By Tony Attwood
In the first part of this series (Arsenal celebrate 100 years in the top division) I mentioned the match fixing episode involving Liverpool and Manchester United, as a result of which Chelsea were relegated in 1915
However this was not the only match fixing that was alleged during the last few years before football was suspended
For example, on 24 March 1913, Henry Norris, having taken his family on an Easter holiday break in Lancashire, went to Anfield, on his way back south, and saw Liverpool 1 Chelsea 2. This result that meant that in the 1912/13 season Chelsea would avoid relegation and Arsenal would go down.
It was however quite an extraordinary result as not only were Liverpool a considerable distance above Chelsea in the league, and Chelsea’s away record was very poor, but Chelsea were losing matches hand over fist at the time as the fixture list for the period shows…
|15 Mar 1913||Chelsea v Everton||L||1-3|
|21 Mar 1913||Chelsea v Aston Villa||L||1-2|
|22 Mar 1913||Sheffield Wednesday v Chelsea||L||3-2|
|24 Mar 1913||Liverpool v Chelsea||W||1-2|
|29 Mar 1913||Chelsea v Blackburn Rovers||L||1-6|
|05 Apr 1913||Derby County v Chelsea||L||3-1|
That one game of Liverpool v Chelsea obviously stands out, and Norris, as a person who was actually at the game, was outraged by what he saw as a deliberate attempt by Liverpool players to lose. As a result, in his subsequent weekly column in the West London and Fulham Times, Norris stated there was something very suspicious about that game and all but accused Liverpool of fixing the match.
The Football League were aware of the report and instituted an enquiry, but it was a cursory affair, only lasting a day or so, and instead of investigating fully simply exonerated Liverpool and warned Norris as to his subsequent behaviour, making it clear that if he made any more allegations, he would be banished from football for life.
However the matter did not go away, because it was not long before another match fixing case turned up. This was just six months later in the following season, and related to the game on 11 October 1913, in which Manchester United played Burnley. In this case there was no reason to expect that Manchester United would not beat Burnley – they had won five of their six games so far in the season. But now the allegation was that the match which ended Burnley 1 Manchester United 2, was fixed as large amounts of money be placed correctly, on the exact score of the game. This time it wasn’t Henry Norris making a fuss it was the bookies.
So now, having turned down Norris’ claim of match fixing by threatening the accuser, this time the League felt it could not get away with a cover up for the second time around, and so it held an enquiry. It rather ludicrously found one Man U player guilty, and he was eventually jailed for corruption.
This of course would have left Norris fuming – his evidence had been dismissed, but now when another match was considered, one not involving Arsenal, the FA took action. Worse, the whole suggestion of match fixing by just one player was nonsense. Was it really possible that just one player could fix the exact score of a match without anyone else being involved?
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Questions such as this were still buzzing around when the third match fixing scandal of the era exploded. But with Arsenal neither benefitting nor suffering in this case, Norris once more reckoned it was in his and Arsenal’s best interest to stay quiet. Besides to which he was by now fully engaged in working for the War Office overseeing the recruitment of soldiers for the armed forces. He had other things on his mind.
However as things turned out, this match fixing event did eventually come to be relevant to Arsenal, so it is worth following in detail.
Prior to 2 April 1915 the bottom half of the first division table (which of itself obviously did not concern Arsenal too much as they were in the second division) looked like this
On 2nd April, 1915, (Good Friday) Manchester Utd, played Liverpool and beat them 2-0. If you consult the table above this might be a bit of a surprise – and at the time those who really followed football saw it as a bigger surprise, because 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 again, the bookmakers immediately announced that they had taken a great deal of money at odds of 7-1 odds on a 2-0 United victory.
Apart from the range of bets, the bookies other evidence was that Liverpool ludicrously missed a penalty and didn’t have a shot at goal. True, 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, the names of Liverpool and Manchester United both cropped up.
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. Their aim, the paper concluded was to get some money and to help get Manchester United escape relegation.
Of course Arsenal just looked on, and with football suspended at the end of the season for the duration of the war, there was no immediate action for them to be taken. But Chelsea were extremely frustrated, because it looked like they had been relegated by a fixed match. They made it clear that when football resumed, they were not going to take this lying down.
The series continues.