a secret loan of £1 million to keep the Belgians afloat?

    And sure enough they did. On Radio 5 Live the FIFA president Sepp Blatter was asked what he made of our forthcoming revelations. Mr Blatter's obvious concern helped calm ours.

    Why are you wasting anybody's time with this investigation? There are so many bigger injustices and illegal goings on in football, devote your time to those. You have only happened on this story because of a money-laundering investigation related to the mafia. That was the interesting story. Arsenal's loan is inconsequential. Beveren are a mid to low table Belgian team. And Arsenal's relationship with them is to all intents and purposes wide open for all to see. Drop it and get back to something more worthwhile.
    Dan Joseph, London

    Well done and keep at them! Money may very well talk, but investigative journalism will sort out those who think that they are above the law, football or otherwise.
    Major (retired) JH Davies MBE RA, Leeds

    Hot stuff!
    Jude Blundun, Norwich

    I think the ever so small weakness in your argument is in the line: "Arsenal might have been drawn against Beveren in a European competition." That's the mighty Beveren who have never come close to qualifying for Europe since the technical relationship with Arsenal started, and finished the season third bottom of the Belgian league. That comment just shows what you know about football, and what a tenuous story this was.
    Patrick Larch, London

    Many congratulations with your piece of investigative journalism. Good stories require good feedback. Beveren is a well-established football club in Belgium, to regard it as an "..obscure.." Belgian football club is a bit like saying West Ham United means nothing in England neither. What is amazing for us football fans in Belgium, is to see that this team "Beveren" totally changed its "look" with nothing but players from the Ivory Coast, whereas the club's strength had always been to build on local youths. Surely big money was involved. Thanks again for you brilliant piece.
    Pascal Michiels, Aalst

    I watched the Arsenal piece and I must say it did not seem to me to have the necessary weight for a Newsnight lead story. All a bit so-what.
    Peter Osborne, London

    Words I never thought I'd write: I agree completely with David Mellor! What a non-story! Wake up Newsnight!
    Mark Jenkins, Bristol

    Does it really matter what these football clubs get up to? They appear to be just money making rackets anyway and the ones with the most money get the best players. The days when clubs played local talent have long gone. So why all the fervour?
    Henry Cossey, Australia

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