Part 1 – The mindset of the gambler.
“Pure calculation means fairly little and has none of the importance many gamblers attach to it,” wrote Fyodor Dostoyevsky in his biographically-inspired 1867 novel, The Gambler. “They sit over bits of paper ruled into columns, note down the coups, count up, compute probabilities, do sums, finally put down their stakes and – lose exactly the same as we poor mortals playing without calculations.”
Dostoyevsky, writing about his experiences at the roulette table, could just as easily have been describing the nature of the modern-day betting shop. Middle-aged men (whose dishevelled attire, generally, fails to give the impression of a lifetime of successful wagering), can be seen poring over form-guides and league tables, before eventually electing their final choices on an accumulator bet.
Before kick-off, the better’s coupon has the potential to be worth a decent amount of cash. However, more often than not, the betting slip will be worth no more than the paper itself come the final whistle. The gambler can muse bitterly (under a cloud of coupon-confetti) on how their logic could have failed.
The first rule of gambling: the house always wins. William Hill didn’t establish his illicit gambling dens in interwar Britain as some kind of oddly-disguised benevolent fund. In the long run, the punter always comes out down, and football rarely rewards the endeavour put in by the dedicated aficionado – it frequently throws up anomalies to scupper the bets.
So why bother putting money on football at all? The obvious reason – and, I think, the correct one – is simply to make things a little more interesting. Risking cash on a hand of baccarat or on the outcome of a video-roulette is joyless, soulless and absolutely bonkers. There isn’t even an aesthetic appeal to dampen the inevitable loss of funds.
Football betting uses the sport to generate an importance in the outcomes of matches that wouldn’t exist otherwise. On any given weekend, a few thousand fans will clamour into the likes of Moss Rose and Roots Hall, but even more people still will have a vested interest in the result in the context of their accumulator.
I can’t quite get my head around the appeal of some of the markets that the bookies offer, mind. According to Ray Winstone, King of the Cockneys, it is ‘all abaaaaht the in-play markets’, but the concept of betting on ‘the number of corners’ seems just about as appealing as a sweepstake on how long it will take some paint to dry.
Anyone that intends on making serious money from betting on football is missing the point – the key component of the game’s popularity is its unpredictability, and bookmakers factor that in. I can’t bring myself to feel sorry for the guy who, according to urban myth, staked his student loan on Angola to beat Mali while Angola were leading 4-0 in the opening game of the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations, only for Mali to score four times in the final 11 minutes. The prize-money, had it come in, would have barely covered a ‘messy one’ that weekend, and instead ended up costing an undergraduate degree.
Therefore I tend to keep it simple – every so often, I’ll put £1 on an accumulator bet for a few matches on a Saturday afternoon. I don’t genuinely expect to see that money again – the money has been spent rather than invested, and it has bought me the right to be a stakeholder in a handful of results over a wildly-fluctuating 90 minutes. If it comes in, then all the better – but I won’t pretend that it isn’t down to luck rather than judgement.
In the second part of this blog, I will outline my accumulator for the coming weekend and the logic behind the choices, before reliving the rollercoaster of emotions on a matchday in the final section.