Cast your mind back to the beginning of May 2008. Rochdale were 5th in Division Four and preparing the reserves for an end of season nothing-game against Shrewsbury – in a week’s time they would play Darlington for a place in the play-off final, and a fortnight ahead of that they would by defeated by Stockport at Wembley. Our near neighbours Accrington Stanley and Bury were also gearing up for their last game of the season to be played at the Crown Ground. Well, at least one of those two were.
It was around this time, in the week leading up to Bury’s 2-0 win in Accrington, that five men were alleged (by the FA) to have walked into a betting shop and placed rather large sums of money on an away win. Nothing unusual you might suggest, but the fact that the names of these five men were David Mannix, Robbie Williams, Jay Harris, Peter Cavanagh and Andy Mangan – and all of them were directly involved with the match itself. Four of them were Stanley players, the losers of the match, and the other, Mangan, was a Bury player at the time. Players are – of course – prohibited from betting on matches they have direct or indirect involvement with.
The sums involved are huge for a Division Four player; Mannix supposedly placed £4,000 on the game, Mangan £3,500, Harris £2,000 and Williams bet £1,000. The other, Peter Cavanagh, put down an away win on his £5 accumulator, which kind of dampens his role in the scam, but the fact remains that all five placed illegal bets on a match they had a direct involvement with. For an Accrington Stanley player, presumably not paid more than around £400 a week, £4,000 could be more than ten weeks wages. Put simply, they must’ve known the result before-hand to place such large sums on the match.
Bookmakers were alerted to the unusually high betting figures on such a low-profile match and informed the Football Association – an announcement was made a few weeks after by the FA saying that they were investigating the game and the betting patterns. Then it was largely forgotten about – until today.
Earlier this morning, the five men were charged by the FA for “breaching rules”. As well as being charged for the Bury game, Jay Harris has been alleged to have been involved with more illegal betting on matches with his current club Chester City, and Peter Cavanagh, Stanley’s captain, has been charged with “further breaches in relation to his betting on another Accrington Stanley match”. All five face severe sanctions and possible suspensions.
Bury, for what it’s worth, look completely innocent in this incident – Mangan was a Bury player who’d been on loan at Accrington earlier in the season and would have known the other four players in question. Crucially, he didn’t play in the match either. For comparison, Cavanagh and Harris did play in the match, and in fact the former conceded the penalty from which Andy Bishop scored Bury’s opener. The fact that Bury won the match means the blame looks to rest with Mangan the player and not Bury the club, leaving them scott free. Accrington, on the other hand, look in very, very deep trouble.
It’s tough being a Stanley fan. Surviving on crowds which sometimes only just register above 1,000, and with the recent resignation of a long-standing chairman, this latest incident could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. If (and this is just an if) Accrington receive a point penalty for their player’s actions they could be in danger of relegation to the Conference and the financial oblivion that could go with it. Which is a shame, because unlike some sides in our league, Stanley seem genuinely committed to flowing, attractive football and their supporters are some of the most eccentric in the division. Give me an away day at Accrington over Chester City any day. Not only that, but if Cavanagh and Williams are suspended from football, Stanley will lose two first-teamers as well as their captain. The stomach of the average Stanley Ultra looks set to be tested even further.
As far as me and Google can see, there is no precedent for this kind of rule breach – the five players in question may well be banned for any amount of time from months to years to possibly life if they are found guilty. Of the clubs in question, Bury have declined to comment via their ‘Fishul Site, while Stanley have simply recognised that, indeed, two of their players have been charged, but decided not to comment on the matter while the appeals procedure is still ongoing. The other side to have been unfortunately caught up in this, Chester City, (who currently employ Jay Harris and David Mannix), have not made any comment at all. The players have until April 23rd to respond to their charges.
The sorry affair yet again calls into question the integrity of Division Four football. With a league table resembling some kind of maths challenge and the PFA having to step in to play players of certain clubs, the bottom tier has been a raggedy collection of the crooked and the bust this year. This scandal may push it even further into the mire.
Written by Matt Boothman on 7th April 2009