Imagine this. Liverpool helping Man Utd avoid relegation via match fixing. Arsenal finishing 5th in the Second Division and still getting promoted. Chelsea finishing 19th in a 20 team First Division but still not relegated. Well, imagine no more. Say hello to the bonkers 1919/20 football season in England.
Man Utd played against Liverpool needing a win to avoid being relegated in 1915. The win was needed to help them finish in 18th, one point ahead of 19th placed Chelsea. And win Man Utd did. A bit too easily. 2 goals in the first half, and some elaborate strolling around in the 2nd half gave them a very suspicious 2-0 win over Liverpool.
The game’s referee, John Sharpe, stated that it was the most extraordinary game he had ever officiated in. Some Liverpool players even shouted at one of their team mates who hit a shot against Utd’s crossbar. It was soon very clear that the match had been fixed in Utd’s favour. And it was discovered there had been many huge bets placed on a 2-0 win for Man Utd. Busted.
7 players involved were banned for life from football in 1915. Then World War 1 took place leading to another twist in the tale. Football was suspended until after the war, understandably and sensibly. 6 of the 7 players then had their bans lifted in 1919 because they fought in the war for England. Nice reward for surviving enemy bullets. Life was about to go back to normal. Football was about to be re-started. Plus a whole lot of shenanigans!!
England’s first and second divisions each had 20 teams before the World war. After the war it was proposed that the divisions be expanded to 22 teams each. Hence the bottom two from Division One were to be ‘re-elected’ not relegated, while the top two from Division Two were to be promoted. Simple enough? Nah.
19th placed Chelsea were indeed re-elected. 20th placed Tottenham Hotspurs were also to be re-elected. Then Arsenal came barging in. 5th placed Division Two’s Arsenal somehow got elected into the upper Division over Spurs who should have been the rightful owner of that spot. All kinds of lulz. Typical Spurs. But how the heck did that even happen?
Ok, do you remember that match fixing scandal between Man Utd and Liverpool? Well, Henry Norris, Arsenal’s owner in that period was a powerful man with political contacts. He said Man Utd and Liverpool should have faced stronger sanctions and that he would get the government to investigate the possibility of wide-spread cheating in football.
The Football League board did not want that happening as it could potentially lead to two big clubs like Man Utd and Liverpool having to be expelled. So they struck a deal with Norris. The top two from Division Two got promoted as normal (Derby and Preston). Chelsea got re-elected and the Football League agreed to throw the final spot (which should have been Spurs’) open to election against Barnsley, Wolves and Arsenal who had finished 3rd, 4th and 5th respectively in Division Two. Arsenal won the vote comfortably, of course. Down went Spurs, Up went Arsenal. And that was that.