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Author of Shouting The Odds

How The Betting Bug Bit Me …

The first bet I ever placed was at my local Arthur Prince shop in 1987. It was a speculative one pound each-way treble. All three horses won and I pocketed one hundred and fifty-four pounds. Talk about beginner’s luck! From that day onwards, in a suburban London betting shop, my life would never be quite the same again.

Three months earlier : my parents shared a general indifference towards horse racing and betting, so when I returned home to suburban North West London after six months backpacking around Europe in 1987 and found a job in a betting shop, I think they were more relieved than concerned. Responding to a ‘staff needed, apply within’ sign in the window of my local William Hill in North Harrow, I was called in for an interview the following day. I was offered a job and started work the following Monday. Frightening to think that had I responded to a similar sign displayed in the window of my local Safeways first, I may have been destined for an altogether far less exiting period in my life …

During the 1980’s and 1990’s, although betting shops were as commonplace on the British high street as supermarkets, pubs and chemists, it wouldn’t be unfair to say that the wider British public held a stigmatised view of them. It never bothered me. On the contrary, this prevailing negative perception only added to the sense of intrigue I felt as I walked into work on my first day.

I loved it from day one, even if I was required to work most Saturdays. I loved the hustle and bustle, the larger than life characters, the buzz around the betting shop as the time of the first race of the day approached. My day off was usually on a Wednesday. On one such Wednesday after about three weeks into my new job I woke up with an overwhelming urge to try my luck on the customer side of the counter. Later that morning, I placed my first ever bet at my local Arthur Prince shop. It was a speculative one pound each-way treble. All three horses won and I pocketed one hundred and fifty four pounds. Talk about beginners luck! From that day onwards, in a betting shop in suburban London, my life would never be quite the same again …

Betting shops in those days were exiting places to both work and bet in. On big race days such as the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the Epsom Derby or the Grand National they would be packed to the rafters, whether it was a betting shop in a sleepy market town like the one in Arnold where I sometimes worked on the outskirts of Nottingham, or in any number of urban North West London shops where I started out. This is the era in which my recent debut novel plays out, the betting shop culture my book celebrates, a period in Britain when if you wanted a bet on the horses, then your local high street betting shop was the only option for most people. In those days, many of the betting shops I worked in had a ‘community spirit’ feeling about them. They were betting shops first and foremost of course, although unofficially they were much more than that; they were meeting places for locals of all ages and social backgrounds, keen to catch up with one another while also enjoying a bet. Shouting The Odds offers an insight into a period in recent British social history, shortly after which people left betting shops in their droves to bet from home, or from work, or ‘on the go’ on their smartphones.

The idea for writing a novel set in a betting shop came to me after attending a talk about scriptwriting in Nottingham in 1996, given by a barely known British film maker who was just starting out. His name? Well, that I shall save for next time …

Can you recall the time and place of your first bet? If so, please leave a comment. I’d love to hear about it.



#ShoutingTheOddsBook #HorseRacing #awriterslife #newblogpost

4 Responses

  1. My first bet was on The Open from Birkdale which Mark O’Meara won. Didn’t have a clue what I was doing, couldn’t even tell you how many places I got. Nick Faldo and Nick Price carried my £1 each way money. The excitement of my first bet was phenomenal, especially as I attended the Saturday (for free, being under 16 ish!) Kids went in free if accompanied by an adult-we weren’t! A group of Geordie lads must have seen us dawdling our way to the entrance and told us to get in with them. Nice fellas. I followed Faldo around for the full 18 holes, willing his every shot to be go in. Sadly willpower wasn’t enough and he finished miles out of the places! The Monday after The Open was my first horse racing bet..

    1. Thanks for this, quite an ‘inter-active’ bet, following Faldo around Birkdale, willing him on . .. how did the first horse bet go, the following monday?
      I meant to write that my fluke win treble as written about above lulled me into a false sense of my own ability. Anyone can win at this game, was my initial reaction to pocketing my winnings. Of course, I soon found out that finding winners on a regular basis was quite another thing.
      Probably my favourite bet back in those days was the perm placepot. Before Tote Direct came along and added the off-course minimum 5p unit stake, I thought nothing of doing large perm bets, 324 lines or 648 lines at 1p. On most of the standard placepot slips in places such as Ladbrokes and Hills, you could enter your own unit stake which was great, especially when getting involved in the huge placepot pools at the big meetings …

  2. Probably around mid-eighties. I was underage but my dad used to put 50p placepots and round robins on for me which I funded through paper rounds.

    First bet was 50p placepot that of course won, (paid £54) and from then on, gambling became part of my everyday life and ‘career’

    1. Hi Darren,
      Thanks for this.Neither of my parents were remotely interested in racing or betting as I wrote in the blog; anything I learnt about racing I learnt at Hills. All credit to you, pursuing your interest via Betfinder.
      For my part, if it wasn’t for the years I spent working for Hills, I’d never have developed my passion for racing, which indirectly led to a second career as a racecourse photographer. Will check out your website.
      Thanks for leaving a comment!

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