Football’s Old Pal’s Act
Football and betting are old mates - they go back a long way, having shared a rich, colourful and - for some - a rewarding history. But what is the biggest betting coup that anyone has ever pulled off? It’s a question that throws up some great memories as well as some fascinating insights into the game’s chequered history.
The painful 500-1 shots that saw the USA beat England in the 1950 World Cup and Hungary turn them over 6-3 at Wembley three years later take some beating - some might say ‘one hell of a beating’, but that’s a different story! Germany’s 7-1 blitzing of Brazil this summer came in at the same price, just to prove that anything England can do, the Germans can do better.
These days football and gambling have become truly global affairs. The TV audience for the World Cup final was reported at a billion and events such as that form the raw material for a host of what are now highly sophisticated gambling opportunities. Providers such as 32Red Sport, Betfair and William Hill not only provide the means to back your favourite team - or even bet against them! - They also deliver high quality casino style gaming experiences that actually overlap with the world of sport – for example 32Red Sport also has a 32Red Online Casino section where it offers games like poker and slots. Poker for example is now promoted as a full on ‘mind sport’ where, once again, there are some seriously major prizes on offer.
But back to the football: There is the case of Finnish side Haka Valkeakoski who beat Allianssi Vantaa 8-0 in a league game on July 7th 2004. Bookmakers Veikkaus had for some reason put a price of 8,787-1 on that particular scoreline. Someone certainly hit the jackpot that day!
To be fair, other than those directly involved, no-one is going to remember much about that particular coup. Perhaps we would be better off focussing on more high profile games (with more easily pronounceable names).
Arguably the best of those transpired in 2005 when Betfair saw an anonymous punter take a long shot on Internazionale overturning Sampdoria’s two goal lead with just two minutes of their Serie A game remaining. Goals from Obafami Martins, Christian Vieri and Alvaro Recoba paid out at 999/1. Not bad for two minute’s work!
Bet in play wasn’t much in vogue when Manchester United overturned Bayern Munich to steal the 1999 Champions’ League final, but that would surely have to be right up there. Not only was the scor line not in United’s favour going into extra time, the pattern of the match had seen them outplayed throughout. Alex Ferguson - a man who likes a gamble - must have been the only person watching who realistically thought his side were even at the races in those last few minutes. The bet in play price has been estimated at around the same level as that for the Inter-Sampdoria game, but given the scale of the event it would surely have gone bigger.
For one-off wins, we probably have to take a step back from the high tech modernity of bet in play and look towards one of the game’s oldest pals. The football pools were first introduced in the 1920s, reaching a peak between the 60s and the 80s when it seemed every mantelpiece in the country was adorned with the familiar, tightly gridded coupon. The first million pound winner was in 1987 when Barry Dinsdale from Kingston upon Hull bagged a cool £1,910,972. Strictly speaking the first million pound payout had been claimed a year earlier by a syndicate of hospital workers from Devizes, but Barry Dinsdale is rightly lauded as the first millionaire winner. The highest ever payout on record went to Michael Elliott of Brechin as recently as 2010. Eight 2-2 draws across Spain, Scotland and England saw Elliott swan off into the sunset with a cool £3,001,511.
When we said it was better to focus on the big games earlier we meant it. A European Parliament report earlier this year identified England as the setting form more rigged games than anywhere else. The numbers are not huge, only eleven games were cited, and these were universally in either the lower leagues or, in one case, the women’s game.
The careful scrutiny that big games are subject to means that those games are guaranteed watertight events - and besides the money that top tier footballers earn means that there really is no incentive for them to do anything other than to take each game as it comes.
These days you’d have to be a pretty shrewd punter to enjoy a win that paid anything like a Premiership star’s wages, but such is the beauty of the old pal’s act that there is always the chance to pull it off. All it takes is a little bit of knowledge, a dose of good fortune, and eight little crosses.