FORMER SOUTHAMPTON SKIPPER Francis Benali has dismissed allegations of a spot-fixing culture during his time at the club.
Benali’s ex team-mate Claus Lundekvam caused a stir this week with comments made to a Norwegian publication, in which he claimed Southampton players regularly turned a profit betting on minor incidents, such as throw-ins and corners, during their own matches.
Writing in an autobiography released in 2009, retired Southampton favourite Matthew Le Tissier also made references to his involvement with bookmakers during his time at the club.
Benali spent the vast majority of his professional career at Southampton, making 311 league appearances from 1988 to 2005.
The fullback played alongside Lundekvam in defence from 1996 onwards, and has strongly denied there was any impropriety among the Saints’ squad on his watch.
“I can say categorically I have no knowledge of the betting allegations made by Claus,” Benali told the BBC. ”I’m aware of the revelations and I’m very surprised in many ways,” he said.
“I wasn’t aware of it going on in the past so I certainly don’t know of it going on now.
Lundekvam struggled with alcohol and drug abuse following his own retirement in 2008, and Benali suggested the sensational allegations may be a result of his former team-mate’s off-field issues.
“It is widely known that Claus has had quite a few personal problems in recent times and I wonder if that is why he has come out with this story,” he said. ”The way it has come across, it’s like all of us were at it and all in on the betting scam and everyone had knowledge of it. That wasn’t the case.
“Dressing rooms are very tight environments and if something was widespread, even if you weren’t part of it, you would hear it being discussed and talked about. That is why this all comes as such a surprise.”
Relegated from the Premier League in 2005 following a 27-year stay in the top flight, Southampton sunk as low as League One after entering administration in 2009. They earned successive promotions to the Championship in 2010/11 and the Premier League last season, and Benali is disappointed the club have received such bad publicity as they prepare for their first campaign back among the elite.
“The timing isn’t good from the football club’s point of view,” Benali said. ”No club wants a story like this associated with them, nor do the city or the players involved at the time. It’s a smear on your character and not nice, especially when it’s not true.”