AUTHOR: Star Sports Content

LOOK SHARPE: Never A Bored Man…

Sports betting PR legend GRAHAM SHARPE writes…

I WASN’T EVEN listening to, or watching that intently, the racing on TV the other day – Sunday, it was, I think – yes, because it was the afternoon that Franny Norton had earned a very worthwhile ten grand for scoring more points than any other jockey from his rides at Beverley’s ITV-broadcast meeting…

I remember thinking, ‘good on him’. With no disrespect, he would be one of the archetypal kind of unfashionable but experienced and more than competent jockeys who don’t often steal the limelight.

So shame on me for noticing but ignoring the fact, when I was at Brighton racecourse two days later, that 52 year old Franny had come down from his usual northern haunts for just one ride, on Mickey Mongoose for Charlie Johnston in the 5th race – which duly obliged at 11/4.

Fortunately for the Sharpe family fortunes, I’d decided there was only one horse worth backing during the afternoon – and that was Panning For Gold, partnered by my favourite jockey, Jamie Spencer, albeit at somewhat ungenerous odds of 11/10.

And yes, I know, had I put Jamie and Franny’s runners together in a double it would have paid a shade over 15/2.

Anyway, I digress as, the day before watching Franny at Beverley I’d noticed a horse called Boardman also being mentioned on Saturday, when it was running at Haydock. The name made me wonder what percentage of punters seeing it would be aware of the betting shop relevance of this name – maybe 33per cent of them?

Naturally, having BEEN one when I first began working in a betting shop during the 70s (I’d been in plenty before that) I knew precisely what a boardman was and what he – because I’d guess about 99.9% of them were male – did.

Back then, betting shops all had ‘boards’ – some were traditional blackboards on which the day’s racing information would be written on in chalk, but the great majority now were white, plastic boards.

At the start of each day, the boards would sit, waiting, empty, for the arrival of the particular artist who would perform on them during the afternoon’s sport. Writing up the time and venue of each race, followed by the names of every runner, then alongside the names, and the relevant odds as they were quoted over the in-store broadcasting facility.

Some shops would boast pre-printed sheets on which the runners’ names were already displayed.

Not my shop, though – I took great pride in writing the runners up myself, in some guesstimate of probable betting order.

I’d then mark the odds against the name of each one, usually highlighting the favourite in different colour chalk or felt-tip pen marker.

And once the race was off, I’d follow the commentary – no pictures in the shops in those days – and mark against each horse’s name his current position in the race – according to the commentary, that is.

It was a piece of in-house theatre. Most punters enjoyed it. Some complained they couldn’t read my hand-writing (‘Tough! Like to do it yourself?’ Thought not!).

Others believed I always ‘jinxed’ their selection in any given race.

One day I had been a little over-confident, and in what was obviously a two-runner race according to the betting, albeit there were rather more runners, I had somehow managed to omit a late gamble on the second favourite, whose odds were dropping like the proverbial.

It won, of course, but there was no way punters who’d backed it were going to get the 6/1 still showing on my board when the horse returned 9/4!

Took me a while to win their – and my manager’s – trust back. And of course, I didn’t do that by leaving longer odds up for an extra minute or two for the punters, when they’d just been shortened. No, of course I didn’t. Really. Not often, anyway. Maybe once or twice.

When I finally graduated from boardman, it was to acquire another now non-existent role – that of ‘settler’ – the person calculating each punter’s payouts on every bet struck in the shop.

This was before the days when first the battery-run ‘Sporting Life settling machine’, and then ever more complicated calculators took over the role.

Settling a 5p each-way Yankee with an 8/15 winner (4 ran); 13/8 second (of 7); 4/1 non runner; and 20/1 3rd of 15, but with Rule 4 deductions – had never been the easiest of chores.

Having now begun working up town in the Head Office, I was still bumping up my modest wage by being a Saturday settler, going wherever there was a demand for such a person.

Once, as I walked from the bus stop in an obscure part of, I seem to recall, the Willesden area I spotted a fiver in a hedge. I stopped, looked guardedly around, plucked it up and carried on walking – only to glimpse another some yards farther on – then another – eight of them in the end. More than I was earning for a week’s work in those days.

One week I was Saturday settler in a shop run by the younger brother of two pretty well known British boxers managed by our company’s Managing Director.

As the afternoon’s sport began he asked me: ‘Fancy a pint?’

Of course, I nodded – wasn’t really in the mood for being knocked out.

Probably three or four pints and an hour and a half later, we wandered unsteadily back. Aware that there might be some disquiet and feedback from punters whose bets hadn’t been settled, my drinking partner had bought some buns, cream cakes and eclairs from the bakers on the way back. To make peace with the disgruntled, I thought. Clever.

But no, as we arrived back to loud heckling from the irate winning punters, he began hurling the cakes at the understandably revolting customers. A virtual pitched battle broke out. In the end, we just settled and paid out on all the waiting winners, and ruled that the losers had placed their bets late and would be refunded.

No idea what happened when the area manager found out. I never went back.

However, my own settling career ended when I was working in a shop as a counter clerk one big race day, and paid a punter out one hundred pounds too much.

I made the entirely reasonable observation to the area manager, that the shop manager had caused the problem himself, by writing the amount of the payout above the figures in longhand, but then letting the ‘tail’ of a ‘y’ in his writing extend down into the box in which the total amount was displayed by numbers, thus turning the 50 quid it should have been into 150.

I was sacked.


Views of authors do not necessarily represent views of Star Sports Bookmakers.



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