Hércules face Primera promotion probe

August has landed in Spain like a giant oven of doom with the country transitioning smoothly from its normal hectic three breakfasts, eight coffee breaks, four phone-calls to mother and a long lunch working speed to a complete crunching halt.

Indeed, the café where the tightwad LLL likes to go through the(ir) sports papers of a morning appears to have closed for the month, leaving the blog beginning its Monday by standing helplessly in the street, rubbing its ears in distress and giving off a high-pitched squeal that only dogs and the French can hear. LLL does not embrace change.

For a country that enjoys tradition like Karim Benzema enjoys the company of... [don’t go there - Ed], August sees TV reporters packed off to the beach to interview entire extended families from Andalusia drinking their way through buckets of gazpacho and wailing flamenco songs.

Their colleagues in the sports departments tend to get very excited indeed over annual stories of matching-fixing from the previous season, before realising that this would involve actual investigation, hard work (and probably horses heads from those being probed) before returning the old and easy routine of claiming that Real Madrid’s latest manager will get the best out of Real Madrid’s latest failing superstar.

This summer is no different.

In previous years there have been a smattering of tales of skullduggery in the second division involving Málaga, Tenerife, Rayo Vallecano, Castellón, Cádiz and Zaragoza, and have all followed the same pattern.

Accusations either caught on tape or made through third parties dribble out suggesting that games have been fixed - normally in the battle for promotion. Those that are accused of wrongdoing deny it in a huff and declare that legal action will be taken. Newspapers then hand-wring that all this muckiness should be looked into before quietly forgetting that the whole business ever happened.

LLL would not be at all surprised if the latest allegations of naughtiness come to nothing, once again, especially as match-fixing isn’t actually a crime in Spain - a loophole the government is set to change in December.

The latest case surrounds newly-promoted Hércules, with the judge investigating a separate corruption case called “el caso Brugal” - which involves the club’s majority shareholder, Enrique Ortiz, who is currently on the Spanish TV news from time to time cheerily walking in and out of police stations - highlighting potential evidence of match-fixing involving his team.

There are reported to be tapes allegedly implicating Hercules player, Jorge López Marco - or ‘Tote’ - as acting as an intermediary in some underhand shenanigans in a game against Córdoba last season. Tote denies all allegations and insists he has “a clear conscience”, while his club say the whole matter is in the hands of their lawyers. Once they return from the beach, perhaps.

“We won (promotion) by our own merits,” stropped Hercules president, Valentín Botella, “if there are conversations like they say there are, I don’t know about them.” The club’s manager, Esteban Vigo, is another who has responded strongly to the stories by claiming that “all this is normal and each year it affects one club. It’s seems like it is us now.”

Another party implicated in the affair is Córdoba goalkeeper Rául Navas, who has faced some probing questions regarding his 'performance' in a 4-0 defeat to Hércules in May. However, this is not a new experience for Navas, who faced similar allegations following a match between Málaga and his then club, Tenerife in 2008.

But Navas has angrily denied accusations detailed in Marca that he took €300,000 in the clash against Hércules. “I have spoken to my teammates to clear everything up. The club have been great with me, but it’s tough because this affects you on a personal level, but I will try and isolate myself.”

Although LLL is convinced that absolutely nothing will happen in this particular case - as with all the others in the past - the government has half-heartedly become involved with Spain’s Secretary of State for sport, Jaime Lissavetzky, saying that he would like “everything to be cleared up because the league begins at the end of August.”

However, even if the allegations are proved to be true, there is not a great deal that can be done on a government level as until match-fixing becomes a crime in December, “it is a matter for sporting administrations” says Lissavetzky.

Real Betis are also keeping their beady eyes on the affair, as they would be the club who take the place of Hércules if the worst happens for the Alicante-based outfit, having finished fourth in the second division last season. Valladolid are also an interested party, being the side who ended up taking the last relegation place in la Primera.

“The most important aspect to this case is the truth...as if this ends up being lies it will have caused unnecessary damage to Hércules,” claimed Valladolid president, Carlos Suárez. “But for the moment, there are only rumours. In the end, I think that Hércules will play in la Primera.”

LLL agrees with Suárez, but mainly for the reason that the country’s sporting institutions have never shown much stomach for investigating such sordid but very serious matters in the past. And the blog sees no evidence of that changing this time around.

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