Thursday, July 5 – 1917
A case of considerable interest in football circles was opened to-day in the King’s Bench Division, when Mr. Enoch James West, a professional football player, who played for the Manchester United Club for three season, 1913 to 1916, sued the Football Association and Messrs. E. Hulton and Co. for damages for alleged libel, which appeared in the “Daily Despatch,” the “Athletic News,” and the “Sporting Chronicle,” published in Manchester at the end of 1916 and beginning of 1916. The plaintiff also claimed from the Football Association a declaration that a resolution passed by that body suspending him from taking part in football and football management was null and void. The defendants pleaded respectively justification and fair comment.
The plaintiff’s counsel said the libel originated in a report issued by the Football Association in 1915, and published at their request in several of Messrs. Hulton’s newspapers. The report accused West of serious offences, and the Football Association passed a resolution preventing the entering a football ground again. He was now a mechanic in a motor works, the authorities not letting him join the Army. He had played for Notts. Forest, and in 1910 Manchester United paid Notts. Forest £450 for his transfer, making a three-years agreement with him at £4 10s. a week the first year and £5 a week afterwards. He was also to have a benefit, guaranteed to produce at least £500.
West was playing for Manchester United when the trouble occurred out of which this case arose. In a match with Liverpool rumours got about that the match had been squared between the home players, and that there had been a good deal of betting on the result. Called before the Football League and the Football Association, West said he had not made any bet, and did not know about any betting on the match. He was not asked a single question which led him to believe he was suspected of a conspiracy to square the match. On December 24, 1915, there appeared in the “Daily Despatch” the decision of the commissioners stating that the rumours had been investigated, and it was proved there had been betting, and some players had profited thereby, and it was added: “We are satisfied that the allegations have been proved against – and E.J. West, and they are therefore permanently suspended from taking any part in football or football management.” Subsequently, in the “Sporting Chronicle” appeared a statement that some of the players made bets with bookmakers that the game would end exactly in the manner indicated. The “Athletic News” described it as a plot to cheat the public and to rob bookmakers by criminal fraud.
Through his solicitors West asked for a re-hearing and an opportunity of answering the allegations, but could get no satisfaction. Counsel said the plaintiff had been unjustly branded as a robber who conspired to swindle bookmakers. Both defendants pleaded the truth of the report, and the Association pleaded privilege, but that would not avail if they did not act in good faith. He hoped to satisfy the Court there was no good faith. This was the first opportunity West had of proving he was not guilty of the serious offence alleged.
Giving evidence, the plaintiff said in the match he played forward in the first half, and in the second half the captain instructed him to play back. He played a proper defensive game. He denied that he was a party to the match being squared, or made bets on the result, or was a part of any conspiracy.
(Derby Daily Telegraph, 05-07-1917)