In 1908, Rugby League in Australia and New Zealand was officially born.
So too, unfortunately, was the first reported attempt to fix a game.
Northerners though were always keen for a punt, however one punter attempted to go one step further to get a win.
Wigan were the competition heavyweights for season 1908-09, and rightfully so, considering they had two of the world’s greatest players in New Zealand internationals Lance Todd and William ‘Massa’ Johnston in their ranks.
At the time, Todd had played 4 tests for New Zealand and Johnston had 7 test appearances for the Kiwi’s.
On September 12, 1908, Wigan were to do battle with Hunslet. Just two days beforehand, Todd and Johnston were at the Dog and Partridge hotel in Wigan after a hard day’s work, when a slightly drunken man approached them with an offer they’d heard many a time before from joking opposition fans.
“Do you think you could manage to lose on Saturday?”
The Kiwi’s laughed thinking it was another joke, but the man persisted.
“It can easily be done. I will you give you five pounds each if you go down. You can easily manage it. All you have to do is fumble the ball a few times and the crowd will think you are off your game, and the deed is done.”
Todd and Johnston, sensing that the man may be slightly intoxicated and sounding a little too serious, politely declined and laughed the matter off, figuring that’d be the last they’d hear about it.
Edward Crofton, a coal dealer from Northern England, and a known gambler, was the man attempting to squire a favour from the Kiwi stars. The day before the game he was found to be asking locals for the whereabouts of the two players he had approached the night before.
He returned to the Dog and Partridge Hotel and learned that the players were in a private room. Crofton, now sober but still very serious, ordered a round of drinks, for himself and the two Kiwi’s and then entered the private room with them, closing the door.
This time he wanted to prove he was serious.
“Now if you will do it for me tomorrow I will give you twenty pounds down and divide what I make between us.”
Todd knew Crofton was very serious this time, and carefully choosing his words, he very politely replied, “Look here, old sport, there is not enough money in Wigan to buy either of us over.”
Crofton wouldn’t accept the answer, and went on to explain more in depth how the ‘fix’ could be very easily done. The players again declined. He then threw ten sovereigns on the table and rummaged through his pockets, throwing whatever else he could find to the ‘pot’.
The players remained defiant, telling Crofton to take his money and leave. Johnston even said, “I would not do it for all the money in the Kingdom.” They immediately reported Crofton to the Wigan board, who decided it was a case best left to the local constabulary.
The case was heard in the first week of November, but the bench of Magistrates were divided and unable to reach a verdict, so the case was adjourned and a new bench of magistrates was selected.
Before a bench of 17 magistrates at the Wigan Police Court on November 11, 1908, the case was heard again.
Crofton claimed he had not met the players two days before the game at the hotel and that on the day before the game, contrary to the player’s statement that he sat with them in a private room, he said he simply said to them “I will give you a handful if you will not try tomorrow.”
The magistrates left to consider their verdict and returned. Crofton was found guilty in just 10 minutes and sentenced to two months imprisonment.
Crofton’s defence pleaded to the judge for a lesser punishment, to which the judge simply responded, “He will have to go to prison for hard labour.”
Lance Todd went on to have a distinguished football career at Wigan and Dewsbury before retiring. He then became an administrator, most notably as secretary-manager for Salford and later as a commentator.
Tragically, he died in a car crash in Oldham in 1942.
He is remembered every year when the Lance Todd trophy is awarded to the man of the match of the annual Challenge Cup final.
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