February 18, 1918
Under the new Petrol Order, which precludes the use of petrol substitutes, or gas, for the conveying of players or spectators to a football match, Mr. J.T. Robson, the secretary of the Manchester United F.C., and Mr. R. Nicholls, manager and secretary of the Dyson and Dudley Motor Co., Ltd., Watson-street, Manchester, were each fined three guineas and half a guinea advocate’s fee at the Manchester County Police Court yesterday.
The case, which was said to be the first of its kind rose out of the match between Manchester United and Liverpool at Old Trafford on January 28, when Mr. Robson ordered and Mr. Nicholl’s provided three taxi-cabs to convey the Liverpool players to the ground.
They were summoned for causing motor spirit to be used, and the three taxi-drivers for using the same, contrary to the Order of January 3, which provides that no person shall use or cause or permit to be used any petrol, petrol substitute, or gas for driving any motor vehicle to or from any race meeting, game, or sport, whether for the whole or part only of the journey.
The case for the prosecution, as related by Inspector Rutter and P.C. Shovelton, was that on the day in question three taxi-cabs, each containing four members of the Liverpool team arrived in front of the Dog and Partridge Hotel, Chester-road, from the direction of Manchester. The occupants alighted and proceeded to the field on foot, the taxis turning round and returning to town.
When informed that proceedings were to be taken against the taxi drivers for bringing the team, Mr. Robson said he was responsible, adding that he thought it was quite right if the players were driven to a hotel. At least, he was informed so and if he had done wrong he was sorry.
Mr. Nicholls accepted the responsibility for the drivers, stating that he told them to go.
First case of its kind.
Mr. C.E. Sutcliffe, of the Management Committee of the Football League, appeared for all the representatives, and said that it was the first case which both been taken under that particular portion of the Regulations. Some time ago restrictions were imposed with a view to reducing the use of motor spirit, and particularly to put an end to what were knows as “joy rides”. On July 12 last year a further restriction prevented the use of any motor spirit for the purposes of proceeding to or from race meetings.
Beyond the general orders, and this particular order there was nothing which would prevent Mr Robson, the Liverpool Football Club, or anyone else engaging and using taxis for the particular purpose.
He wanted particularly to call attention to the date on which this particular order was made, as it was a material factor in the case. The order was made by the Board of Trade on January 3, this year, when for the first time it became improper to use motor spirit of any kind for the purpose of going to or from any game or sports meeting.
He was not going to suggest that the match played at Old Trafford was neither a game nor a sport, and he did not suggest that Mr. Robson did not give the order, that Mr. Nicholls did not accept it, or that he men did not use the taxis for the particular purpose, but he strongly emphasised the fact that prior to January 3 what was now an offence was not an offence. It was only the order and the circular which was issued from the Home Office on January 12, which provided that “professional footballers, for instance, will now be no longer able to use motor vehicles for driving to a match.
“The persons who used the taxis,” continued Mr Sutcliffe, were in a particular and distinct class. They were not men who were going to the ground for the purpose of watching the match. They were not going for entertainment or pleasure. It was their business. They were eleven of the 22 players who were to play a game for the entertainment of 20,000 spectators, who foregathered at Old Trafford that day.
For the enjoyment of others.
“Every one of them was a man who had been rejected from military service, or was, for other reasons, not liable for military service. They had travelled from Liverpool to Manchester for the purpose of playing the game for the pleasure and enjoyment of whom? May I tell you that on that particular day there were over 2,000 wounded soldiers present, and probably anywhere from 4,000 to 5,000 men in khaki – soldiers on leave and in training.
“Amongst the rest of the spectators were men who had been at work all through the week and who were finding an outlet at the match for their mental and physical strain. The players, who had travelled from Liverpool, had been working up to the last minute, and some very compelled to get back at the earliest possible moment to continue their employment. In order to do that they were compelled to leave Liverpool so late and return from Manchester so early that the only possible way they could complete their engagement was by means of taxis.”
Throughout the season the practice had been for the visiting club to telephone to the home club to arrange for taxis, and that had been done in the present case. The new Order had not been brought to the notice of Mr. Robson or Mr. Nicholls, or the drivers of the taxi cabs.
In reply to a question by the chairman (Mr. O.P. Lancashire) Mr. Sutcliffe said although the Order was made on January 3 it did not necessary follow that copies would be procurable for some days, after owing to the pressure at His Majesty’s printers.
On the instructions of Mr. Sutcliffe the defendants pleaded not guilty, and Mr Robson and Mr. Nicholls gave evidence to the effect that what they had done had been done in ignorance.
The chairman said there had been a breach of the Order, and it had nothing to do with the magistrates whether it had been in ignorance or not.
Mr. Robson, having asked what would be the alternative, said he was fully determined he would not pay the fine.
(The Athletic News / Sporting Chronicle: February 19, 1918)