Players Fix Liverpool-Manchester United Soccer Match Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

In one of the most infamous scandals in the history of association football, or soccer, players from Manchester United and Liverpool fixed a game for money. All accused players were eventually banned from the football league but were later reinstated.

Summary of Event

Several versions of British football and similar games have been played in public schools, universities, amateur athletic clubs, and other venues throughout modern history in the West. In 1863, an official list of rules and regulations dictating how the game is to be played was adopted in London and soon spread throughout England. This codification, along with the growing popularity of the sport, led to the creation of several amateur football clubs and associations across the region. Although the practice was not yet legal, athletes who were skilled at football were paid a nominal fee to support themselves financially. [kw]Soccer Match, Players Fix Liverpool-Manchester United (Apr. 2, 1915) Soccer;game fixing Manchester United Liverpool;soccer team Sheldon, Jackie Miller, Tom Purcell, Bob Soccer;game fixing Manchester United Liverpool;soccer team Sheldon, Jackie Miller, Tom Purcell, Bob [g]Europe;Apr. 2, 1915: Players Fix Liverpool-Manchester United Soccer Match[00190] [g]England;Apr. 2, 1915: Players Fix Liverpool-Manchester United Soccer Match[00190] [c]Corruption;Apr. 2, 1915: Players Fix Liverpool-Manchester United Soccer Match[00190] [c]Gambling;Apr. 2, 1915: Players Fix Liverpool-Manchester United Soccer Match[00190] [c]Law and the courts;Apr. 2, 1915: Players Fix Liverpool-Manchester United Soccer Match[00190] [c]Organized crime and racketeering;Apr. 2, 1915: Players Fix Liverpool-Manchester United Soccer Match[00190] [c]Sports;Apr. 2, 1915: Players Fix Liverpool-Manchester United Soccer Match[00190] Fairfoul, Tom Pagnam, Fred Turnbull, Sandy Whaley, Arthur West, Enoch

Professionalism in sports was legalized in 1885, and the first professional football league was established in 1888. Originally known as the Aston Villa Football Club, the league started with twelve teams and was directed by William McGregor. Within twenty years there were two divisions with a total of forty teams. The sport of football had now become the national sport of England.

At the time of the origin of British football, gambling on sports was an established phenomenon. Indeed, cash betting had long existed within sports such as cricket and other competitions with long histories. To avoid the negative impact that betting could have on the sport, legislation was passed to criminalize betting, including the Betting Houses Act of 1853 Betting Houses Act of 1853 and the Street Betting Act of Street Betting Act of 1906 1906. Despite these new laws against gambling, however, spectators and players continued to exchange money with bookmakers while guessing the outcomes of games. This brought great temptation to the players, who often believed they were greatly underpaid, to get more money.

On April 2, 1915, a game between Manchester United (MU) and Liverpool saw MU win by a score of 2-0. Rumors following the game claimed that Liverpool players had not played as fiercely as they were known to play and had uncharacteristically given away a penalty shot. Bookmakers began having suspicions that the game was fixed, noticing that large amounts of money had been placed on 7-1 odds that the score would end in a 2-0 MU win. Although gambling on sports was common at this point in history, it was not as common to place bets on the final scores. With uncertainties growing, bookies decided to investigate by offering a reward to anyone with information about the scheme. The commission of the English Football Association took the investigation a step further and eventually uncovered the depth of the conspiracy.

Preliminary theories were numerous. One theory held that the fix may have been an attempt to keep MU from being placed in a lower division. European professional-sports organizations were structured around a hierarchy system called promotion and relegation, through which teams at similar skill levels were placed together in the same football league. It was essentially a process of reelection that could lead to either a promotion or demotion for a team. Although Liverpool’s placement within the league was locked, MU had feared relegation. A win against Liverpool would secure the team’s spot in the upper division. While this theory seemed originally plausible, trial and testimony determined the game was fixed, but for money.

One player exposed as a key conspirator was Liverpool’s Jackie Sheldon, who had played with Manchester United in the past. Familiar with both organizations, Sheldon was considered to be the ringleader behind the fixed game of April 2, and was believed to have conspired with three other Liverpool players—Tom Miller, Bob Purcell, and Tom Fairfoul—and three MU players—Sandy Turnbull, Enoch West, and Arthur Whaley. Each player was involved with the exchange of money to bookmakers taking bets on the game. Two additional players, George Anderson from MU and Liverpool’s Fred Pagnam, also were approached by Sheldon. However, they refused to participate. Pagnam even threatened to score goals to ruin the game’s outcome, and he became the lead witness testifying against his teammates at trial. The accused conspirators were found guilty and suspended indefinitely from the league.

The 1915 game-fixing scandal was not the first such scandal for some of the players. In 1907, charges had been brought against Turnbull for fixing games while playing for Manchester City (MC). Furthermore, MC players had been receiving a bonus on top of their regular salaries, directly breaking the club’s rule that a player’s salary should not exceed four pounds per week. For his crime, Turnbull received a large fine and was immediately suspended from the club. West was another player with a questionable past. He had been temporarily suspended from playing football because of corruption.

Even though the Liverpool-MU game-fixing scandal was highly publicized, it was soon overshadowed by the start of World War I. Professional football was put on hold so that players could fight in the war. The Seventeenth Service Football Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment formed during this time. Great Britain suffered greatly when professional football was placed on hold. Football had been known as the poor man’s sport, considered a healthy distraction for the working classes.


Professional football resumed after the war in 1919. A number of players who were convicted had their bans lifted and were able to rejoin their teams. Sheldon and Miller returned to the sport, while others, such as Turnbull, who was a soldier in the Football Battalion, did not survive the war. West, who did not follow his teammates to war, was the only surviving player not to return to the league. He adamantly contested charges of corruption against him, claiming his innocence until 1945, when the league granted him general amnesty.

Football’s popularity grew considerably when the second and third team divisions were created after the war. Sports betting also continued, perhaps even stronger than before. A number of similar betting scandals included the most notable: that of 1964. Eight players were convicted for their roles in a match-fixing ring that had been in progress for several years. The British football scandal of 1915—and 1964—placed game-fixing and gambling under the microscope of other sports leagues around the world, many of whom also were dealing with similar scandals. Soccer;game fixing Manchester United Liverpool;soccer team Sheldon, Jackie Miller, Tom Purcell, Bob

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Brenner, Reuven, Gabrielle A. Brenner, and Aaron Brown. A World of Chance: Betting on Religion, Games, Wall Street. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008. In this wide-ranging academic study of betting in human society, the authors contend that with widespread gambling in sports, corruption becomes inevitable.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Forrest, David. “Sport and Gambling.” In Handbook on the Economics of Sport, edited by Andrew Wladimir and Stefan Szymanski. Northampton, Mass.: Edward Elgar, 2006. This chapter examines the economic implications of sports gambling. Part of a comprehensive study that includes chapters on British football in general, team sports during the early twentieth century, and the promotion and relegation system in British football.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Inglis, Simon. Soccer in the Dock: A History of British Football Scandals, 1900 to 1965. London: Willow Books, 1985. The author focuses on the 1915 scandal as well as several other football scandals in twentieth century Great Britain.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jennings, Andrew. Foul! The Secret World of FIFA: Bribes, Vote Rigging, and Ticket Scandals. London: HarperSport, 2006. Examines the dark side of British football, focusing on scandals, such as bribery and score-fixing, that have plagued the game.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Orford, Jim, et al. Gambling and Problem Gambling in Britain. New York: Brunner-Routledge, 2003. An academic, mostly psychological study of gambling and its social history in Great Britain. Brief mention of the Manchester United-Liverpool scandal.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sharpe, Graham. Free the Manchester United One: The Inside Story of Football’s Greatest Scam. London: Robson Books, 2003. A detailed analysis of the events leading up to the 1915 game-fixing scandal. Discusses some of its likely causes.

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