2nd April 1915. Football Bribery.
Bribery and corruption is rife in many areas of life and to which football has been no stranger since the game’s inception.
It was Today on Good Friday in 1915 which featured a Division I match between Manchester United and Liverpool at Old Trafford which United won 2-0, thus avoiding relegation. However even the referee and observers noticed the lack of commitment of Liverpool.
The reason later revealed was gambling on the match results, in this case placed in United’s favour.
It involved seven players of both sides at a time when United were struggling with relegation whilst Liverpool were mid-table.
One possible reason for such action could have been a notion that their footballing days were numbered, with the turmoil of World War I and that the Football League was to discontinue at the end of the season.
The ring-leader Jackie Sheldon and others, including the ironically named, Tom Fairfoul were banned for life, which was lifted for those that survived in 1919, for their ‘contribution to the war effort’.(1)
However Enoch West, of United having lost a legal battle with the FA had to wait until 1945 when he was 59, for his ban to be removed.
A few years earlier a scandal involved Manchester City players and the legendary Billy Meredith who was to plead his innocence of bribing an Aston Villa player in the last match of the season
Keen to spread the blame Meredith said that corruption was rife within the club and it later emerged that City had been paying over the maximum of £4 a match, 4 times a labourer’s wages.
Whatever the truth Meredith was banned for 18 months by City. Manager Tom Malley was suspended for life, 5 directors were dismissed and 17 players suspended, only to be lifted at the end of December 1906 when the club realised they needed the players.
City’s loss was United ‘s gain as Meredith before his ban lifted joined United who won the 1907-8 Championship.
Fast forward to December 1962 when Jim Gauld, ex-youth international, was the ‘mastermind’ of a gambling syndicate behind arrangements for three games to be fixed.(2)
It appears he was drawn to the idea back in 1959-60 when a ‘friend’ told him Mansfield had been paid by Tranmere Rovers to throw the game. This at a time when players were earning £60 a week, five times an average weekly wage.
It wasn’t until April 1964 that the Sunday People printed revelations-a double edged sword-for they paid Gauld £7,000 for his story, twice what he had made from his nefarious activities.
Gauld, as ringleader, got 4 years at Nottingham Assizes in 1965; 33 players were also convicted, at a trial when tape-recorded evidence became first admissible.
Others were caught up in the scandal when in 1963 three Bristol Rovers footballers admitted taking bribes to lose matches. One was the goalkeeper with the ‘hopeful’ name of Esmond Million who sold his reputation for a £100. All were charged under the Prevention of Corruption Act, fined and banned for life.
One can assume with the big bucks paid to footballers now, bribery is a lost art: sex scandals seem to be the fashion!
(1) On 27.12.1919.
(2) Lincoln at home, to lose to Brentford; York to lose at Oldham, and in the old First Division, Sheffield Wednesday to lose at Ipswich.
Ref: Daily Express 1.12.2013/Match Fixing.
Ref: Independent. 17.3.1995. Derek Hodgson. 60’s Scandal that Rocked the Game.