Doing the pools was a bit like surviving on the Titanic. Men did it by skill, women and children by luck…
The idea was simple. You might say deceptively so. All you had to do was run your eye – or pin, if you were a lady – down the list of Saturday’s matches in the coupon’s left-hand column, and mark with a Biro ‘X’ in the grid of tiny squares those that would result in a draw. Correctly forecast seven or eight in a single line of guesses, and you’d be set up for life. By the mid Seventies, the record pools win had topped half a million: enough to buy your very own Bob Latchford off Birmingham City.
Today, it’s hard to imagine how central the pools were to our hopes and dreams, before the old companies were crippled by the first skill-free spin of the National Lottery machine in 1994 – ironically, the very weekend of the highest ever pools win: £2,924,622.
The fascination and intrigue surrounding the pools was once equivalent to all that generated today by fixed-odds betting, online gambling, the National Lottery, Big Brother and The X Factor combined. The ultimate promise was for one undeserving, talentless nobody to be elevated into the big time for doing bugger-all. You didn’t even have to do a karaoke turn to get to Spend! Spend! Spend!
Pools culture used to run deep. Everyone was in hot pursuit of a ‘divvie’, desperate to avoid a ‘coupon-buster’ upset on the ‘Treble Chance’. Tabloid small-ads were awash with proven winning ‘systems’ invented by mathematical geniuses who then chose to sell them on for 20p instead of simply winning every week.
On Tuesday dinnertimes, Dad would study his coupon with one eye on the tipsters’ choices printed in the morning paper. All he needed was eight draws. If it proved to be a jackpot week, that is, with no more than seven or eight score-draws (which scored 3 points), and maybe a sprinkling of no-score draws (2 pts). Provided he invested in a relatively expensive ‘full perm’ instead of a cheap, enticing ‘plan’ promising a Cash Cascade. And given that he didn’t have to share the prize with too many other shrewd, insightful punters – or lucky factory-girl syndicates.
As if divining the future weren’t a big enough ask, Dad then had to flex his knowledge of applied factorial equations, scribbling something incomprehensible down the side of his coupon like ‘Perm any 8 from 11, 30 goes per penny x 930 lines = £0.75 new pence’.
At Saturday teatime, James Alexander Gordon would tip the wink after he’d finished reciting the results on Sports Report. “And the pools forecast,” he’d intone. “Very good. Telephone claims are required for 23½ points.”
And someone, somewhere, might get more points than anyone else: a top dividend.
For us, neither Mum’s lucky numbers nor the ‘Millionaire-Maker’ Plan ever worked their magic; but somehow we always took solace from the fact that we’d at least ticked the little box marked ‘no publicity’.
Extract from ‘Got, Not Got’ available online here, in time for you to take on holiday…