The betting scandal that shamed Manchester United and Liverpool

Joshua Byers

If you are one of the many football fans that almost gauged their own eyes out watching ‘Red Monday’ – as Sky Sports billed the dour 0-0 between Liverpool and Manchester United in October – spare a thought for fans who went to see the two play on 2nd April 1915.

The game was played on Good Friday, and left fans jealous of Jesus for having been crucified and missing the game as a consequence. Liverpool entered the game without much motivation, having already secured safety but with little else to play for, whereas United needed three points to help with their bid to stay in the division.

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Gain three points they did, although that’s not all the players took home. United won 2-0, but many journalists and spectators on show noted that Liverpool’s commitment to the game did not seem quite at its fullest. At least, not their commitment to winning.

Incidents that flagged potential foul play included an awful penalty kick from United captain Patrick O’Connell with the score 2-0. The player drew laughter in court when explaining the miss by stating:

“I’ve missed dozens in my time.”

Another more than slightly suspicious moment came when Liverpool player Fred Pagnam hit the woodwork for Liverpool late in the game and was reproached by his teammates as a result. The forward, who curiously went on to manage Watford and Turkey, found out about the scam on the way to the stadium and promised to score a goal and ruin the plan.

The players left the pitch amidst jeers, the 18000 fans present evidently not as stupid as they had been taken for. One of the linesmen noted that fans showed their disgust in “unmistakable Lancashire fashion” – presumably hurling hundred of pies at the disgraced pros as they left the pitch.

It is important to remember that the game was played during the First World War, when many fans were disgruntled that professional footballers were opting to continue playing the beautiful game rather than help their country win an ugly war. In fact, the league was considering folding until the war was over, and this is thought to have been motivation behind the scam.

Unsurprisingly, it was discovered following the game that an unusual amount of bets had been placed on a 2-0 scoreline. The fact that many of these had been placed in the small Nottinghamshire hometown of United player Enoch West was a fact that the attacker found it difficult to dismiss as coincidental.

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All in all, seven players were found guilty of match-fixing: Sandy Turnbull, Arthur Whalley and the aforementioned West the red devils who sinned and Jackie Sheldon, Tom Miller, Bob Pursell and Thomas Fairfoul the Liverpool men prosecuted. All seven were given lifelong bans from football, which included being prohibited from even entering stadiums. Many others were regarded with suspicion but nothing was proven.

All but West eventually had their bans revoked, but had to join the army and help win World War One in order to achieve exoneration. In fact, Turnbull even died in the process; The Scotsman killed during the Battle of Arras on 3rd May 1917. It’s hard to imagine many players other than the clearly violence-hungry Marcos Rojo flying out to the Middle East in order to play again should a similar scandal occur today.

You can understand why the match was fixed by a few of the footballers, as they weren’t even close to earning what they lads nowadays earn!

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