Thomas Gibson Poole was born in 1860. He joined the British Army and reached the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. Poole was active in politics and was a leading figure in the Conservative Party in Middlesbrough. In 1907 he was elected as mayor of the city.
Poole was also chairman of the local football team Middlesbrough. In February, 1905, the club, who were in danger of being relegated from the First Division, purchased Alf Common from Sunderland for a record breaking fee of £1,000. One journalist described the transfer of Common as "flesh and blood for sale". Another sports writer wrote: "We are tempted to wonder whether Association football players will eventually rival thoroughbred yearling racehorses in the market."
The transfer of Alf Common had the desired impact on the fortunes of the club. On 25th February, Common scored the only goal of the game against Sheffield United. It was Middlesbrough's first away victory for over two years. Common helped to save Middlesbrough from relegation and over the next five years he scored 58 goals in 168 games.
Poole was criticised for buying success and in January 1908, the Football League imposed a £350 limit on the cost of players. The Football Association also carried out an investigation of the club and uncovered book-keeping irregularities including the chairman keeping gate receipts and owing the club money. As Nick Varley points out in his book Golden Boy: "In the manner of these things down the ages, it was settled quietly and all but forgotten until four years later when allegations were made that Boro and Newcastle fixed a match to give the Geordies, preparing for a Cup final, an easy ride. The allegations were not proved, but hardly helped Boro's tarnished image."
On 27th June, 1910, he appointed Andy Walker as manager of the club. Soon after his appointment, Walker was accused of illegally trying to sign one of his former Airdrie players. Walker was found guilty and banned for four weeks, while the club were fined £100 for the offence.
Poole wanted desperately to be the city's member of parliament. However, at that time, the country had a very popular Liberal Party government. Working closely with David Lloyd George, his radical Chancellor of the Exchequer, Herbert Asquith introduced a whole series of reforms including the Old Age Pensions Act and the People's Budget that resulted to a conflict with the House of Lords.
The Conservatives, who had a large majority in the Lords, objected to this attempt to redistribute wealth, and made it clear that they intended to block these proposals. David Lloyd George reacted by touring the country making speeches in working-class areas on behalf of the budget and portraying the nobility as men who were using their privileged position to stop the poor from receiving their old age pensions. After a long struggle with the Lords Herbert Asquith and the Liberal government finally got his budget through parliament.
A General Election was called to take place on 5th December, 1910. Poole was to be the Conservative Party candidate for Middlesbrough in the election. It seemed that Poole was bound to lose as the Tories were seen to be trying to halt the redistribution of wealth that was taking place. Poole became convinced that his best chance of victory would be if Middlesbrough beat Sunderland, the club's bitter rivals, in the Football League game that took place on 3rd December 1910.
On the day of the match, Andy Walker offered Charlie Thomson, the captain of Sunderland, £10 for him and plus £2 for each of the players as long as Middlesbrough won the game. Thompson refused to take the money and reported the conversation to Sunderland's trainer, Billy Williams. Middlesbrough won the game 1-0. However, this result did not have the desired political impact and Poole lost the election by 3,000 votes.
Billy Williams told Fred Taylor, the chairman of Sunderland, what had happened. The matter was reported to the Football League. On the 16th January 1911, Poole and Andy Walker were suspended from football for life. Middlesbrough supporters believed that Walker was only following orders and a 12,500 people signed a petition to the Football Association to reconsider his ban. They refused to do this and Walker was forced out of his profession.
Thomas Gibson Poole died in 1937.
By 3rd December 1910 we were flying in the Football League and clear favourites for the title. Sunderland took a fourteen game unbeaten run to Ayresome Park, and with Boro' struggling at the wrong end of the table, it was obvious to all that a Sunderland victory was on the cards. The Middlesbrough Chairman, Lieutenant Colonel Poole, had different ideas. He was running for parliamentary elections on the Monday and believed that his candidature and votes would be boosted if his side could beat Sunderland.
First there was the outcry which greeted the signing of Alf Common in 1905, not because of his Freddie Mercury moustache, but because the record fee broke the £1000 barrier. In those days buying your way out of trouble was just not the done thing and relegation-threatened Boro, second from bottom and two years without an away win, as well as sellers Sunderland, were pilloried....
Then there was the sterling example set by chairman Lieutenant-Colonel Gibson Poole, the man who bought Common. After another transfer swoop the following season, for the acclaimed England international Steve Bloomer, rumours began to circulate that a number of other clubs had helped Boro, struggling again, with their purchases because they all wanted to see Bury go down. Both league and FA inquiries uncovered book-keeping irregularities including the chairman keeping gate receipts and owing the club money. In the manner of these things down the ages, it was settled quietly and all but forgotten until four years later when allegations were made that Boro and Newcastle fixed a match to give the Geordies, preparing for a Cup final, an easy ride. The allegations were not proved, but hardly helped Boro's tarnished image.
The goals-for-votes scandal cemented Boro's reputation for rogue finances. By 1910, the Lieutenant-Colonel was trying to move from football into politics by standing as a Conservative in the General Election. With the Liberals favourites to win, he needed all the help he could get - for example, his team beating Sunderland two days before polling. Some of the Boro players had spoken during the campaign on behalf of their chairman, while the Liberals were forecasting, rather disloyally, a Wearside win.
On matchday, manager Andy Walker decided to do his bit and approached the Sunderland captain with an offer of £10 for him plus £2 for each of his players as long as there was a home victory. The skipper told his trainer, who told the Sunderland chairman, who told the FA and, although Boro won the game 1-0 through entirely fair means, the club was in dire trouble. Weeks earlier it had been fined £100 and Walker banned for a month after he made an illegal approach to a Scottish player. It had been their final chance and the new offence meant Poole, who lost the election, and Walker were banned for life. The remaining directors were warned that if there was any more rule-breaking Boro would be banned from the Football League.