Doing the pools

“Pools man’s here !” our mother would call from the kitchen as there was a knock at the door .

“Bloody hell I haven’t done them yet” our dad would curse, “Can he come back in ten minutes ?”

Thus was the routine every Thursday evening when the pools man came knocking on the door to collect five bob and your dads prediction of which football teams would win, lose, draw or score draw at the weekend and by some strange permutations, formulas and adding together of points gathered from different groups of teams you’d hopefully amass more than twenty points and wait for the letter in the post on Monday that said “Hey you!!! You’ve only gone and won riches beyond your wildest dreams !”

It never happened to us.

You never hear of the football pools these days, an industry decimated by the fact that football matches are played across all seven days of the week now rather than just on a Saturday, that and the National Lottery of course.

And I never understood “the pools”, I just could not get my head around what it was you had to do to predict win, lose or draw and why you had to put crosses in different columns, or what “a perm” was, “Perm any three from ten” or something like that, it was a very complicated process and word on the streets was that the Littlewoods organisation who ran most of the pools competitions had a thing called “a computer” at their head office which was the sole arbiter of who had enough points to win £100,000 this week.

And if you won the jackpot and you were the only person in the whole country to win the jackpot that week then of course you’d be set up for life, you’d never have to work again and could holiday in St Tropez instead of Filey, sup Moet & Chandon instead of Tetleys, and have dolly birds hanging off both arms, like a pools winner.

And so our dad gave five bob and a sheet full of crosses to the pools man every Thursday night and every Saturday evening he’d send me or Ned or both of us down to the paper shop (a shop that sold newspapers not a shop made of paper) to buy the “Green Final”, the special edition news sheet that had all of the days football and racing results, and he’d sit there for half an hour or so sucking at the end of a pencil whilst consulting his predictions, cross checking with the Green Final, cross checking with a little booklet that the pools company sent you in order to understand their myriad of ways to win a fortune, before finally screwing them all up in a big bundle of waste paper and throwing the lot the length of the room shouting  and cursing at the pools for his bad luck at only getting four points that week.

Worst of all were those weekends in deep mid-winter when football games a-plenty were being cancelled due to snow and ice (never through rain, they played football on the muddiest of pitches) because on those weekends the pools didn’t stop, oh no, they brought in “The Pools Panel”, a group of experts who would decide what the results of various abandoned matches would have been had the games actually been played.

If you sit back and think about it that is an amazing piece of salesmanship, a company who made a lot of profit out of getting millions of people to invest five shillings a week in a football results game of chance only to put in place their own group of “experts” to tell everyone what the results would have been had the games actually been played. A casual observer might comment idly that it would be in the company’s own interests if their own pools panel of experts predicted that none of the games that weekend would have been score draws had they actually had been played, and indeed I cannot recall many jackpots being won on the weekends that the pools panels sat although I do remember our dad shouting at the green final that “Liverpool would never have bloody beaten bloody Man Utd away, never in a million years, bloody bloody pools panel, that was one of my bloody draws”.

“When your dad wins the pools” was perhaps the most used phrase to have been uttered in every toy shop in the land at Christmas, “Can I have that massive set of Meccano for Christmas please mum “? they’d ask of their mothers “When your dad wins the pools love” they’d reply and on Christmas Day one of the small box sets of Meccano would appear at the end of the bed instead and the child would be ever so slightly disappointed that Liverpool conceeded that 91st minute goal against Man Utd the previous weekend causing their dad to throw the newspaper, his notepad, pen and the coffee table across the room, grab his coat and stomp down to the pub, another week when he didn’t “come up on the pools”.



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