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Author of Shouting The Odds

Shouting The Odds

Betting To Flee The Past

On March 25th, 1995, twenty-three year old postman Andy Cooper and his dad Ron get home from seeing their local team Notts County win at Wembley to discover to their horror that Andy’s mum Marie has died while they were away. Unable to process the death of his wife, Ron wrongly blames Andy for forcing him into going to the game before abandoning his son and becoming a drunken recluse, leaving Andy to mourn the death of his mum alone.

A few months later on his way home from work, Andy is forced to take shelter from a rainstorm in what turns out to be his local betting shop, where he has a life changing experience; and after almost coming to blows with his dad on his way home from the cemetery a few days later, decides he’s had enough. Determined to regain control over his life, he gives himself a year to win enough money on the horses in order to escape Nottingham and his drunk of a dad for good.

However, it isn’t long before Andy discovers that even the best-laid plans rarely work out the way you would expect …

I was looking forward to reading Shouting The Odds. I wasn't disappointed. With so many cliffhangers, it would make for a great TV series ...
SAM HARDY
RACING POST

Chapter 1

Andy Cooper

Mum & Dad’s House, Christmas Day, 1994

 

How different would Christmas have been had mum, dad and I known that it would be the last one we’d ever spend together?

I dismount my bicycle on the pavement outside the small terraced house in Sneinton where I grew up. I peer over the fence and admire the small garden, mum and dad’s mutual passion. It may be winter, but the front lawn looks immaculate. Smiling, I open the front gate and steer my bicycle along the short pathway. I padlock it against a drainpipe that runs up the side of the house. You can never be too sure around here. I knock on the front door and a moment later, mum greets me with a beaming smile.

‘Happy Christmas Andy! How’s my favourite postman?’

Though she’s lived in Nottingham for forty years, there’s no disguising her Irish accent. We hug on the doorstep and I kiss her on the cheek. Mum is what you call petite; barely five feet tall and with a head of curly auburn hair. Her green eyes flicker with mischief.

‘I’m good Mum, Happy Christmas to you, too. How’s you and dad?’

‘Oh, we’re just grand. Come in and let me get you a drink. Yer dad’s just seeing to the turkey.’

I follow her inside. Moments later, we’re stood together in the doorway to the kitchen. Dad hasn’t yet noticed us. To anyone who doesn’t know him, he must cut an imposing figure; he’s over six feet tall and has very broad shoulders. At fifty-six, he’s eight years mum’s senior. His black hair is streaked with wisps of silver and his eyes are steely blue. His leathery hands are concealed within a giant pair of oven gloves. We watch him as he opens the oven door and removes the giant turkey. He curses under his breath as hot fat spits from its sizzling carcass. Mum nudges me smiling, her green eyes twinkling mischievously. I smile back.

‘Happy Christmas Dad!’

I catch him by surprise. ‘Andy!’ I walk over and give him a hug. ‘Happy Christmas to you too, Son!’

Coming home at this time of year is like taking a trip back in time to the Christmases of my past. Mum’s ‘Christmas with Elvis’ album is playing in the living room. For posterity’s sake, last Christmas I bought her a CD version.

* * *

After Christmas dinner, the three of us sit down in the living room and unwrap our presents. I open my present from dad, a new fishing tackle box. I slide open the draws one by one; one draw for circle hooks, one draw for sinkers, another draw for bobbers and a larger draw where I can stock up with boilees.

‘What do you think?’

‘It’s perfect. Thanks, Dad.’

‘Be nice to get up to Kingfisher Lakes won’t it, as soon as spring arrives?’

‘Yeah, it will.’

‘With one of your mum’s famous picnics, eh?’  He winks at me and shoots mum a smile.

Growing up, dad nurtured two interests in me: a love for our local football team Notts County and a passion for fishing. He taught me how to fish up at Kingfisher Lakes near Gunthorpe, a village on the outskirts of town. As well as having a lake brimming with carp, it’s a great spot for a picnic. Mum and dad started going up there long before I came along.

I stay over the night in my old bedroom, the walls still covered with posters of Blur, Pulp, Naomi Campbell and the Notts County first eleven 1991-92 season, curling at the edges and untouched since I moved out. I got a job with the Post Office when I was eighteen. Two years later, I moved and started renting a small flat above an off license on Sneinton Dale called Sanjays. That was just over three years ago.

* * *

On Boxing Day morning, I catch a glimpse of my reflection in the hallway mirror. I’m an equal hybrid of my parents, even if dad always says I look more like mum. While it’s true I share her facial bone structure, I have dad’s blue eyes and am closer to him in height. My hair is reddish fair, evidence of mum’s side of the family, though it’s thick and curly like dad’s. I wear it cropped and spiky on top and cut very short at the sides.

Dad appears in the hallway dressed in his overcoat, the new Notts County scarf I bought him for Christmas wrapped around his neck.

‘Are you ready, Son?’

‘Sure, Dad. Two minutes, yeah?’

I pull my thick winter jumper over my head. I wince as the neckline catches the earring in my left ear. Carefully I unattach it and a moment later I’m ready, dressed in my parka coat and Notts County bobble hat. Outside, a brisk Nottingham afternoon awaits us. A moment later, dad and I set off on the short walk to Meadow Lane to see Notts County play, our coat collars turned up against the icy winter wind. On our way, we meet up with Dave and Rob at The Trent Navigation Inn, which is the nearest pub to the ground. Dad, Dave and Rob worked at Cotgrave Colliery together until the Tories had it closed down.

While today’s opposition Rotherham United are no Barcelona, County do their best to make them look like them. While our lot huff and puff and hoof the ball long, Rotherham pass, move and attack with intent. We’re lucky to lose just 2-0. At ten to five, the four of us file out of the ground in stony silence. There’ll be no post-match celebratory pint tonight.

When we get home, mum does her best to raise our spirits by serving us the turkey leftovers in front of a TV Christmas special. Our laughter soon makes us forget about the football and a short while later, dad opens the Irish whiskey I bought him. He pours us each a generous measure.

‘Happy Christmas,’ he says with a wink and a smile.

‘Yeah, Happy Christmas, Dad.’

Around an hour later I make a move for home. It’s back to work tomorrow, meaning a five in the morning start. Mum walks me to the door.

‘Thanks for the super perfume. I wonder who tipped you off about that?’ Her green eyes are twinkling again.

I send her a smile. ‘And thanks for my present, Mum.’ I fumble in my pocket and remove the soft brown leather wallet she bought me. My initials A.C. are stitched into the leather.

‘Do you like it?’

‘Yeah, I’ll treasure it. Happy Christmas, Mum.’

‘Yeah, you too, Love.’

I kiss her on the cheek. Mum remains perched on the doorstep as I unpadlock my bike. She looks on as I wheel it along the garden pathway and open the gate. Closing it behind me, I give her a wave.

‘Bye Mum.’

‘Bye Love,’ she says, smiling.

Then I mount my bike and cycle home; half-cut, happy and without a single care in the world.

  

Chapter 2

Andy

Three Months later, March, 1995

 

This is how dad and I ended up at a football match the day that mum died.

Somehow, County get through to the final of something called the Anglo-Italian Cup Final. It’s going to be played at Wembley. One boozy evening at our local, The King Billy, me, dad, Dave and Rob decide to get tickets. Only dad had seemed a bit hesitant but eventually he came around. The way we’re playing, it will probably be our last chance to see them play at ‘the home of English football.’ On the morning of the game, I call round to fetch him. Mum greets me on the doorstep in her nightgown and slippers. I give her a kiss and enter. Dad is hovering in the hallway behind her.

‘All right, Dad?’

‘Not bad Son and you?’

Mum starts fussing over him. She helps him into his winter coat and flips his Notts County scarf over his head, pulling it tightly around his neck.

‘Bloody ‘ell Woman, are you trying to throttle me? I find breathing hard enough as it is!’

After a lifetime down the pit, dad’s lungs aren’t in the best of shape. As he loosens the knot, mum and dad’s eyes meet and simultaneously they burst into laughter. It’s infectious and I find myself joining in.

‘C’mon Andy, we’d better make tracks. We don’t want to miss the club coach now, do we?’ He stoops to mum’s height and kisses her softly on the lips. ‘Bye Love, see you tonight.’

Mum pats him on the chest. ‘Take care of your dad now won’t you, Andy? Make sure you bring him home in one piece?’

I nod and give her a kiss on the cheek and with that, dad and I set off along the garden path, our first steps on the long road down to Wembley.

* * *

Though it’s only a small crowd; barely twelve thousand of us scattered around a place built for ninety-two thousand; seeing County play at Wembley Stadium is everything I’d hoped it would be. It was brilliant. We beat a team called Ascoli 2-1 and when our captain Phil Turner lifts the trophy and shakes it triumphantly above his head, Dave, Rob, dad and I plus all the other County fans present, do our utmost to at least make it sound like a capacity sell out crowd.

A few hours later, the club coach returns us to Meadow Lane Stadium. As we pull into the car park, a fat man wearing a retro Notts County away shirt stands up a few rows in front of us, spilling beer from his can as he does so.

‘Forest may have won loads of cups in their time,’ he booms; ‘but they ain’t got an Anglo-Italian Cup in their trophy cabinet have they, eh lads?’ Everyone cheers and whistles so loudly, it might just as well have been The European Cup we’d just won.

* * *

After parting ways with Dave and Rob, dad and I set off on the short journey home. By now it’s gone eleven and very dark. Ambling through Sneinton’s backstreets, illuminated by soft pools of light from the streetlamps above our heads, we relive the best moments of the game together. When we’re five minutes from home, dad stops outside a phone box.

‘I’ll just give your mum a call. Let her know we’ll soon be home.’

‘Okay, Dad.’ While I wait, I take a pee against the side of the road. I’m still half cut from all the beer I drank on the coach journey home.

‘No answer,’ dad says, joining me on the street again. ‘She must have dozed off in front of Attenborough or something.’

‘Wouldn’t be the first time,’ I say. Dad shoots me a smile and we continue our way. A few minutes later I follow him along the short garden pathway. He unlocks the front door and we enter.

‘Marie love, we’re home.’

We hang up our coats in the dark narrow hallway and wander through the house. It looks like mum has arranged a surprise party, as each room is decorated with club paraphernalia; a rosette here, a hanging scarf there. Typical mum. Dad is soon one room ahead of me. Suddenly, he calls out.

‘Andy, quick! In ‘ere!’

I shudder with horror when I arrive in the backroom. Mum’s small body is sprawled out on the sofa. Her head is leaning into the headrest at an awkward angle and her eyes are wide open and still. Dad is on his knees, clasping her little hands in his.

‘Marie, please. No, Marie! Please, wake up!’

My heart starts pounding like a hammer. Dad begins life-to-life resuscitation, but his damaged lungs are weak. I take over. I get him to cradle mum’s head in his hands while I blow for all I’m worth, but there’s no response. Nothing.

‘Ring for an ambulance! Hurry!’ shouts dad.

I spring into action. A short while later I hear an ambulance siren getting louder and louder in the distance. That’s when I realise I’m crying. Before I know it, the ambulance is parked up outside the house. The strobe effect flashlight traps me in its electric blue cast. I want to throw up, but I can’t. I stand in the living room paralysed with fear. The sound of someone banging on the front door jolts me out of my trance. I head down the hallway and open it. Four paramedics are stood there, three men and a woman. I usher them inside.

‘She’s in the backroom.’

I follow them through the house. The chief paramedic acknowledges dad and then sits beside mum on the end of the sofa. He runs through a quick but thorough routine of checks, but he’s soon on his feet again. He looks at each of us in turn.

‘I’m so sorry … there’s nothing I can do.’

Dad breaks down. ‘No, no! She can’t be.’

Everything happens so quickly. A short while later, dad and I are stood on the doorstep to the house. I feel small and powerless as the ambulance pulls away into the darkness with mum inside, strapped into a stretcher. Then dad and I look on helplessly as the ambulance gets smaller and smaller into the distance, before disappearing at the end of the road around the corner. And with that, mum’s gone.

* * *

A short while later, I tell dad I’m not in a fit state to walk home. He nods blankly. I spend the night in my old room. I barely sleep, unable to process what’s happened. The following morning, I hesitate on the landing at the top of the stairs. Downstairs, I hear dad talking softly into the telephone. I listen as he reports mum’s death to the police, reawakening in my mind the horror of last night. When I arrive downstairs, I find him standing in the front room with his back to the door, facing out towards the street. I stand in the entrance to the front room.

‘Dad?’

He doesn’t flinch. He’s as still as a statue, his hands clasped behind his back in a tight knot. I want to join him in the room; comfort him, be comforted. I want to look into his eyes, talk to him face to face, but something makes me stay where I am. A moment passes before he speaks.

‘I should never have gone to the game yesterday. How did I let you talk me into going?’

He remains with his back turned to me. There follows an awkward silence. I make to say something, but before I have time too, he says, ‘I think I need some time by myself.’

For a moment I just stand there. Again I make to say something, but I can’t find the right words. Instead, I turn around and walk slowly in silence along the hallway. Then I take my jacket off the coat rail, open the front door and leave, closing the door quietly behind me.

* * *

Outside, it’s a grey, windy day. I walk home in a numb daze. When I get home I ring into work and tell them what’s happened. I’m given two days bereavement leave. I just about manage to hold back my tears until after I ring off. Later I ring dad but he doesn’t answer. Early evening, I drop by the house but he isn’t home; at least, he doesn’t come to the front door. On my way home, I call by Sanjays and buy a couple of ready-made meals, a half bottle of whiskey and a four pack of lager.

The next morning, I call round to the house again. This time, I walk up the garden pathway and peep inside through the front window. When I don’t see any signs of life, I scribble dad a note on a piece of paper and drop it through the letterbox, asking him to phone me. I make sure I’m home for the rest of the day to receive his call, but he doesn’t ring.

* * *

I return to work the next day. It’s a welcome distraction from being holed up in my flat, thinking about mum all the time and feeling so shit about everything. Ten days pass and still no word from dad. Eventually, I receive a funeral invitation from him in the post. It’s printed on grey card and arrives in a white envelope, though there’s no accompanying note.

At the funeral I wait in the wings in the hope of talking to him, but the right moment never arrives. It isn’t easy getting his attention, as he’s got grandma to look after. After the service, everyone is invited back to the house for a cup of tea or something stronger. Two of mum’s old friends from work have put on a spread of sandwiches. I fall in with mum’s sister Aunty Cath and her husband Liam, who are over from Naas in Ireland. Aunty Cath tries to get me to open up about how I’m feeling, but all I can manage are incoherent mumblings. I tell her I find it difficult to talk about.

Uncle Liam intervenes. ‘Leave the boy, Cath,’ he says gently, pouring me a large whiskey. Aunty Cath resorts to squeezing my hand at my side in silence. After a short while she changes tack.

‘How’s your dad taking it?’

‘I don’t know, he’s barely talked to me since it happened.’

She gives me a concerned look. Her green eyes look just like mum’s. ‘Do you want me to have a word with him, Love?’

‘Good luck with that,’ I mumble.

One of mum’s friends approaches with a tray of sandwiches but I’m not hungry. Instead I end up drinking too much whiskey. The right moment for talking to dad never arrives, so as soon as it starts to get dark, I slip out of the house through the back door half-cut and stagger home.

* * *

After I get in from work the next day, I phone the hospital about the coroners report. It arrives in the post three days later. It concludes that mum died from a rare heart complaint, all the rarer for a woman of just forty-eight years old. I’m left doubting whether there’d been anything we could have done for her, even if we’d stayed home that day instead of going to the match. The report stops short of commenting either way. The next day I visit mum’s grave. She’s buried in the cemetery at St. Nicholas’ church. It’s just a ten minute walk from my flat. Mum sometimes went to Mass there. Father Terence, the parish priest, was good to mum when grandpa was dying a few years back. I lay flowers at her grave and sit at a bench on the other side of the gravel pathway opposite. In my mind, I offload to her all the things I feel denied talking about with dad. Last of all, I confess the guilt I’m feeling for not having been there for her. Walking home, I try to put dad’s indifference towards me out of my mind, though it’s easier said than done.

* * *

Two months later, Notts County are relegated out of Division One. Karma, I reason. I start resenting the club I once loved and drop all things ‘Notts County’ from my life, including all the friendships I’ve formed down the years through supporting them. Phone calls from Dave, Rob and other friends go unanswered until finally they get the message. The trouble is that having lost mum and with dad having gone ‘absent without leave’, my life suddenly feels very empty indeed.

Andy's story is funny, moving and full of colourful characters. A fantastic read ...
STAN HEY
WRITER FOR TV (AUF WIEDERSEHEN, PET AND SPENDER AMONG OTHERS) AND AUTHOR OF ONE ARM AND FOUR LEGS: A JOURNEY INTO RACEHORSE OWNERSHIP

A two part Interview with Jon Franklin for StarSports #BettingPeople series. Interviewer: Simon Nott.

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