Two Norfolk MPs today used parliamentary privilege to their best advantage – ensuring that weekend reports of a match-fixing probe into a then unnamed Championship match suddenly focussed on Norwich City's recent home defeat by Derby County.
The questions tabled by both Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk, and Ian Gibson, the Labour MP for Norwich North, for the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Andy Burnham were on a similar theme – one first brought into the public domain by The Sunday Telegraph newspaper this weekend.
The paper's four-paragraph story put an investigative ball firmly into the court of the Football Association's 'governance department' after reports of unusual betting activity in the Far East; it was whether or not those same investigations had reached the ears of the Secretary of State that formed the basis of both MP's questions.
And with the ancient laws of parliamentary privilege freeing them both from the usual constraints of libel and slander, the fingers started to point at the Norwich City-Derby County fixture.
Mr Lamb's question read: “To ask the secretary of state for culture, media and sport what discussions he has had with the Football Association on allegations of match-fixing and unusual betting activity involving the Norwich City vs Derby County Football League Championship match on Saturday, 4 October.”
Dr Gibson's question ran along similar lines: “To ask the secretary of state for culture, media and sport what discussions he has had with the Football Association in respect of recent allegations of match-fixing and unusual betting activity on a Football League Championship match.”
Evidence of that 'unusual betting activity' provided the basis of the Sunday Telegraph's report which claimed that the game was the subject of 'an attempted betting coup' – one spotted in Britain, but allegedly driven by betting syndicates in the Far East.
“A British spread-betting firm Spreadex reported irregular betting patterns on the Asian handicap market for the match, with large volumes changing hands on two Singapore-based gambling markets SBOBET and IBCBET. There is no suggestion of any impropriety on their part,” said the Telegraph.
Given the legal minefield into which everyone treads, the Telegraph's use of the word 'attempted' might be telling. In that, it suggests it was unsuccessful.
But given the fluidity and speed with which the spread betting market operates – particularly in the gambling-mad Far East – proving that patterns were 'unusual', certainly to the standard required by any court of English law, will be just one of the headaches facing both the FA's governance body and the Gambling Commission.
It could yet take them days, if not weeks, to first assemble and then assess the necessary evidence – and find witnesses 'expert' enough to stand before a judge and a jury and to confirm, with due certainty, that something out of the ordinary was indeed at work that Saturday.
“Neither of the two clubs involved has yet been contacted by the FA,” the Telegraph's short report concluded.
Tonight and a Canary spokesman confirmed that that remained the case – and that until the Football Association issued their own statement, the Carrow Road club would not be commenting further on the matter.
It was a similar story at Pride Park.
The most infamous allegations of match-fixing surfaced in November, 1994, when The Sun caught Bruce Grobbelaar on video tape apparently discussing match-fixing with a supposed business partner. He would subsequently claim that he was merely setting up the other party with a view to handing over the video to the police himself.
Into that particularly poisonous – and ruinously expensive – legal web were also drawn Wimbledon goalkeepr Hans Segers and his one-time 'Crazy Gang' pal and Canary youth player, John Fashanu.
Twice the three went before a jury charged with conspiracy to corrupt; twice the jury failed to agree a verdict and, three years after the first accusations were made, the trio were finally cleared.
At which point Grobbelaar went on the offensive and sued The Sun for libel. Having been initially awarded ?85,000 his case for libel upheld, the newspaper then appealed.
Both parties took their case to the House of Lords where it was Grobbelaar's turn to leave out-of-pocket, if still legally and technically vindicated. The lordships conceded that the case against the former Liverpool keeper had not been proved by the paper.
However, there was sufficient 'evidence of dishonesty' to not only reduce Grobbelaar's libel award to the bare minimum of ?1, but to also order him to pay The Sun's ?500,000 legal costs.
It left Grobbelaar legally cleared (again) of any charge of conspiracy to corrupt, but bankrupt. Arguably both reputationally and financially.
Four court cases, two juries and one video tape. And no conviction.
As for events closer to home, only one thing can be said with any level of certainty. Norwich City Football Club needed this like a hole in the head.