Sometimes, what happens in football matches seems so bizarre that one can only assume that either a higher force or the sleight of hand of match-fixing has been involved. How did both Liverpool and Manchester United score last minute winning goals on the same weekend? The truth, of course, is that they both simply wore down their opposition. There were no dark arts at work. For scandals concerning match-fixing, we have to look further down the divisions, where less people are likely to notice. In this respect, the news that the FA have suspended five players for betting on the result of a League Two match between Accrington Stanley and Bury last May should come as little surprise. If anything, we should be surprised that it doesn’t happen more than it does.
It was common knowledge in the north-west of England that something wasn’t “right” about this match. An end of season match between two sides with very little to play for was reporting extremely high levels of betting, leading to a bookmakers reporting it to the FA and suspending betting on the match. Bury won the match 2-0, following the pattern of the betting, and the fact that it has taken until now for the charges to be brought and the fact that the five players charged have all been named (they are Jay Harris, David Mannix, Robert Williams and Peter Cavanagh of Accrington Stanley, along with Andrew Mangan of Bury) would seem to indicate that the FA have spent a considerable amount of time researching these charges. None of this bodes well for any of the above.
What we have here is the potential for the biggest betting scandal in English football since the 1960s. In 1964, eight players (including Peter Swan, who was on the brink of inclusion in the England squad at the time) were jailed for their involvement in a betting ring throughout the Football League during the early 1960s. Swan’s involvement – along with fellow Wednesday players David Layne and Tony Kay – was betting against his own team in an end of season match against Ipswich Town. Each were also given lifetime bans from any involvement in football (which were later commuted) and, to this day, their names are synonymous with the notion of match-fixing in English football.
The amounts of money concerned range from the significant to the almost laughable. At one end of the scale, Mannix is said to have bet £4,000 on a Bury win whilst, at the other, Cavanagh had his team’s defeat as part of a £5 accumulator. Whether, if found guilty, the FA will choose to take the same action against all five players is open to conjecture. If found guilty, the players will almost certainly never play football again. They may also be open to criminal prosecution. The players imprisoned at the end of the 1964 scandal were convicted of conspiracy to defraud, and this particular charge gives the Crown Prosecution Service a choice of whether to charge statutory or common law conspiracy. Conspiracy to defraud is, according to the Privy Council (1961) “not limited to the idea of economic loss, nor the idea of depriving someone of something of value. It extends generally to the purpose of the fraud and deceit… If anyone may be prejudiced in any way by the fraud, that is enough”.
So far, the clubs concerned have kept quiet regarding these allegations. Supporters hoping that a points deduction may be imposed will probably be disappointed. None of the clubs involved in the 1964 scandal were found to be at fault in anyway and there is no suggestion that Accrington Stanley or Bury have done anything wrong in this case. This is a matter of the conduct of five individuals who, if found guilty of that of which they stand accused, will have heaped embarrassment on the game as well as ruining their own futures within it. The supporters of the clubs concerned are the biggest losers here, as ever. Regardless of the result of the investigation, we should be cheered by the fact that these allegations are being taken so seriously.