Nostalgia: Mansfield Town’s 1960’s betting scandal

Brian Phillips
Brian Phillips

For the older generation of Mansfield Town fans, the recent arrests in connection match fixing will have stirred memories of when Field Mill favourites were at the centre of a storm that prompted equally sensational media headlines.

The likes of Bolton striker DJ Campbell and former Notts County player Delroy Facey have both been arrested and questioned by police in relation to alleged match fixing in recent weeks , but they are not the first to be suspected of such activity.

Peter Swan

Peter Swan

As early as 1915, seven players were found guilty of conspiring to throw a match between Liverpool and a relegation-threatened Manchester United, which the Red Devils won 2-0. Several of those who participated were said to have agreed knowing full well the country was about to go to war.

But it was a scandal in the 1960s that Stags supporters of a certain age will remember very clearly - because it involved no less than three players who were registered with the club serving time in prison for their involvement in a fixed odds betting ring.

Sammy Chapman spent six months behind bars for his part in the affair, while another Brian Phillips, who played a larger role as an accomplice, served 15 months.

But it was the name of Jimmy Gauld – a striker with the likes of Charlton, Everton, Plymouth, Swindon and St Johnstone prior to his arrival in north Nottinghamshire – who became synonymous with the illegal scam, which he helped operate out of his home in the town on Berry Hill Road.

The Aberdeen-born player was described in a hard-hitting newspaper investigation by The People newspaper that eventually assisted in bringing some of the culprits to justice as the ‘Mastermind’. It was anticipated he had been actively involved in the conspiracy from at least early 1961 until April 1963.

“At that time it absolutely rocked football to it’s very core,” said Mansfield Town’s club historian Paul Taylor, who helped research a fascinating article on the scandal, which forms a chapter in the late Jack Retter’s official book, charting the club’s first 100 years of history. “Apart from anything else, it was just how widespread it went that was so unbelievable.

“Those who were caught and named in the papers were thought to be just the tip of the iceberg because there was so much more information thought to be held in Football League files that they just couldn’t make public.

“When the three First Division players at Sheffield Wednesday were arrested, famous players, that’s when it really did become news, even though they probably only fixed one game and weren’t heavily involved, while others were fixing lots more.

“It was only through the efforts of newspapers, supported by the bookmakers that investigations ever got as far as they did. In the end, the governing bodies had to take note.”

The Owls trio in the spotlight were David Layne, Peter Swan and Tony Kay - the latter who suffered the disastrous consequences of it ending his very realistic chances of making the 1966 World Cup squad – and were named by The People in April 1964 for their involvement in a First Division match against Ipswich Town.

The whole episode brought the issue onto the agenda in the House of Commons, where questions were asked by MPs worried about the image of football being tarnished ahead of the World Cup. As a result, a criminal case was launched and, by September of that year, committal proceedings were taking place in Mansfield.

Once Gauld himself had been uncovered, he went on to co-operate with The People in exchange for £7,240 in cash by attempting to ensnare his former accomplices. He often taped incriminating conversations with those players and, in several cases, secured enough information to prove their guilt.

It meant that in addition to the Sheffield Wednesday trio and Gauld, six more were eventually sent for trial in Nottingham. For his part, the Scot was sentenced to four years imprisonment with the judge in the case, Mr Justice Lawton, describing him as an “unpleasant rogue and the spider in the centre of the web”.

Mr Taylor, who has read a host of literature on the episode, added: “Some of the court cases took place in Mansfield and then Nottingham Assizes and so a lot of it was taking place on our doorstep, which is remarkable considering how big news it was.

“Gauld was said to be the one with all the contacts having played for quite a few clubs, although he was undoubtedly working for people above him, who never got caught.

“Both Gauld and Phillips have now passed away and neither spoke about it publicly after Gauld’s initial paid ‘work’ alongside The People.”

A further story that was run by The People during their series alleged Mansfield had won promotion by bribery, claiming that a handful of Stags players paid some of their Hartlepools counterparts to ensure a vital fixture went their way.

Mansfield did win the game 4-3 after trailing 2-0 and subsequently moved up to Division Three, but the newspaper’s allegations were never proven.

Since those times, a change in the betting rules has attempted to stamp out the fixing of matches and, thankfully, until recent revelations, the game has not been involved in further such controversies.

Even now, the disparity between the modest sums of money players used to earn and the fortunes they now pocket is so cavernous that Taylor firmly believes the majority of matches contested are absolutely legitimate.

“Although on a good wage, even First Division players were not on fantastic money in the 1960s, which brought with it the temptation,” he said.

“It’s not like now where the players earn massive amounts, so the risks are just not worth the effort of doing it, especially given the improvements in technology means this type of thing should now be more easy to spot.”

“It has surprised me a bit by what has come out, but I wouldn’t have thought it would be as widespread as in the 1960s when the football authorities at the time wanted to bury their heads in the sand.”