Manchester City FFP Accusations Produce Unwanted Echoes Of Century-Old Scandal
Name the footballers who have played for both Manchester City and Manchester United?
An aeon before Carlos Tevez or Andy Cole, well before Brian Kidd and Denis Law, there was Billy Meredith.
At the turn of the 20th Century, Meredith came to be regarded as being one of the very first superstars of football. The Welshman made over 300 appearances for Manchester City between 1894 and 1906, helping them to win their first ever FA Cup in 1904. He had become team captain at the age of 21 years old.
In the 1904/05 season whilst playing for the title-chasing Man City, Meredith was accused by Aston Villa skipper Alex Leake of offering £10 - approximately £1200 in today’s money - to throw the game in an important match towards the end of the campaign. The information came to light after an on-field ruckus.
There was no evidence to support Leake’s claim. It was however duly investigated by the Football Association, who came down hard on Meredith.
Without the backing from his club after being handed an 18-month suspension, Meredith exposed a series of external payments from Man City to their players that was more than the capped £4-a-week salary that was enforced by the FA at the time. City had been providing brown packet bonuses to their squad.
The floodgates opened thanks to the City stool pigeon, with the FA throwing the book at the fledging club that was still just over two decades old but well in contention for the league title. Furthermore this additional under-the-table payment was a practice purportedly not entirely isolated to this particular club.
Man City manager Tom Maley and a former chairman, W. Forrest, were banned and a total of 17 players suspended. The club was fined around £900 - around £110,000 in today’s money.
Of all sides to profit, it was Manchester United; their first great manager Ernest Magnall snapping up a handful of those suspended players; Sandy Turnbull, Jimmy Bannister, Herbert Burgess, and Meredith himself from the Hyde Road outfit.
Home may no longer be Hyde Road for the Cityzens, but over a century later, it seems like history may well be repeating itself, with the club again ready to be made an example of by the footballing authorities.
“Do you think I deserve this kind of question. Oh my God.”
Even before his response (via the BBC), Pep Guardiola’s face indicated this wasn’t quite the line of questioning he was expecting immediately after his Manchester City had become the first side in English men’s football history to complete the domestic treble. A press officer tried to overrule the question, and swiftly imposed an embargo on any further matters regarding this subject.
Journalist Rob Harris’ probing interrogatives were at an opportune moment, though of course didn’t fit in with Guardiola nor the Manchester City hierarchy's agenda on perhaps the most glorious day in the club’s history. It did however regard an issue that continues to stigmatise City’s incredible success.
The week preceding the FA Cup Final - in which City triumphed over Watford at Wembley - the club had been inundated with accusations about Financial Fair Play violations, accusations that have been brewing since Der Spiegel published a comprehensive report on the club’s dealings, in November 2018.
Since 2008, Manchester City have been owned by the Abu Dhabi United Group headed by Sheikh Mansour. They have spent over £1.3billion on transfers during that time, returning four Premier League titles, amongst other silverware.
This unprecedented level of spending has drawn scrutiny.
In the first chapter of their series - damningly titled ‘Bending the Rules to the Tune of Millions’ - Der Spiegel produced the scathing claims that Man City had manipulated practices by dubious internal sponsorship, with subsequent publications reporting off-shore payments and questionable payments to one of Guardiola’s predecessors, Roberto Mancini.
The club - the most successful English side of the past decade - are now facing expulsion from the most elite club competition in europe, the Champions League, which may have further repercussions for this determinedly aspiring side. The former Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme has led the enquiry into the club’s activities and made his recommendation to UEFA. He has now recommended that the club needed to be referred to UEFA’s independent financial control board (CFCB), with the ban from European football expected to be forthcoming.
Manchester City, for their part, have categorically denied any wrongdoing, melancholically proclaiming that they are "disappointed, but regrettably not surprised, by the sudden announcement of the referral" (The Guardian). They are expected to mount a counter legal challenge.