The “Manifold” strengths of undercover reporting

NORMAN GILLER on the latest piece of stunning investigative journalism that owes much to the “spy master” approach of an old Fleet Street figure

“The most sensational sporting scandal ever” screamed the News of the World as it alleged the cricket “spot-fixing” that poisoned the final Test at Lord’s between England and Pakistan.

I would position it second on my list of mind-blowing Fleet Street sporting exposés. First place goes to the football bribery scandal of 1964 that was an even bigger bombshell than the one that has shaken cricket.

And the two undercover reporters who broke the stories 46 years apart have a common denominator. Both learned the art of investigative reporting from the master, Laurie Manifold.

Mazher Mahmood, the News of the Screws’ “Fake Sheikh” who has claimed more than 250 convictions as a result of his newspaper investigations, launched the current story that is crucifying cricket, with more revelations promised for this Sunday.

Nearly half a century ago, Mike Gabbert, an old-school reporter who put his foot in the door of some extremely dodgy establishments, exposed the football corruption in the Sunday People. His story culminated in jail sentences for the perpetrators, including two England internationals.

Mamood and Gabbert both worked early in their careers under the wing of the People “investigations editor” Manifold, who operated like a sort of Fleet Street George Smiley, organising reporters in the ways and wiles of spies.

Manifold in turn had been motivated by the exploits and exposures of Duncan Webb, the “Father of crime reporters” who was a household name when I was a boy for his gripping pen-versus-the-gangsters front page battles that often led to him getting death threats.

At the time of the 1964 football bribery story, I was working in the same Long Acre building as Manifold’s team, headed by Gabbert and Peter Campling, a bulbous-nosed Cockney reporter who could have stepped straight out of the pages of a Dickens novel. In a television adaption of the adventure, Peter was portrayed by Michael Elphick, who would have been perfect for the part had he been six inches shorter.

I was on the Daily Herald at the time, and our sports editor Frank Nicklin was big mates with Campling. Peter was a regular in our drinking school at the Cross Keys pub, opposite the Herald, and he used to hold us spellbound with stories of how Manifold worked and schemed.

Manifold looked like a college professor, with trimmed beard and half-moon glasses, who was always sucking on a pipe. Behind the innocent façade there was a brain at work as cunning as any of Smiley’s people.

Campling told us how he would be instructed on phone tapping, mail intervention, being wired for interviews and setting up hidden tape recorders. It was Manifold who first encouraged Mazher Mahmood to disguise his Brummie accent and pass himself off as an Arab sheikh to help break a call-girl racket.

Gabbert and Campling, answering only to Manifold, worked together for a year in breaking the football bribery scandal. Their revelations that two England players, Peter Swan and Tony Kay, along with their Sheffield Wednesday team mate David “Bronco” Layne, had accepted money to lose an old First Division match hit the world of football like a nuclear bomb.

It was England’s equivalent of the great Chicago White Sox scandal of 1919, when eight players were accused of throwing the World Series and never played major league baseball again, leading to the probably apocryphal story of the tearful small boy who followed his hero, “Shoeless Joe” Jackson, out of Comiskey Park, pleading: “Say it ain’t so, Joe …”

Off the ball: Tony Kay before newspaper investigations uncovered his match-fixing

Swan and Layne were outstanding players in a Wednesday team then rated in the top half dozen in English football.

Kay, an exceptional midfield motivator, had recently been transferred to Everton for £60,000, a huge fee at the time. Swan and Kay were looked on as virtual certainties for Alf Ramsey’s England squad for the 1966 World Cup.

The Gabbert-Campling allegations all proved true. Swan, Layne and Kay were found guilty of agreeing to lose a match at Ipswich (2-0), the only First Division game found to have been affected during a thorough police and Football League investigation.

All three were imprisoned for four months and never played League football again.

Match-fixer Jimmy Gauld, a former Everton and Charlton inside-forward, was jailed for four years. Seven less-renowned footballers received terms of imprisonment ranging from six months to four years.

The football establishment, working closely with the police and armed with carefully compiled evidence from the People, acted swiftly to cut the cancer out of the game.

The cricket authorities must move just as quickly and just as mercilessly to cure the cricket disease before it rots the entire game. And if what I hear from my News of the World moles is true, they are about to make revelations that will knock the game for six. Three planned no balls will seem like chicken feed.

Somebody will have to pay for these “manifold” sins.

Southampton get the (Subbuteo) finger

Finger flicking good: the Swindon Advertiser's solution to a photography ban

Anthony Marshall, chief sports writer of the Swindon Advertiser,  would have fitted comfortably into Manifold’s cunning team.

It was Marshall who came up with the latest ploy to get round the Southampton ban on photographers at their home matches, by using Subbuteo figures.

Working from diagrams texted in from the press box, his barred Advertiser photographer colleagues recreated the action from Swindon Town’s match at St Mary’s for the key moments.

The Southampton directors who have banned professional sports photographers from their stadium, meanwhile, get the Subbuteo finger for the clumsy way in which they dismissed their manager Alan Pardew following a 4-0 victory.

I don’t think the Saints would stand up to a Manifold-style investigation of their recent judgements. It would make a great picture.