sport news Michael Boateng opens up on being the first player jailed for match fixing

There is no one else around, but suddenly the voice of Mike Boateng turns quiet.

'People were saying they were paid £5,000 for sendings off, they scored own goals,' he begins.

'They had a result promised and it wasn't going the right way so they've had to do a madness, like headbutt someone.'

Mike Boateng was given a jail sentence and lifetime football ban in relation to match-fixing

Mike Boateng was given a jail sentence and lifetime football ban in relation to match-fixing

You can forgive the hushed tones. After all, it's only half a mile from here that conversations along a similar theme landed Boateng a 16-month jail sentence and a lifetime ban from football.

These days, the 28-year-old offers personal training and protection to the likes of Ryan Sessegnon and Callum Hudson-Odoi.

Back in 2013, however, he was a 21-year-old defender at non-league Whitehawk when he met two businessmen hoping to make money on the Asian betting markets.

'I'd heard about certain players making up to £80,000 in a month,' Boateng says.

The then 21-year-old had met two men hoping to make money on the Asian betting markets

The then 21-year-old had met two men hoping to make money on the Asian betting markets

His reward for flirting with the underworld? Infamy. Boateng was the first player convicted in relation to match-fixing in the UK since the 1960s. He was sent down of conspiracy to commit bribery yet beneath the legal jargon lies a tangled web of betrayal, bad decisions and of bad luck.

'I've had people come up to me in bars, saying: "I did this, I did that" and I was the one who f****** went to a meeting,' he reflects.

Only now is normal life emerging back into view. In jail Boateng trained as a personal trainer but after his release he became involved in selling drugs and was sent down for a second time. By the time he'd left lock-up - and served his probation - the country was in lockdown.

Boateng came through at Crystal Palace with the likes of Victor Moses; Wilfried Zaha remains a friend. Now the next generation are among his clients. Sessegnon, Reece James, Ethan Ampadu and Callum Hudson-Odoi turn to him for extra training sessions or a supportive presence.

Many others offer cruel compassion. 'Loads of people have said "F****** hell, you're the unlucky one".'

Boateng became the first player convicted in relation to match-fixing in the UK since the 1960s

Boateng became the first player convicted in relation to match-fixing in the UK since the 1960s

He came through at Crystal Palace with the likes of Victor Moses and Wilfried Zaha (pictured)

He came through at Crystal Palace with the likes of Victor Moses and Wilfried Zaha (pictured)

The roots of this story stretch back nearly two decades through the streets of south London.

As a youngster at Crystal Palace, Boateng brushed shoulders with two players who later flanked him in the dock.

One his 'big brother', who he says introduced him to the fixers. The other a childhood best friend who - Boateng maintains - betrayed him to save himself. None escaped unmarked after being caught up in a police sting.

By then, Boateng had slipped into non-league - the most money he ever took home was £850-a-week. No small change but enough to resist temptation?

'There were a lot of people making a lot of money,' Boateng insists.

'It was a very apparent thing going on, especially in non-league.'

He adds: 'You hear about it happening at the top flight. there is a lot of money in it so I wouldn't be surprised.'

Boateng says he turned down an offer to get sent off earlier in his career. He admits he may have considered something more subtle; he never reached that bridge.

Boateng slipped into non-league and the most money he ever took home was £850-a-week

Boateng slipped into non-league and the most money he ever took home was £850-a-week

Alongside a team-mate, Boateng met the fixers at East Croydon Station - around the corner from where he now lives - and headed to a coffee shop.

'We just thought we were meeting these geezers, having a quick chat,' he says.

'When we were in the cafe, the two businessmen felt a bid edgy and were looking around like: "We don't really like it here".

'So we left to go somewhere else. Looking back, there were people following them. They obviously had good intuition.'

It was later claimed that an undercover officer, posing as an investor at the meeting, asked Boateng if he would take two yellow cards 'if this guy says you have to.'

Boateng maintains nothing was agreed and denies that he was given £367 to stay 'on side'.

'Leaving the meeting I didn't really feel edgy or like "What the f*** have I got myself in to,'" he says.

A couple of days later, however, Boateng was arrested. He thought the police had jumped the gun - how could he be punished for attending a meeting?

Boateng, pictured playing for Bristol Rovers, was arrested in a police sting after the meeting

Boateng, pictured playing for Bristol Rovers, was arrested in a police sting after the meeting

'It just shows how unaware of the law I was,' he admits.

'Even when I was on trial... I was saying "how can one player fix a game?"

But Boateng was sacked by Whitehawk and provisionally suspended by the FA.

'Everyone just washed their hands of me. I was guilty until proven innocent,' he says. 'For the whole seven months I was on bail, I couldn't play football, I couldn't work basically.' He could at least take comfort in his company. His co-defendant

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