Stacy Murphy looks at some unsavoury incidents past, present and future.
There is an unwritten and unspoken rule in English football that everything we see on the pitch is completely legitimate and above board. Fixing of results is something those ‘awful’ foreigners do. This is an idea perpetuated by a number of scandals in Italy and also elsewhere notably Romania, influenced by the Cesucescu regime, and in post-communist Hungary. Off the pitch here, though, things are a bit looser.
Several times over the last thirty or so years we have seen high profile allegations of money exchanging hands over transfers or certain managers insisting their players be represented by agents to whom they had a connection. The first of these was the case with ‘bung’ episode of the 1990s for which only George Graham was banned and several managers since have been mentioned in connection with extremely close links to certain agents. The line where sharp practice becomes illegality, not just within football regulations but in law, is somewhat blurred. This is exacerbated by the mystifying ‘fit and proper owners’ rules where organisations acting for human rights abusing states and individuals with strong connections to organised crime are welcomed into football but, for example, a discharged bankrupt who has rebuilt a business may not be.
I don’t want to get bogged down in club ownership here though or even what greases the wheels of transfer negotiations. I’m interested in what happens within games and affects results.
In other sports, cricket being the most obvious example, with high profile players being found guilty of taking money from betting syndicates to produce certain outcomes within a match. The nature of the sport of cricket lends itself to ‘spot-fixing’ where specific actions are scheduled to place at a particular point in the match, such as a no ball in a bowler’s third over. This though doesn’t especially make much difference to the final result so is fairly difficult to prove without analysing betting markets. Football in England last had similar questions raised about its legitimacy in a similar vein in the mid-1990s when some games had very early throw ins given away for little apparent reason. It was around the same time that a few players, including a couple of high profile goalkeepers, were implicated in match fixing after a tabloid exposure. Very little came of this except a bit of hand wringing by the FA and media alike.
Fixing the result of a football match is actually quite difficult because of the number a people on both sides would need to be ‘in the know’ on what is supposed to happen so if a specific result is required it quickly becomes very obvious to those watching what is going on. West Germany’s 1-0 victory over Austria in the group stage at the 1982 World Cup is a case in point. With the Germans having been surprisingly but deservingly beaten by Algeria earlier the competition they needed to beat the already qualified Austrians to squeeze the North Africans out. An early West German goal followed by eighty minutes of turgid passing and no tackling left the mostly Spanish crowd shouting and whistling their disapproval at the obviously pre-arranged result unfolding in front of them. And the punishment for the West German and Austrian FAs? A half-arsed FIFA censure and change to the scheduling of tournaments so the final group games take place simultaneously.
In England, acknowledged fixing of results happened periodically up to the 1960s with one of the first high profile cases innocently involving Villa captain Alex Leake in 1905. Villa, having already secured the FA Cup by beating Newcastle two weeks previously, were out of the championship race but faced title-chasing Manchester City in the last game of the season at Villa Park. City had to win maintain their challenge but Villa held them off for a 3-2 victory in what was reported as a “spiteful” game with Leake becoming involved in a fight with City striker Sandy Turnbull. Leake then reported after the game in an apparent matter-of-fact way that City winger Billy Meredith had offered him £10 to throw the game. After an FA investigation seventeen City players, including Meredith and Turnbull, were banned from playing for eighteen months and City manager Tom Maley, the instigator of the attempted fix according to Meredith, was banned for life. In addition City were ordered to release their entire squad, who were then auctioned to the highest bidder. Manchester United, then as now looking to profit from the downfall of others, bought several of the players, including Meredith and Turnbull.
If Manchester City players and officials in 1905 had been motivated by the desire to win the league the aim of another instance of match fixing ten years later was purely money. In the circumstances this was partially understandable. The 1914/15 season was played against backdrop of war in Europe and it was obvious to all involved in the game that that season would be the last until the slaughter was over. Knowing their livelihood would be effectively taken away from them in a few weeks some players from Manchester United and Liverpool resorted to agreeing the outcome of their game on Good Friday 2nd April 1915 at Old Trafford beforehand. Mid-table Liverpool had little left to play for but were still favourites to beat relegation threatened United. Both the referee and spectators noted the lack of effort Liverpool players were putting in so much so that they missed a penalty while the game was still 0-0. Manchester United took a two goal lead and the game was played out with players on both sides determined to “kick the ball as far out of play as possible” according to one observer. When the Scousers’ Fred Pagnam hit the United bar late in the game his team-mates were seen to argue with him vehemently. Pagnam, it later transpired, was found to have known about the arrangement but refused to be involved.
The game ended with no further score but a few days later rumours and anonymous leaflets (the social media of the day) began to circulate alleging the game was fixed and a substantial amount of money had been wagered on a 2-0 United win. Four Liverpool players and three from the home side, including Sandy Turnbull, were found to have rigged the game and were banned from playing in England for life. Interestingly the ban didn’t apply to Scotland despite a number of the seven being Scottish. Six players had their bans lifted at the end of the war but for Turnbull this was posthumous as he was killed in the Battle of Arras in May 1917. The other player, United’s Enoch West, consistently protested his innocence going as far as unsuccessfully suing the FA and as result his ban wasn’t lifted until 1945 when he was 59. None of the other five players however ever resumed their careers.
Billy Meredith also played in the game but was deliberately kept in the dark seemingly due to his re-built reputation and standing in the game. Meredith noted afterwards that he wondered why none of his teammates would give him the ball. The FA also came to the conclusion that the clubs themselves should not be punished as the players were solely responsible for the scam despite Manchester United staying up at Chelsea’s expense by virtue of the two points they gained. The Football League’s response was to increase the number of First Division clubs after the war to keep Chelsea up. This also allowed Henry Norris who was chairman of Arsenal, who had finished fifth in Division Two in 1915, to, at the very least, exert influence on the Football League in order to gain his club a promotion they hadn’t won on the pitch. This meant they took the place of the only relegated club: Tottenham.
Almost half a century passed before the last major match fixing episode in England was made public. The publicity actually stemmed from the instigator, a Scottish former lower league journeyman striker and by then frontman for a betting syndicate Jimmy Gauld. Gauld, seeing that his extensive list of fixed matches was about to be exposed and wanting a final payday, sold his story to the Sunday People. It was a piece which implicated two England internationals Peter Swan and Tony Kay as well as their then Sheffield Wednesday team-mate David Layne. Layne was Gauld’s contact as the two had played together at Swindon. Gauld told the paper that he first became involved in the scam after learning a game in which he had played, for Mansfield against Tranmere, had been fixed.
The most high profile game in a string of pre-arranged results was Sheffield Wednesday’s visit to league champions Ipswich on 1st December 1962, a few days before Kay became Britain’s most expensive player in a £60000 move to Everton. It was a game Ipswich were expected to win and the three Wednesday players bet against their own side in anticipation of making a substantial amount of money. Swan later said none of the three players need to actually do anything to ensure Ipswich’s 2-0 and didn’t know how he would have ensured the result had Wednesday been ahead.
The three Wednesday players along with Gauld and six other footballers were sentenced to varying lengths of prison time in early 1965 after a trial which saw one of the first instances of recorded conversations being allowed as admissible evidence. In total 33 players were banned for their part in the betting ring which fixed a number of games between 1961 and 1963 including two others, Lincoln v Bradford City and Oldham v York, on the same day as the Ipswich v Wednesday game. Swan later made a playing comeback with Wednesday in the early 1970s after his ban was lifted as did Layne but Kay never set foot on a professional pitch again. It has been argued in the almost 60 years since the scandal that the make-up England’s World Cup winning team may have been a bit different had Swan, who had been to the 1962 finals in Chile, and Kay told Layne and Gauld they didn’t want anything to do with their offer.
Since the 1960s match fixing has only really been whispered about except for the occasional sensationalist tabloid story with little depth. In the mid-1990s came the suggestion that those two very high profile Premier League goalkeepers were involved in a match fixing plot but very little came of it and neither were sanctioned. Often there are stories of individual players betting on games, which they are not allowed to do, but this usually results in a fine and maybe a suspension for a few games. There is never any suggestion of anything more untoward going on probably because players earn far more than they know what to do with, at least at the top level of English football.
There have been suspicions among some observers, but nothing more, about officials especially after three German referees were involved in a betting scandal almost 20 years ago with one, Robert Hoyzer, receiving a prison sentence. Hoyzer had given some baffling decisions in a DFB-Pokal (German FA Cup) game involving lower league SC Paderborn and SV Hamburg including awarding Paderborn two very dubious penalties. He also sent off Hamburg’s Emile Mpenza (later of Manchester City) for protesting about one of the penalties and Paderborn won 4-2.
Four other referees had suspicions about Hoyzer and reported him to the DFB (German FA) and the case was, eventually, investigated by them and then the German police. They uncovered an extensive betting ring which included three Hertha Berlin players who were later exonerated. The results of this case were interesting. This included Hamburg being compensated with €2M for the game Hoyzer had manipulated and their early cup exit. Video replays being reviewed to analyse decisions were also introduced. The latter of these is effectively VAR.
No match officials in the English game have been implicated in any wrongdoing but since the advent of professional officials and PGMOL the world of football officiating in England has become even more insular. It often seems that PGMOL is content with the status quo and do not want to upset the money making machines of the Premier League or the virtual closed shop of clubs at the top end of the league. The saying that decisions go for the big clubs is now more true than ever except we should substitute the word ‘big’ for ‘rich’ or even, to use a Championship term about parachute payments, ‘financially doped’.
I am NOT saying this is done consciously but is there a subconscious form of self-preservation, ambition or even social conditioning? A controversial call could lead to a demotion to League Two for a few weeks with an associated loss of prestige and even earnings. For example Player A would usually beat Player B to the ball so Player B must have committed a foul when they won a 50/50 tackle.
In among a host of decisions over the last few seasons since VAR has been introduced two, both involving Tyrone Mings, have stood out. Firstly at Manchester City last season when Mings had the ball in his own half and Rodri, coming from a clearly offside position, tackles Mings to win the ball and City score. In any other game VAR would be well versed in the Laws Of The Game and Jonathan Moss’ decision to allow the goal would be overturned for the offside infringement. Not in that game though and not against Manchester City. The goal stood and officials were reminded by PGMOL of how that particular issue should be dealt with in future effectively changing the interpretation of the those Laws.. So presumably Villa would have a case based on the Hamburg compensation precedent? Not in England.
The second incident is far more recent, our last game in fact. Tyrone stretches to pass the ball to Ashley Young outside him and then is clattered into by Bukayo Saka. Surely a case of allowing advantage or giving Villa a free kick? Not in the Premier League and not against Arsenal. At first it seemed Andy Madley would send Mings off after entitled whinging by the Arsenal players before seeming to realise that would be a mistake as his the red card would be examined by VAR. The upshot? One of the Villa centre backs having to play more than half the game on a yellow card and giving Arsenal an unjust advantage and profiting from a foul committed by one of their players.
Both Moss and Madley called the decisions as they saw them and having been a referee I understand that not everyone will agree with every call you make but at the top level there shouldn’t be as many debates about officiating as there are. These types of scenario are played out week after week and the constant drip-drip effect has led some to draw those conclusions questioning the integrity of the officials.
I don’t believe any match officials in England are involved in any sort of corruption and the mechanisms in place to prevent this are watertight. On the whole matches are refereed incredibly well but I am beginning to question whether there is an unconscious bias at times as those clubs with the most money shout the loudest. The way the expected challenge of Newcastle, and hopefully in time Villa, to those at the top will be received by the clubs and PGMOL will be an intriguing prospect.