Football agent Peter Harrison 'behind club takeover'
- 12 November 2012
- From the section Tyne & Wear
The man behind a takeover of a Belgian football club which became insolvent and left young players hungry and homeless was a well-known North East football agent, the BBC found.
Peter Harrison was the public face of Olympic Charleroi's takeover in 2010.
The club went into administration with bills unpaid and players without wages.
Rules of football governing body Fifa state an agent cannot take a role at a club, but Mr Harrison's lawyers said he had no official role there.
The BBC's Inside Out obtained documents which outline plans to use Olympic Charleroi as a feeder club to import and develop promising players to then sell on.
Mr Harrison, from Northumberland, used his contacts as a football agent to attract players from 11 countries including Japan, Australia, Madagascar and Ghana to the club.
Once in Belgium players are able to apply for EC citizenship, removing the need for work permits before transferring to bigger clubs around Europe.
Mr Harrison, whose licence was revoked by the Football Association (FA) earlier this year, appeared on Belgian TV outlining his plans for the club and was described as the "general manager" by the club's secretary and the "president" by the team coach.
Football writer Ryan McKnight, editor of FC Business Magazine, said this kind of operation contravened Fifa rules.
They state that an applicant for a players' agent licence may not hold a position at a club.
He said: "The rules are clear cut. You can't have a position in a working capacity - anything official with a club - you simply can't be that person if you are a licensed agent.
"It's black and white. There is a huge conflict of interest if you become the buyer and the seller."
Olympic Charleroi became insolvent owing hundreds of thousands of euros to suppliers, including a restaurant and hotel chain. Players and club staff were left without wages.
Jonny Rowell was one of the English players who was persuaded to join the team and described the situation some of the players from Africa were left in.
He said: "They had nothing left... they would often come asking for a bottle of water, some coins to buy something from the shop.
"They couldn't afford their bills so they had no electricity... nothing. The supporters used to buy them food and do their shopping."
An FA spokesman said it was not made aware of Mr Harrison's involvement with Olympic but it was very disappointed to hear of any club that had experienced severe financial distress where players had not been paid what they were due.
The FA revoked Mr Harrison's agents licence in June, although it refused to reveal why.
A well-placed FA source told the BBC the revocation was because Mr Harrison's financial background was deemed "inappropriate".
Mr Harrison declined to be interviewed by the BBC. His lawyers described him simply as an "ambassador" for Olympic who merely "encouraged" players to sign.
They denied Mr Harrison was in breach of Fifa rules, as he had no official role with Olympic Charleroi.
Mr Harrison maintained that although he had spent 300,000 euros on Olympic he had earned nothing from the club.
Six years ago Mr Harrison appeared in a Panorama programme when he was filmed by undercover journalists appearing to boast of paying bungs to managers.
At the time he denied being a corrupt agent and said he was just engaging in pub gossip and banter.
Olympic Charleroi, which was founded in 1912, has now been taken over by a new backer. They played in the Belgian third division at the time but are now in the fourth division.
Watch more on this story on Inside Out North East and Cumbria, BBC One, 19:30 GMT, Monday 12 November.