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Five players charged by FA with betting offences 08/04/2009
Owen Gibson

Four Football League players could face long suspensions after they were yesterday accused of backing their own team, Accrington Stanley, to lose in a match against Bury at the end of last season.

Following a 10-month investigation, the Football Association have charged five players in all with breaking its rules on betting which prohibit players from staking money on any match or competition in which they are participating or on which they have "direct or indirect influence".

It is believed to be the first time that the FA has acted against players accused of betting on their own team to lose. In other recent cases players have been warned after backing their own team to win or gambling on other matches. Four of those charged – Jay Harris, David Mannix, Robert Williams and Peter Cavanagh – were registered with Accrington Stanley at the time of the game while Andrew Mangan was registered with Bury. Harris and Cavanagh played in the game.

All five are alleged to have placed bets on Bury to win the match, which they did with a 2-0 victory. Mannix is alleged to have placed stakes of approximately £4,000; Mangan £3,500; Harris £2,000; Williams £1,000; and Cavanagh a £5 accumulator.

Harris, now registered with Chester City, has also been charged in relation to betting on a game involving his new club and another two League Two fixtures. Cavanagh has also been charged with further breaches in relation to betting on another Accrington Stanley match in which he played and on a number of other League Two matches. There were believed to be other suspect bets under investigation that the FA was unable to pin down to an individual.

Leighton McGivern, also registered with Accrington Stanley at the time of the game, was charged last month with failure to provide the FA with information requested during the course of the investigation. He has denied the charge.

Bookmakers, including William Hill and Coral, stopped taking bets on the match after noting suspicious ­betting patterns involving larger-than- normal bets in specific parts of the country, including Liverpool. Reports at the time said £300,000 had been wagered compared to the typical average of £20,000 for a game of its stature. In order to place them above suspicion, the FA changed the officials and also sent an independent assessor to monitor the match.

"Accrington Stanley are aware that two of our players have been charged by the Football Association in connection with betting on football matches," the club said yesterday. "They have until later this month to respond to the charges, and we will wait until the Football Association reach a final verdict before any action is taken by the club."

When the allegations first came to light last year, the Accrington Stanley chief executive, Rob Heys, said: "If anything is found that implicates individuals then they will be out. It is as simple as that."

The charges, to which the players have until 23 April to respond, will reignite speculation about how open football is to manipulation. There have been allegations of match fixing and suspect betting throughout the game's history but it is difficult to prove. Online gambling and the wide range of events, from corners to yellow cards, that can be bet on during a match are thought to have increased the risks and sparked a debate about the integrity of sport and its relationship with gambling.

In October, there were allegations that a suspect betting operation in Asia had sought to influence the Championship match between Derby County and Norwich City. Last month there were concerns after bookies paid out £1m on the non-league fixture between Weymouth and Rushden & Diamonds. The Professional Players Federation yesterday called for more education for young players on gambling issues. "It is disappointing that there has been so little progress on educating players about sports betting integrity issues," said their general secretary Simon Taylor.

He added: "We have today written to the government asking them to help ­overcome the inertia and encourage the sports and betting industries to work together to fund an effective education campaign for all players."

The Gambling Commission is believed to have been asked to look into around 50 cases of suspect betting patterns in sport since September 2007, including allegations against snooker and tennis players.

And it has created a new kind of gambling careerist. "Now my skill is being able to predict the fluctuation of Lancashire Police yesterday said that there was no criminal investigation into the matter at this stage. Under the 2005 Gambling Act, there is a specific offence relating to cheating at gambling.