Robert Pursell was born in Campbeltown, Scotland, on 18th March 1899. A left-back he played for Queen's Park as an amateur in the Scottish League for two years before being sold to Liverpool for £250 in September 1911.
Pursell, who was described as a "cool and brainy full-back", did well at his new club and played in 99 Football League and 13 FA Cup games. Pursell also appeared in the FA Cup Final against Burnley in April 1914. Unfortunately, Liverpool lost 1-0. Pursell also won his first and only international cap for Scotland against Wales that year.
On 2nd April, 1915, Pursell played in the side that was beaten 2-0 by Manchester United. Afterwards, bookmakers claimed that they had taken a great deal of money on the 7-1 odds offered on a 2-0 United victory. They suspected that the game had been fixed and pointed out that late in the game, Jackie Sheldon, had missed a penalty. The bookmakers decided not to pay out on the result and offered a £50 reward for information that would unmask the conspirators.
The Sporting Chronicle newspaper took up the story and claimed that they discovered evidence that players on both sides had got together to concoct a 2-0 scoreline. The newspaper also argued that some of the players had large bets on the result.
The Football League announced it would carry out its own investigation into the case. It published its report in December 1915. It concluded that "a considerable amount of money changed hands by betting on the match and... some of the players profited thereby."
Pursell was found guilty of this offence and was banned for playing professional football for life. Three other Liverpool players: Tommy Miller, Jackie Sheldon and Tom Fairfoul were also banned. The same sentence was imposed on three Manchester United players: Enoch West, Sandy Turnbull and Arthur Whalley. An eighth player, Laurence Cook, who played for Stockport County, was also convicted of being a member of the betting ring.
It was suggested that if the men joined the armed forces during the First World War their punishment would be rescinded. Pursell did this and in 1919 resumed his career at Liverpool. In 1920 Pursell joined Port Vale and played 66 games for them before breaking a leg during a game against Leicester City in April 1922. The following month he retired from the game.
Robert Pursell died in Hanley on 24th May 1974.