Bookmakers have been getting a bit of flack from on high, there’s a shocker, this time on advertising. One of the claims is that bookmakers’ advertising could be corrupting young minds and getting them into gambling. I suppose it might be true, in reality though don’t humans, even young ones have a gambling gene in them that needs no cultivating. After all, we all won the National Lottery correct order Goliath to even be here in the first place.
I cast my mind back to when I was a kid, the 1970’s, neither my mum or dad were interested in gambling. Horseracing only featured in the Nott household when Great Uncle Frank used to take our Grand National bets, over the phone, pay after. With that in mind, names like Red Rum and Rag Trade are still etched in my mind because someone, now long forgotten, must have had their 10p each-way on one of them, my jammy sister probably. None of that kindled an interest in horseracing in me, though I do remember being surprised that there were other races on as well that day and that it wasn’t just Great Uncle Frank that took bets but ‘bookmakers’ too. I thought that really odd, why would they take a day off binding the latest Penguin to take bets on the Grand National.
What I do remember is that as kids we were always gambling, marbles, cards, flicking coins against the wall. Our lingo was also littered with ‘Wanna Bet’ ‘What’s the Odds’ and the like with no actual knowledge of betting or odds.
The Pools bloke did come around every week though, pretty much everyone had a go on the Pools and Spot the Ball. You were always hearing about somebody winning it, not in our street though. I remember one uncle of mine, not Frank, saying rather negatively but ultimately accurately, ‘The only money I’ll ever have I’ll work for’, still the dream was there.
You’d also hear the odd horror story about the pools collector who’d trousered the money without sending off the coupon, it must have been tempting for the habitual tea-leaf, after all it was a million to one or more anyone on his round copping and they wouldn’t notice a minor dividend. It seemed that Sod’s Law was always new one on the hapless criminal and the mortified unlucky ‘winners’.
The Pools aside though, most of us didn’t live in gambling homes. That’s probably why I remember my first bet so well. I’ve always been a bit of a one to march against the crowd, even when eight. This particular Saturday when our little gang walked up to the Tivoli for Saturday morning pictures, all 1p Fireman’s Hoses, Children’s Film Foundation and ‘Danger Island’, all the talk was about football and the FA Cup Final. It was Leeds United v Sunderland. I didn’t have a lot of interest in football in those days, I was one of those kids who liked Dinosaurs and Marvel comics rather that Shoot. What I know was that everyone said Leeds were going to win. ‘Rosie’ at the Tivoli took time off pointing her torch at 10-year-old boys smoking to shout ‘Who is going to win the FA Cup?’ ‘Leeds!’ everyone shouted, well almost everyone, but this little lone ‘Sunderland’ went unheard.
Unheard that is apart from Neil my next-door neighbour. ‘Wanna Bet?’ he challenged. ‘OK’ I barked, bravado bolstered by a third foot long fireman’s hose, ‘10p’. Now 10p was a fair bet, cash after. A bit fairer for Neil though, in hindsight Leeds must have been hefty odds-on for the 1973 FA Cup Final. I had no idea of odds, but it’s fair to say I doubt Neil did either, but he definitely had the value.
It was the first football match I ever watched from start to finish. I remember Ian Porterfield volleying a cracking opener, Jim Montgomery’s miraculous heroics in the Sunderland goal which ultimately ensured Ian Porterfield’s goal was the winner and the victory charge across the Wembley pitch a delighted manager Bob Stokoe.
A huge turn-up for for the Second Division underdogs and I’d copped.
I didn’t really start my punting career auspiciously, I took evens about what must have been a double-figure price in the bookies, ultimately, 10p was a fair bet but Neil knocked and I never got paid. The lasting legacy for me was that I became a Sunderland fan of sorts, I’ve still never seen them play live, come on, I do live in Devon, but I’ve been a casual a follower of the Wearside wonders ever since, through their highs and lows – from Roker Park (pictured) to the Stadium Of Light.
Yes, I have suffered. Was it because of bookmaker advertising? Nope, there was none. I put it down a natural urge to bet, having a contrary personality and one too many fireman’s hoses.
Simon Nott is author of:
Skint Mob! Tales from the Betting Ring