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Preparing to meet Liverpool - the great match fixers

Apart from focusing on football one hundred years ago, this site looks back on the major events in history surrounding clubs we are about to play in the present day.

So this obviously is the moment to take a peek at the history of the infamous Reds and one of their misadventures.

On 2nd April, 1915, (Good Friday) Manchester IOU, who at the time were known as Manchester United, took on the club now known as Liverpool Reds (at least that is what one of their owners seems to want to call them) and beat them 2-0.

There was a bit of surprise in this because Liverpool were solidly mid-table at the time and Manchester United were heading for division 2.

What really put the pigeon among the cats (as it were) is that almost immediately the bookies (who in those days more or less ran football, such was the interest in gambling) said that they had taken a great deal of money on the 7-1 odds offered on a 2-0 United victory.

Bookies of course never like to pay out so they said the match had been fixed.  Apart from the range of bets their other evidence was that

  • Liverpool missed a penalty.
  • As a result of the result Manchester did not go down.

So the bookies refused to pay up and offered a reward for anyone who could unmask the conspirators.  The Chronicle took up the challenge and eventually blamed corrupt players on both sides of fixing the match both to get some money and to get Manchester out of relegation.

What with the First World War going on there was no need for a rush job, since football ended for the duration in April 1915.  But the League held an enquiry and came up with the result in December of that year that “a considerable amount of money changed hands by betting on the match and… some of the players profited thereby.”

They went after three Man U players – which was odd because only one of the three – Enoch West – played in the game,  along with five Liverpool players, and banned them all for life.

But then they added a caveat.  By this time the War was over a year old and so the League said that if the men joined the army they would not be punished.

All the men signed up (conscription started in January 1916 so those of military age were forced to go anyway, so there was no merit in the escape clause) but Enoch West continued to contest the sentence.  He did not have his ban lifted until he was 59 years old.

However the case did not end there (although most histories leave it at that).

There were a number of anomalies.  First, how was it possible to fix a match with an exact score with only one person on the Manchester team being involved?  To be sure of the score, surely you needed more than one person playing for Manchester to be playing in the team.

Second, the punishment which was commuted just as the men would have been called up anyway, was bizarre – it was akin to letting everyone off.

Third, neither club received any punishment at all – which was also bizarre given that Manchester United benefited greatly by not being relegated – Chelsea and Tottenham going down.

There the matter rested until the summer of 1919 when the authorities prepared to start up football game.   They were of course aware of the continuing rumbles of discontent – Enoch West was still fighting them and running a libel case against them, while Chelsea and Tottenham were claiming that at least Manchester United should be thrown out of the League, and that Liverpool should be demoted.

In a style of management that can be still recognised today, the League tried to cover up the mess by announcing that the First Division was going to be enlarged by two clubs and that therefore Chelsea and Tottenham could apply for re-election to Division I.

But they had reckoned without Henry Norris at Arsenal. Norris said that if this were allowed to pass then the message would go out that match fixing at a club level was acceptable, and that the worse that would ever happen to any club would be that its players would be kicked out – at least until another war came along.

Norris demanded that both clubs should be kicked out of the league.   This met with uproar from the norther clubs who dominated the league, at which point Norris announced that he was ready to start a Midland and Southern Football League which would be untainted with the whiff of match fixing.  What’s more he would make public the serious deficiencies in the League’s case.

Eventually the League agreed to talk with Norris, and they offered him a deal.  The League would deliver the election of Arsenal to the First Division if he let go of his claims that Liverpool and Manchester United be expelled.  Norris agreed, and so the match fixing teams stayed in the First Division along with Chelsea, but Arsenal were promoted to the top league, along with the two clubs who ended up first and second before the war in the Second Division.

So as we welcome Liverpool, we should recognise them as one of the two great match fixing outfits.  We might also recognise that this year is the 20th anniversary of them last winning the league and much more sadly and infinitely more seriously the 25th anniversary of Heysel Stadium Disaster when their fans attacked and were responsible for the death of numerous Italian fans.

(c) Tony Attwood 2010

“Making the Arsenal” – the story of Arsenal in 1910 – more details here.

2 comments to Preparing to meet Liverpool – the great match fixers

  • Terence McGovern

    We should also thank Liverpool for the aftermath of the Heysel disaster which saw All english clubs banned from European competition which saw a not so gradual decline of the top league in the country and almost lead to bankrupty of the English game before the advent of SKY.

    Some might regard their current financial state as poetic if somewhat tardy justice.
    I will be cheering for ManCity for the rest of the season to take that 4th spot and seal their fate to follow the path of Leeds.
    What a happy day that will be.

  • Rhys Jaggar

    I’m sure Howard Webb hadn’t read your article before the game.

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