Manchester United’s foregone title conclusion and more heroic tales of sports betting

Paul Howarth

Following Manchester United’s routine 2-0 win over Everton at the weekend, Betfred have announced they’re already paying out on bets for the Red Devils to be Premier League champions this season.

The wife of Fred Done, owner of Betfred, must be tearing her curlers out.  A United fan, Done has pulled this stunt a few times over the years and had his fingers burnt not once but twice, in 1998 and again last year when that Sergio Agüero goal handed Manchester City the title and cost Betfred a reported £1m in the process.  Can you imagine anything worse?  Your beloved team has the title snatched away with the last kick of the season; not only that, the winners are your ‘noisy neighbours’ from across the city; oh, and by the way, you’re a million smackers down on the deal.  Ouch!  That apparently prompted Done to promise his good lady never to be such a silly boy again; except he obviously had his charred fingers crossed.

In fact, Betfred is not even the first firm to make the early pay-out this season, rivals Paddy Power doing so before United’s game.  If you’re someone who likes a punt, I can highly recommend Power.  Their innovative money-back offers are second to none and they’re known to give their regular customers – or at least those who lose more than they win – a free bet once in a while.  And, no, I’m not on commission (although I do get the odd free bet).

What are the best bets in sporting history?

Rodney Marsh and Dennis Lillee – 1981

This could never happen today.  Not without the mother of all outcries, an ICC investigation and player bans as hefty as Mark Cosgrove.

It was the Headingley Test of the 1981 Ashes series, and Australia had England in all sorts of bother.  The hosts had followed on and, with seven second-innings wickets down, were still almost a hundred runs behind their opponents.  At about this time, in-play match odds were flashed on the scoreboard: Ladbrokes made England 500/1 to win the Test.

Rod Marsh, the Aussie wicketkeeper, and fast bowler Dennis Lillee clocked the price and raised eyebrows at each other.  500/1?  In a two-horse race?  Even with the match situation as it was, they reasoned, that was ludicrous.  They arranged, via a third party (their team coach driver, apparently), to place £15 on England.

What happened next?  Ian Botham 149 not out and Bob Willis 8-43, that’s what.  Astonishingly, England had won the match and Lillee and Marsh their bet.

Frankie Dettori 300x225 Manchester United’s foregone title conclusion and more heroic tales of sports betting

Frankie Dettori at Ascot in 1996

Darren Yates – Frankie’s Magnificent Seven

Frankie Dettori made history on 28th September 1996 by riding the winners of all seven races at Ascot.  For one punter, a joiner from Morecambe, it was a day that changed his life.  Darren Yates had staked £69.76 including betting tax (a concept as out-of-date as smallpox today) on multiples made up of Dettori’s rides, adding in the seven-horse accumulator for good measure.  He pocketed over £550,000.

For every winner, of course, there’s a loser.  One of the biggest on that day was bookmaker Gary Wiltshire.  By the time Dettori rode Fujiyama Crest to victory to complete the seven-timer – the horse had been a general 12/1 in the morning but returned at 2/1 – the larger-than-life bookie was down by at least £800,000, possibly upwards of £1m.  Even worse, Wiltshire was only at Ascot because he’d run into traffic on his way to Worcester.  How’s your luck, Gary?

It was much the same when I backed winners at 33/1 and 14/1 with the same bookie on the rails at Windsor in 2005.  The hapless layer dismantled his board and trudged off before the penultimate race.

These dog days are rare for punters, though, and it’s usually the turf accountants who win.  As my old man is fond of saying, “You never see a bookie on a bike.”

Kerry Packer – heads I win (your estate)

Not strictly a sports wager, this one, but since Kerry Packer brought us World Series Cricket, I’m allowing him in.

Which is more than can be said for one particular individual in the high-stakes room of a casino.  The story goes that Packer walked into the exclusive private area and this chap told him it was “for high rollers only.”  When Packer told him that was fine by him, the man said, “No, you need to go and play out there.  This is out of your league.”  “What’s your league?” Packer asked.  “I’m worth 60 mill,” said the chap.  “Toss you for it,” Packer replied.

The man, we hear, demurred.

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  • simon lomax

    he’s the worst bookie going. this betfred guy. as you say everytime he pays out utd throw away the league. is he really a utd fan?

  • Simon

    The most memorable bet ever offered must be the Calamity James special from Sporting Index. A points-based spread bet based on every interaction David James had in game, it was indeed calamity for one of our number. Who knew, until given the focus on this bet, that James loved to tap tap tap the ball out of his own box so much? In this case, every kick was costing our mate a tenner, and we lost count within the first 10 minutes. Really the only way to watch a game with James in it.


    Pah, gambling’s for mugs. But it’s a cheap way to see all the games on Sky and ESPN these days… anyone ever been kicked out for placing a £2 bet and staying for 90 minutes?

  • Bollins

    1995. My mate Morgs puts an absurd accumulator on Warwickshire winning both leagues and both cups. Astonishingly, the Bears bring home both leagues and cup no.1. They reach the final of cup no.2, which in those days was played deep into Autumn, at what felt like the crack of dawn. Lose the toss, you bat first, the ball moves all over the place and you lose the match. Warwicks duly lose the toss and Morgs has to work for a living after all. We had to laugh.

  • Greedy Ginger Pig

    I think paying out early can make a lot of sense. If the odds suggest a bet is 95% likely to pay off it only costs 5% to write it off. Depending what a bookie’s position is in a particular market, that can constitute pretty cheap advertising.

    Moreover, it’s surely particularly good for business whenever it transpires that the bet wouldn’t have paid out. Wouldn’t you rather deal with a bookie with a track record of foolish decisions? We always hear when a bookie has lost a gazillion, but I’m sure these reports represent just one side of a hedged position. For market makers and punters alike, the trick to being a malevolent mastermind is in convincing the world you’re a benevolent mug.

    Incidentally, one of my bookies just got the nickname “Findus”, because his prices were “mostly pony”. True story.

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