First Person - with Mike Delaney

Mike Delaney
Mike Delaney
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The football season will soon be over and I will be richer. Please let me explain.

From August until May, I spend each weekend selflessly filling the coffers of Mr William Hill, or more often their rival bookmakers, Coral.

Every Saturday, I’m to be found, with a hopeful rather than a poker face, handing my fixed odds coupon over the counter to a weary-looking assistant whose only reply to my good-natured - okay, slightly tinged with desperate - banter about ‘feeling lucky’, is a look that says simply: ‘mug’.

As the referees’ final whistles sound around the country’s football grounds, the results confirm that I am indeed the aforementioned ‘mug’, dreams of riches pouring in from a £1 seven fold destroyed by a late goal from a part-time electrician in some former northern English mill town.

Not that I haven’t enjoyed success in my time: oh yes! I had a wee run where I was pocketing the odd £10-20, with the occasional, okay very occasional, £40. That was just a few, er, seasons ago. Okay three to be exact.

But this season, to be honest, hasn’t been great. I haven’t picked up many wins at all. Well, none actually.

Given this woeful track record, it could fairly be asked, why do I do it?

We all know that the bookie always wins in the end. And that you never see a poor one. And that the odds are stacked against you. And that I don’t really understand odds anyway.

I’ve come to the conclusion that it isn’t about the prospect of winning money, or the ‘excitement’ involved in the chase, but about memory and culture.

My Dad wasn’t a betting man, apart from the traditional flutter on the Grand National - he didn’t know one end of a horse from another when it came to racing, an ignorance which I have inherited.

But he liked what, in those days, we called the ‘pools’, coupons which a guy would deliver to your door on a Wednesday for uplift on a Friday.

The old man used to let me do ‘four aways’. I never won. He used to try for the ‘holy grail’ of eight score draws ,which brought the jackpot and a then unimaginable £100,000. He never won either.

Winning the pools was something that happened to folk like Viv of ‘spend, spend, spend’ fame, who squandered their good fortune on a bad ‘good life’, not to thrifty people like us who would still be living off the blinking proceeds now.

Hell, I probably wouldn’t need to be writing this had Third Lanark not grabbed that win over Clydebank in 19-canteen that robbed Dad of his eightsome reel.

In April - because the football season finished earlier in the 1960s and 70s - we’d stop, because matches involving the likes of Barrow and Kilmarnock had been replaced by fixtures featuring Bilabong United and Kangaroo County and we knew even less about the Aussie teams on which the pools were based in the summer than the British ones.

During the proper season, you could keep up with how your coupon was doing through the hi-tech that was the BBC ‘Grandstand’ teleprinter, before another weekend of failure was confirmed by the man who read the classified results, and who spoke as if he was delivering a telegram containing bad news from some First World War battlefield.

Like Dad, I’m more an ‘in front of the telly’ man of a Saturday afternoon than the type of whom Squeeze sang, in ‘Up The Junction’: ‘The Devil came and took me, from bar to street to bookie.’

So, it’s usually time spent with Jeff and his mates for me as the coupon slowly unravels, just as it did way back when.

‘Soccer Saturday’ is really just a souped up teleprinter - although the guy that does the classified still sounds like a bearer of bad news.

And he usually is - but not for the next two months for me, until the call of Coral and Jeff begins again.

Now, what will I do with my stake money meantime?