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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.

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

Pos Team P W D L F A GAvg Pts
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.

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

  • FrankA

    As Always Tony, this is sensational and more detailed than the information I already have.

    Keep it coming. Kudos

  • Masterstroke

    So the bookies were moaning even then, and they were probably illegal because as far as I know the only legal bookies were at race courses and the tote at dog tracks. I remember making a few bets with a ‘guy’ who came round to our work place in the early 1960’s, but betting shops didn’t come into force for a few years after.
    Bookies eh!

  • WalterBroeckx

    off topic but Ceballos is confirmed on arsenal.com as is Saliba who goes back on loan for another year to St. Etienne

  • Gooner S

    Brilliant.
    Thank you.

  • There were no betting shops at this time but gambling was not illegal. It was Henry Norris who introduced a private members bill in 1920 which actually became law which outlawed one of the most common forms of betting on football matches – a type of fixed odds system. In his act of parliament it is called the Ready Money system.

  • Samuel Akinsola Adebosin

    Good to read on official Arsenal website today that Saliba and Ceballos have signed a five year deferred playing for Arsenal deal, and a season long loan contract deal for the club. But with 13 days left to go to this summer transfer window deadline day, I’ll want to hope the 3 incoming transfers that Arsenal have concluded so far this summer will not be the only new signings they’ll will do this summer. This is because since only 2 out of the 3 signings that they have done are 2 signings who will play for the club next season but 1. Therefore, I take it that Arsenal have signed 3 new signings this summer but the 3rd signing, Saliba is a signing in abstential.

    However, despite not specifying the kinds of new signings Arsenal will do this summer, but since Unai Emery has said Arsenal could sign up to 4 new players this summer for reinforcements, I want to believe Arsenal will still do at least 2 more new senior team player signings this summer window after signing Ceballos before the window is closed.

    And I believe the 18 year old Martinelle signing that they’ve done this summer is a developmental signing for the Arsenal PL2 team squad. Who in it will play at this level to develop further before he can move up to the 1st team squad to start playing as a senior Gunner in the PL in a year times or two after he would have improved on his current teenage quality of playing generally when he attained the age of 20 years. By then he will be stronger than he is now at 18 year old. But he could be used to play for the club next season in the Carabao Cup, FA Cup and Europa League Cup in the early stages of the 3 competitions against weak or low rated opposition teams. And I believe the same thing will apply to Saka, Olayinka and Burton who played for the club in the International Champions Cup in USA because they’ll all still be under 20 year old by the time the new season kicks off on Aug’ 8th. But Willock who will clock 20 on Aug’ 20th this year and Nelson and Nkethia who have all clock the age of 20 years already can all play for the senior team in the PL next season. In fact, the duo of Nelson and Willock should be promoted to the first team squad next season to join Nkethia who has already been promoted there and playing last season. This will bring the trio of Nkethia, Nelson and Willock us Gooners will see as 3 Arsenal Academy graduates playing for the club occasionally in the PL next season.

    These views are simply my own views and takes which may not be those of Emery and they don’t have to be his own.

    But will a media report that I came across be a true report that said Arsenal have submitted a 2nd bid of £60m plus Nelson on a season long loan to Crystal Palace to sign Wilfred Zaha this summer? Or it just in anticipation of what next move Arsenal might do in submitting a 2nd transfer signing fee and likely plus a player loan as a package to Crystal Palace to sign Zaha that the media has gone ahead to reveal it before Arsenal will do it?

  • Gord

    OT: Corruption

    Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project has a summary out, noting that for the first time

    Though this is the first time football has been included in this assessment, the EU and the Financial Action Task Force, an inter-governmental anti-money laundering task force, have both long identified the lucrative sector as a vehicle for money laundering and other criminal activities–such as trafficking, corruption, and tax evasion.

    The article has links to European Commission reports involved.

  • Gord

    OT: The International Champions Pseudo-Cup

    Arsenal was among the first teams to finish playing 3 games, and hence set the bar.

    The teams now declared eliminated are: Bayern Munich, Fiorentina, Juventus (hi Aaron and Szczesny!), Real Madrid, Inter Milan, Guadalajara and Milan. Oh, oh; I forgot one. The Spuds are eliminated now as well.

    So, the worst we can finish is 4th. But 4th is not a trophy!

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