27 December 1915: How Arsenal helped expose Liverpool and Man U match fixing

To read about the free Arsenal video collection and about the Arsenal History Society, please see the note at the foot of this article.

Throughout December 1915 the FA and Football League finally began discussing the issue of match fixing allegations that had been made the previous spring, involving Liverpool and Manchester United.  Little was heard of this by the football going public since under the war restrictions the newspapers were now restricted to just four pages of heavily censored patriotic war news, and thus there was precious little coverage of the FA Commission that met to discuss the matter.

But although Arsenal were not in any way involved in the match-fixing scandal of the era, this was of interest to Arsenal and its chairman Henry Norris, since it was he who had first made public concerns about Liverpool’s match-fixing following his visit to a game involving the side in the spring of 1913, after which instead of the League investigating the allegations Norris made, warned him against making any such further allegations!

He was now too busy with working in his newly appointed role on recruitment for the army to become involved in the issue again, but he would certainly have noted the match on Good Friday 1915.  Man U were threatened with relegation, yet they won in the most ludicrous circumstances.  You can read more and see the implications for the league table in our article on April 1915.

Reports at the time spoke of a Liverpool team that was not really trying.  It was also reported that when Liverpool got a penalty the penalty taker rolled the ball wide, and when Fred Pagnam of Liverpool headed the ball against the Man U crossbar late in the second half, several members of his team took issue with him.  The referee John Sharpe, interviewed at the subsequent hearing testified that the game was “the most extraordinary match I have ever officiated in.”

A week after the Good Friday match, the Sporting Chronicle reported: “… unsavoury comments are made, and the repetition of these observations, if not checked, is not likely to do the game any good, when football needs every friend it can find.” (This last was a reference to repeated attempts by the House of Lords, The Times and others to have all football prohibited during wartime, as it was distracting young men from their patriotic duty).

It was then suggested that a lot of bets had been placed at 7 to 1 on a 2-0 win by Manchester United, and the word spread that three players from Manchester United: Sandy Turnbull, Arthur Whalley and Enoch West, plus four players from Liverpool (Jackie Sheldon, Tom Miller, Bob Pursell and Thomas Fairfoul) were involved.  It was also said that Jackie Sheldon who had previously played for Man U used his contacts with the opposition to fix up the arrangement.

Further, it was subsequently stated that two players, Fred Pagnam of Liverpool and George Anderson of Manchester United, had refused to take part.  Fred Pagnam indeed testified against his teammates at the hearing.  Billy Meredith of United said that he knew nothing of the arrangement but became suspicious when during the game he hardly got a touch of the ball.

The testimony was taken during the run-up to Christmas 1915 and the verdict was delivered on 27 December 1915. The FA’s conclusion was that there had indeed been a conspiracy by the players, but not by the club or its officials.  As a result, it was felt unreasonable to fine or deduct points from either club!  There was no suggestion made that the officials and directors of the club ought to have been aware of what was going on or moved quickly to deal with their own players, although clearly if they didn’t know and didn’t suspect, there was a clear dereliction of duty among the directors.

The players involved were banned for life from playing League football in England but could play in Scotland, and since four of the players were Scottish, and with the Scottish League 1st Division still running, that gave them an opening to continue their career.   Enoch West was the one player who completely protested his innocence and subsequently sued the FA for libel.

Sandy Turnbull died in the service of his country in the war, and all the other players, except West, had their bans lifted by the FA in 1919 in recognition of their service to the country while Turnbull received a posthumous reinstatement.  West’s suspension was finally lifted in 1945, by which time of course he was completely beyond the age of playing professional football.

Some subsequent reports suggest that this victory saved Manchester United from relegation – this is untrue. The victory certainly helped but just winning that game did not make them safe.

However two other issues were associated with this event, and all three grouped together became highly significant in the application Henry Norris made in 1919 for Arsenal to take a place in the First Division.

First, these findings gave credence to the possibility that the Liverpool game Henry Norris had commented upon, having watched in on Easter Monday 1913, was fixed, given that it was once again Liverpool whose players were being examined on match-fixing charges.  If the League and FA had taken his allegations of 1913 seriously, they could at the very least have examined Liverpool’s conduct at the time, and warned players that they were watching, and so put a stop to subsequent match-fixing events before things got out of hand.

And there was more because the Manchester United v Burnley match on 11 October 1913 there were also allegations of a betting scam, and for this, one of the Man U players who was cleared in 1915 was finally jailed in 1918 for being part of a large scale match-fixing for betting purposes syndicate.

Quite clearly the authorities, in ignoring Norris’ complaints about the match he witnessed in 1913, and in initially ignoring the allegations concerning the Burnley match, the FA were supremely negligent, and they were only forced to act because of the refusal by betting companies to pay up in 1915.

Norris’ position in all this was simple.  Arsenal themselves had not suffered due to the match-fixing – they were ultimately doomed to relegation in 1913 anyway, but he had warned the FA and the League about the existence of match-fixing, and instead of there being an enquiry, he was told to shut up.

By the end of the war Norris was a Lieutenant Colonel in the War Office and in charge of decommissioning the troops, and a knight of the realm, a most highly regarded war administrator, and it was he who had warned the League of what was going on.

This would hardly have endeared him to Manchester United or Liverpool, but by the time it came for the clubs to vote for which club they wanted to take up the spare place in the expanded League in 1919, Norris’ work in exposing the match-fixing that virtually everyone involved in Division One football would have been aware of, was undoubtedly remembered.

The match-fixing clubs wouldn’t have liked him, but the others would have seen him as a man capable of doing the right thing, both in the War Office and in football. It certainly helped Arsenal get votes.


For details of the videos sorted by club, and videos in the order we published them, plus our 21 golden great videos please see here.

The Arsenal History Society is part of the Arsenal Independent Supporters Association – a body which gives positive support to the club, and has regular meetings with directors and senior officials of the club to represent the views of its members to the club.  You can read more about AISA on its website.

100 Years in the First Division: the absolute complete story of Arsenal’s promotion in 1919.

Henry Norris at the Arsenal:  There is a full index to the series here.

Arsenal in the 1930s: The most comprehensive series on the decade ever

Arsenal in the 1970s: Every match and every intrigue reviewed in detail.


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