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100 years in the First Division: how the match fixing scandal opened the door for Arsenal

by Tony Attwood

As we saw at the end of the second part of this series on 2nd April, 1915, (Good Friday) Manchester Utd, played Liverpool and beat them 2-0.  This was a surprise as it was only Man U’s third win in the last ten.  In fact, in retrospect it was an even bigger turn up because Man U then failed to win any of their next five games (drawing one, losing the rest) conceding 11 and scoring five.  Taken all in all it was one hell of an oddity.

But what really raised an interest in the matter was that immediately after the 2-0 win the bookmakers announced that they had taken a great deal of money at odds of 7-1 odds on a 2-0 United victory.

As we all know bookies of never like to pay out and it was they who started to spread the word that the match had been fixed.  Apart from the range of bets, their other evidence was that Liverpool ludicrously failed to score from a penalty with a ball missing the goal by a fair distance, and the fact that Man U were of course fighting relegation.  That one game didn’t mean they were certain to stay up, but it certainly gave them hope.  And of course there was the small point that in the two previous games where issues of match fixing had been raised, in the previous couple of years, the names of Liverpool and Manchester United had figured strongly.

So the bookies refused to pay up and instead 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 help get Manchester United escape relegation and to ensure that it was London clubs that went down.

So great was the furore and because of the fact that there were mutterings that at this time of war, stories of corruption were deemed to undermine morale if they were left unresolved, the FA felt obliged to enquire into the matter.  In December 1915 concluded that “a considerable amount of money changed hands by betting on the match and… some of the players profited thereby.”

Three Man U players – including two who were not playing(!) – and a number of Liverpool players were banned for life – but with the caveat that if the men joined the army and served their country they would not be punished.  All the men signed up (although they would have been called up when conscription started in 1916 anyway) but Enoch West continued to contest the sentence.  He was eventually pardoned, but did not have his ban lifted until he was 59 years old!

The case was left with a number of anomalies however.  First, how was it possible to fix a match with an exact score with only one person on the Manchester United team being involved?  To be sure of the score, surely you needed more than one person playing for Man U to be playing his part in the match fixing.

Second neither club received any punishment at all – which was bizarre given that Manchester United benefited greatly by not being relegated at the end of the season, and this was not the first time the two clubs had been implicated in recent years.

But the league table stood meaning Chelsea along with Tottenham, would go down when the war was over and football resumed.

Here’s how the the bottom of the table looked.

15 Newcastle United 38 11 10 17 46 48 0.958 32
16 Notts County 38 9 13 16 41 57 0.719 31
17 Bolton Wanderers 38 11 8 19 68 84 0.810 30
18 Manchester United* 38 9 12 17 46 62 0.742 30
19 Chelsea 38 8 13 17 51 65 0.785 29
20 Tottenham Hotspur 38 8 12 18 57 90 0.633 28

*Includes two points from the game found to be fixed in Man U’s favour.

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

Now what did Henry Norris do?    Andy Kelly’s exhaustive analysis of the events in 1919 show that in none of the subsequent debates did Norris do anything amiss. Indeed if you have not read this piece I would recommend it, complete as it is with newspaper commentaries at the time.

But I believe we can now add one other likely element to the situation in 1915.  For the second time in three seasons Liverpool were accused of match fixing in almost identical circumstances and on this second occasion they were proven guilty.   Norris had been seriously attacked and warned over his 1913 commentary, but it was surely his article which had in part at least alerted the bookies to be wary of anything odd happening with Liverpool.

Arsenal (although probably not Norris in person) would surely have reminded the League, in private, how he had been reprimanded in 1913, and how “curious” to say the least it was that it was Liverpool implicated in match fixing for a second time in three years. I think Arsenal would have at least “reminded” the League that Norris had let that issue go in 1913, but that if the League had properly investigated the matter then, the match fixing of 1915 could have avoided.

His fellow directors might even have reminded the League that although they were dealing in 1913 with plain “Henry Norris” Arsenal director, Mayor of Fulham and property developer, they were now dealing with Lt Col Sir Henry Norris who had been deeply involved in recruiting the army during the war and was in charge demobilisation at the War Office, was a member of the powerful London County Council and who had just been elected an MP.  Plus that knighthood had been awarded for his work and financial contributions in aiding the war effort.

We’ll continue the story of 100 years in the first division in the next episode.

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