On the fourth of May, 2010, the force was strong with captain Conor Clifford as he gathered a pass from Josh McEachran, took one touch to his right, and unleashed an unstoppable shot past the Aston Villa goalkeeper. With just seven minutes to go in the second leg of the 2010 FA Youth Cup final, the goal proved to be the winning one for the Chelsea U18s, and the start of a remarkable run in that competition for the Academy itself that continues to this day (Chelsea won 5 of the 7 since, including all of the last four).
Clifford, who had arrived at the Chelsea Academy a couple years earlier, coming over from his native Ireland, looked set for big things like many in that team. Alas, like many in that team, those big things haven’t quite materialized. A few months after that final, Clifford went on the first of his five different loans, never quite settling at any one. He made 29 total senior appearances in three seasons for Plymouth, Notts County, Yeovil, Portsmouth, and Crawley, before being released by Chelsea in January 2013.
He bounced around in the lower leagues for the next four years before returning to Ireland in January and signing with league champions Dundalk. At the time, he talked eloquently of finding his love for the game again. after the failures and disillusionment of his time in England. He was still a young man, after all, one who was once known around these parts for his excellent vision and skill. Alas, just a week after turning 26, his past has caught up to him.
Earlier this weekend, the midfielder was banned for six months by the English FA for betting offences, with that ban subsequently extended to a worldwide ban from all footballing activities by FIFA. Clifford accepted all 112 counts against him, paid a minor fine (£600), but won’t be able to do anything football related until April.
Dundalk released the following statement confirming the charges and punishment, as well as their continuing support for the player during this unfortunate time, which is nice to hear.
We have been informed by the English Football Association that, having pleaded guilty to charges of gambling on football matches during his time as a player under their jurisdiction, Conor Clifford has been banned from playing in England for six months with immediate effect.
This ban has been extended by FIFA to cover all football activity worldwide.
The charges all refer to a time before Conor signed for Dundalk Football Club and there is no suggestion at all that he continued to place bets after joining the club.
Since we were made aware of this matter we have co-operated fully with the Football Association in their investigation.
These events took place during an unhappy period of Conor’s time in England. The club have assisted Conor throughout this process and will continue to provide appropriate support.
Dundalk Football Club fully supports efforts to maintain the integrity of the sport to ensure that players and officials do not place bets on any matches.
-source: Dundalk FC
As ever with betting related incidents, it’s hard to let any of this pass without acknowledging what is essentially a double standard set by the FA and clubs around England — such as Burnley tweeting about match odds soon after Joey Barton was rung up on similar charges as Clifford back in April.
Football is more than happy to take millions from betting companies and, in turn, more than happy to let these agencies make even more money by fleecing fans and making betting an integral part of the game — from sponsorships, to commercials, to special offers (looking at you, too, Chelsea Football Club). Sure, Clifford broke the rules. He should be punished. But football needs to set an example, not just punish the sinners.