Murder and mystery, from tennis courts to law court

Anyone suggesting that the law’s encroachment into sport is a new development would be wrong, as ANTON RIPPON found when reviewing an excellent new book on the subject

In 1898, a more than lively football match between two Leicestershire village teams ended in tragedy when John Briggs, a young forward playing for Aylestone, was kneed hard in the back by Henry Moore, a defender playing for the rival Enderby side. As a result, Briggs collided with the goalkeeper and died a few days later from internal injuries.

A tragic accident? Well, no. At least not as far as the 12 good men sitting on a jury at Leicester Assizes were concerned. They found Moore guilty of manslaughter. The judge steered them towards their verdict. In his summing up he pointed out that while football was a rough, if lawful, game, no player had the right to use force that was likely to injure another. And if he did use such force, and death resulted, then the crime of manslaughter had been committed.

Unfortunately, we have no idea what happened next. The local vicar gave Moore an excellent character reference, sentencing was postponed, and no record exists of the final outcome.

All that can be said is that 19th century football appears to have been a cruel sport. A few weeks later, a player who had given evidence for the prosecution was also killed during a football match. The conviction of Henry Moore, though, is the only reported case of a successful manslaughter charge arising from an on-the-ball incident in a football match.

It is also one of the cases highlighted in a fascinating new book Sporting Justice: 101 Sporting Encounters with the Law, written by a lawyer and Southampton supporter, Ian Hewitt, who is admirably qualified to produce such a work: he is a member of the British Association for Sport and Law.

Hewitt, who was involved in the formation of the FA Premier League and who sits on the management committee of the Wimbledon Championships, has neatly divided his book into sections with such themes as legal tangles that began on the playing field, betting, bribery and corruption, sportsmen who committed crimes off the pitch, negligence, doping, shady financial deals and discrimination, and not forgetting football and its occasional clashes with employment law, from Eastham to Bosman.

Each time the matter is laid out in detail, often with brief “for” and “against” summations. The result is a cocktail of shenanigans covering sports as diverse as darts and Formula 1, cricket and the America’s Cup.

All the obvious cases are here, including Lester Piggott and his pioneering attempt at self-assessment tax returns; the Chicago White Sox and their alleged bid to fix the 1919 World Series; Bobby Moore and the Bogota bracelet; Ben Johnson’s challenge to his lifetime ban on the grounds that it was an unreasonable restraint of trade; and, bringing matters right up to date, Sheffield United’s case against West Ham United over the Carlos Tevez transfer.

There is also the former Wimbledon finalist guilty of a grisly murder involving a dismembered body found in a trunk at a Marseilles railway station; and the issue of whether the track operators were liable when an extraordinary accident during racing at Brooklands resulted in death and injury to spectators.

The Hillsborough and Valley Parade tragedies are quite rightly examined and, inevitably, corruption and Italian football get the bright light treatment. And talking of bright lights, or rather in this case a lack of them, Hewitt includes some strange goings-on at evening football matches in south London.

There is the question of whether the law should intervene when team mates start brawling, and whether referees owe players a duty of care, especially when it comes to overseeing rugby scrums.

All of which — and much more — adds up to an illuminating book, meticulously researched and entertainingly written. For a 370-page hardback, it is also surprisingly good value.

Sporting Justice: 101 Sporting Encounters with the Law by Ian Hewitt (Sports Books, £17.99). Click here to order online for just £14.99

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