Sixties scandal that shocked the game

When allegations of match-fixing surfaced, a disbelieving Derek Hodgson was sent to Sheffield to cover the story

The bomb that exploded under English football in mid-April 1964 might, in these more cynical days, have been expected. The People's revelations that two current England players, Peter Swan and Tony Kay, along with the dashing David "Bronco" Layne, were guilty of accepting money to lose a First Division (now Premiership) match evoked astonishment to the point of disbelief.

It could not be true, surely? The Daily Express sent me hotfoot from Manchester to Sheffield Wednesday's home at Hillsborough, the players' club, to find out. As I drove over the Pennines on a bright spring morning, still sceptical, my first thought was of the great Chicago White Sox scandal of 1920, when eight players were accused of throwing the World Series and never played major league again. And of the tearful small boy who is supposed to have followed "Shoeless Joe" Jackson out of Comiskey Park, pleading, at his heels: "Say it ain't so, Joe. Please say it ain't so".

The "Black Sox" story had been forgotten in 1964. Even in the wake of Kennedy's assassination there was probably a fundamental belief, certainly in sport, in basic human goodness. Professional sportsmen did not cheat - well, there were funny stories emanating from boxing but boxing had always been like that, hadn't it?

By the time I had joined other reporters outside the main entrance at Hillsborough (no radio or television in those days), waiting for a statement from the club, I was reminded that the People had been digging at bribery suggestions, without uncovering sensations, for months. Neville Holtham, that newspaper's sports editor for 25 years, explains: "Two of our best news reporters, Peter Campling and Mike Gabbert, had been digging into rumours heard by the sports staff for more than a year. The editor, Sam Campbell, insisted that nothing could be published unless we had the names and addresses of everyone involved and full details of the matches that had been fixed.

"Campling and Gabbert had to take evidence on a strictly legal basis and had to know the solicitors of the accused. We did not publish a line until we had absolutely incontrovertible facts."

At the start of the 1963-64 season the People had fired a warning shot when they accused two virtually unknown players in the North-east. One, Ken Thomson of Hartlepool, admitted receiving £200 to help his team lose - "we would have lost anyway" - and Thomson's confession became the first drop in a waterfall.

The People went on to reveal that the promoter of these coups on fixed- odds betting on single matches (now illegal), was Jimmy Gauld, of Charlton. But not until that extraordinary Sunday morning, 14 April 1964, did the story reach the front pages and radio bulletins.

Swan and Layne were centre- half and centre-forward, outstanding players in a successful and glamorous Wednesday team. Kay, a wing-half, had recently been transferred to Everton for £60,000, probably the equivalent of around £4m today. Only days before I had written an adulatory report of his play for Everton, comparing his performance to that of a cunning and indefatigable red fox.

Could such players have taken money to lose? And if so, why? The maximum wage had gone four years earlier but even First Division players then did not remotely enjoy the lifestyle of today's players (why, even sports writers were paid more money than young footballers in the 1960s). Then again, money was not deemed to provide the motive for as much in life as it does today.

So we waited on that Sunday morning. Eric Taylor, Wednesday's shrewd and genial general manager, may have added to the unreality by smiling and joking in his usual fashion. We saw nothing of Alan Brown, the team manager but, eventually, according to my Daily Express report: "a pale- faced Wednesday chairman Dr Andrew Stephen, himself a member of the League Management Committee, mumbled: `I'm too stunned and shocked to say anything much at the moment'."

Sadly for Dr Stephen, for the three stars and the seven minor players and for Gauld, for supporters and for we reporters, all football lovers, it all turned out to be true. Swan, Layne and Kay were deemed to have agreed to lose a match at Ipswich (2-0), the only First Division game believed to have been affected during that investigation.

All three were imprisoned for four months and never played League football again. Kay admitted later: "I never cried so much in my life as when I heard of the ban". Gauld was jailed for four years and had to pay £5,000 costs and all the others received imprisonment and life bans.

Swan and his family took much of the outrage of Wednesday's fans, with abusive phone calls to his home and his children being baited at school. Kay's punishment brought a justified outburst from Harry Catterick, Everton's manager. As Catterick pointed out, Everton, an entirely innocent party, had lost both a valuable player and a £60,000 transfer fee.

Critics of the Football Association should therefore hold their fire. The punishments in 1964-65 were severe, just as they had been in 1904 when, after allegations of illegal payments (not match-fixing, merely bonuses) FA Cup winners Manchester City had a former chairman, the secretary, two directors and 17 players suspended and fined.

Five of their transfer-listed stars, including the incomparable Billy Meredith, were snapped up by City's humbler neighbours on the other side of the town, and thereby hangs another tale. The evil that men do lives after them.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk