Moses Swaibu remembers the first time he was offered a bribe like it was yesterday. A tall and elegant central defender who had come through Crystal Palace’s youth system, the 19-year-old was taking the first steps of his senior career in League Two with Lincoln when he and two teammates were summoned to another player’s hotel room at close to midnight on an away trip.
“He put money in front of us and said: ‘I want you guys to lose and that’s how much I’m willing to pay,’” Swaibu says. “It was a wad of cash worth €60,000 but we all said we weren’t interested. The next day no one who had been in the room said anything on our morning walk and it turns out we were all on the bench anyway. That was the last I heard of it.
“It was my introduction to that world,” he adds, more than 10 years on. “I will always remember seeing that amount of money in front of me and knowing I couldn’t say anything because of loyalty to my teammates and him being the type of person that he was … I’d been playing street football just a few years ago so I was thinking to myself: ‘Is this normal?’ There was no form of education to help you. I was put in a situation with a teammate who I trusted and believed in.”
In 2015 Swaibu served four months of a 16-month sentence after being found guilty of conspiracy to commit bribery following an investigation into match-fixing and an alleged betting syndicate. After being released by Lincoln in January 2011, he dropped out of the league and admits he has only himself to blame for the way things unravelled. He was playing for Bromley during the period of his offences.
In prison Swaibu formulated an idea to run workshops to ensure other young players do not make the same mistakes. Since 2019 he has used these to advise young players on how to deal with potential pitfalls, including betting, match-fixing and spot-fixing.
“Being in the cell for 23 hours a day made me realise how important it is to be humble but also how privileged I had been. It was probably one of the best lessons that could have ever happened to me. In my childhood I had a tough and difficult upbringing and I was involved in things I’m not proud of. When I came out I thought to myself: ‘How am I going to be a better person for myself, for my family and obviously for my kids?’
“I realised I was someone who could make a difference, so I started writing down ideas for when I came out to see how we could stop this happening to other young players. A lot of the public don’t know what goes on behind the scenes.
“Within two days of my release I was contacted by Gordon Taylor and Simon Barker from the PFA and when I told them my idea they said: ‘We’re here to help.’ It took a while – you have to realise if someone is in my position and has been convicted then other people are going to be like: ‘Woah, hold on a minute.’ But I’ve always been determined to make this happen.”
The workshops – instigated jointly by the PFA, Football Association and Premier League as part of the FA’s integrity programme – are compulsory for top-flight academies. Swaibu initially featured in a short film telling his story but now he attends and answers questions.
“Players that engage in our sessions are made well aware of the rules and that is why the change has been so significant. In my day there wasn’t any education around – who could I turn to? Not my teammates or even my manager.
“I didn’t realise the impact it had until I got feedback from some of the players. I was surprised at some of the questions they were asking given they were at such a big club. They were asking what were the right things to do in certain situations and asking me about my career and why it went wrong.
“I was expecting them all to be slouching back in their seats like I was when I was 16 but they were really engaged. I may not have played top-level football but I can relate to them because we all have come from the streets and hearing what I have been through can help them to make the right decisions.”
Swaibu is also heavily involved in his local community having established a mentorship programme designed to provide disadvantaged young players with support and training equipment. He has not played since November 2013 when he was with non-league Whitehawk, after a lifetime FA ban. “I was done with football anyway. At 24 I’d had enough.”
Enthusiastic and passionate about his new calling, Swaibu is willing to talk openly about the mistakes he has made. At Lincoln he achieved notoriety after being arrested for stealing a cooked chicken from Tesco before being arrested at the same store for allegedly stealing a newspaper. The charges were dropped but Swaibu believes he was targeted by police because of some of the company he had been keeping.
“There were quite a few things happening. A close friend was arrested for some other charges and the police thought I was involved in that. There was one time when we were about to play an FA Cup tie and I was called by the chairman and told my house was going to be raided by the police.
“I’m happy to admit my life off the pitch wasn’t as professional as it should have been. You can dictate who is around you and who isn’t. You may have grown up with people and they have the best intentions but it’s your career not theirs.”
Swaibu believes his departure from Lincoln began his rapid decline. He met two men posing as agents when he joined Bromley. “That was when the whole conspiracy started. The people who were claiming to be agents were actually match-fixers. We knew that, they knew that and we all got arrested. It was naivety. But if I hadn’t seen what I saw when I was 19 I would have just ignored it.
“There is no real form of governance in non-league football and it will always be a much bigger threat. If you have clubs that pay wages under the table or sometimes struggle to pay salaries then if you are offered the chance to make some quick money you are more likely to do it.
“Only 1% of players at academies make it to the Football League and the other 99% trickle down through the system so there is an obvious danger some could be targeted. Football is a bubble and if you’ve been wrapped up in that since a young age then you are going to think you are owed specific things, even if you drop out of the league.”