A confession

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A confession.

A couple of weeks ago I had to watch the opening scenes of the England vs France game to see if Prince William was going to sing the Marseillaise in solidarity with the Paris massacre victims. This was entirely work-related, as I spent every waking second of the previous five days immersed in a world of horror, albeit from the safety of a London telephone.

Once the singing was over I changed the TV channel but had to occasionally flick back every 20 mins-or-so to find out if any form of atrocity was brewing in Wembley. At all times I had the volume turned off to dodge any chat about player form or league positions during the in-game commentary.

So, apart from the pre-match build-up and singing, I only watched a couple of minutes of pointless midfield passing and didn’t hear a solitary word during the match itself. Yes, you can argue that this has fatally undermined my scheme, but I can counter that by suggesting that I did my very best under the circumstances. Plus, it did provide some revelations:

First, British TV does not show Prince William singing a foreign national anthem. Roy Hodgson? Yes. But the future English King belting out the battle hymn of an overseas republic is clearly beyond the pale. Particularly, when said republic lopped the head off it’s own monarch a couple of hundred years ago.

Second, pre-match punditry is mind-numbingly inane if you haven’t heard it for the best part of six months. When you’re removed from the day-to-day fixations of the football soap opera, the pundits sound like the worst possible kind of anally retentive nerds – worse even than the sort of blokes who buy ‘Merry Sithmas’ jumpers. If they hadn’t been any good at thumping leather around a field, they would all be sat in a pub discussing the pros and cons of an ignition coil from a 1982 Datsun Sunny. images

I’ve since run this revelation past a bunch of women and the general response has been “Er, yeah! Where have you been for the past forty years?” No wonder so many women have a dislike for football – and sport in general.

Third, Paul Scholes is able to talk about the need for “a stable centre-half pairing” without physically stopping for breath.

Fourth, England fans cannot sing in French. They can, however, mumble.

Last, who the hell is Alli?

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The Truth Behind My Crazy Gambling Scheme

red-dice-1527359 Last night I met up with Gary the Gambler to discuss my haphazard betting scheme over a beer. Here’s what I learnt:

  • Last weekend (Week #3) I predicted three winners. Gary the Gambler also predicted three. So, despite not knowing who was playing who or where, I matched him.
  • According to Gary the Gambler, I came out of the whole thing with a loss of £2.69. Which is none too shabby when you consider that I was blindly stumbling around in total darkness.
  • Over the same period Gary walked away with £65 thanks to an accumulator win of £70 in Week #1, which even he described as “f**ing unbelievable”. He then started prattling on about QPR and I mentally closed the curtains.
  • Overall Gary predicted 12 winners out of 15. I blindly guessed 6 out of 15. This means I was correct 40% of the time, whereas he hit the 80% mark.

So something of a hammering then? Well, not quite.

You see, thanks to this scheme I have now become one of the few people on earth to have thrown money at a bookmaker hoping to lose. Unknown to Gary – or anyone else for that matter – this whole gambling malarkey has actually been a sideways experiment.

My hypothesis? That I could correctly predict the fortunes of various teams in the Premier League based purely on the pattern of previous seasons. And I believe I have. burning-roulette-1586069

  • In Week #1, I chose teams who were newly promoted or likely to be firmly mid-table, plus one of the ‘big six’ (Chelsea, Southampton, Palace, Everton, Villa, Norwich). The result? One winner.
  • In Week #2, I chose teams who were likely to be mid-table but possibly pushing for the Top 6, plus one of the traditional ‘big six’ (Newcastle, Everton, Swansea, West Ham, Liverpool). The result? Two winners.
  • In Week #3, I chose teams who were all from the traditional ‘big six’ (Man City, Man Utd, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool). The result? Three winners.

As you can see I won more games every week. When you factor in that I was only gambling for a win and that some of the teams will have drawn, it shows that I have pretty much got the rough shape of the league table worked out without knowing more than a handful of results.

If I hadn’t then the pattern would be different. At the moment it is like this:

  • Mid-table teams – 1 win
  • High mid-table teams – 2 wins
  • Top of the table teams – 3 wins

Obviously, this wouldn’t stand up in the eyes of a statistician, but it does at least prove that I know who has more chance of winning a footy match based on zero information. It also follows that if you ever want to be successful at footy gambling, you merely have to pick the top six every week.

That is, with one exception. The keen eyed among you will notice that I didn’t select Tottenham once. The reason is simple: even fans that watch Spurs week-in, week-out have no idea how they’re going to play. So what chance does a blind man stand? I’d need to be a psychic to pull that trick off. the-winning-hand-1316466

That said, I’m guessing they’re either fourth or fifth and that Harry Kane is struggling to score as many as last season. They’ll have a rubbish away kit too.

Blind betting #2: the rematch

20151105_164121Having been thrashed 70-0 by Gary The Gambler in my first attempt at blindly predicting the footy scores, I this weekend returned for more.

The plan? Well, to give myself a fighting chance I ditched any of the recently promoted teams of Week #1. Initially, I’d reasoned that at least one of them should be doing a Hull City and terrifying the bejaysus out of the established order, but the truth is they simply hurl too many weird variables into the mix. Plus, they’re all clearly pants.

Instead, I opted to pick four teams who should be in the top half of the Premier League and who could, conceivably, be pushing for a pre-Xmas flirtation with the top six. Step forward Newcastle, Everton, Swansea and West Ham.

For my final choice I swapped Chelsea for Liverpool based on the assumption that Jurgen Klopp’s arrival could give the Reds some kind of bounce in form. Not that I have any idea how they’ve been playing – or if Klopp has boarded a boat from Dortmund yet.

Admittedly, this use of recent footy knowledge does run slightly against the grain of my crazy scheme, but in my defence I can state that I have absolutely no idea of Liverpool’s fixtures, form or injuries (although I’m guessing Daniel Sturridge is on the list). Plus, my only other option was Tottenham.

The result? Well, brace yourselves…

Gary The Gambler
Stake: £5
System used: Accumulator.
Teams: He’d tell me if I asked but I’d then have to drink a pint of meths to erase the details.
Winnings: £0. Nada. Zero. Zip. 제로.

Footy-dodger
Stake: £5
System used: Idiotic hunches dreamt up on the northbound carriage of the M40.
Teams: Newcastle, Everton, Swansea, West Ham and Liverpool.
Winnings: £1.50

Yes, you read it right. Despite having absolutely no idea who was playing who or where, I somehow managed to beat Gary The Gambler by the princely sum of £1.50. 20151105_163929

Admittedly, this still leaves me £68.50 behind. Plus, Gary actually predicted more winning teams and only drew a blank because his accumulator failed. But, given that this is a gambling-based experiment, I personally feel that cold hard cash is the only marker that can be scientifically applied. Plus, it means I win.

So there you have it: using little more than hunches based on previous seasons, I managed to out-gamble a man who: a) knows the form, b) knows who’s playing, c) has gambled all his adult life (if you believe that adulthood begins around the age of 6).

Naturally, this leaves just one thing to do: having reigned-in Gary’s lead by a cool £1.50, I now have to try and close the remainder of the £68.50 gap from Week #1. It’s the best out of three baby! And this time I’m going BIG!!

Blind Gambling

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I’ve never been much of a gambler. Apart from the occasional sweepstake my gambling life has pretty much involved a drunken night at Wimbledon dog track, numerous unfinished games of poker and a random £5 bet on Chelsea to reach the FA Cup Final in 1994.

This decision was made during a cab ride from Stoke to Newcastle-Under-Lyme just before ‘the third round proper’ and, amazingly, they did! (Only to be hammered 4-0 by Man Utd).

That all changed this weekend: in the spirit of consumer science I set out to challenge the might of Ladbrokes and William Hill armed with a £5 note and what can only be described as an extremely flimsy grasp of the current Premier League season.

My hypothesis was simple: thanks to my deep understanding of previous seasons, I could predict between 3 and 5 winning teams. To make life a little more interesting I staked £1 on each of my selected sides and pitched myself against an experienced gambler with full access to the results and fixtures and who, crucially, could also lay the bets for me.

To make life even trickier I also decided to limit myself to one of the so-called ‘big six’. Instead, I opted for teams who could be pushing for a decent top ten position or enjoying a remarkable first season in the Premiership. So Sunderland were miles out of the picture.

The result? Well, see for yourself….

Gambler FullSizeRender (6)
Money waged: £5
System used: Accumulator.
Teams: I’ve no idea. I can’t ask him.
Winnings: £70.

Footy-dodger
Money waged: £5
System used: Wild stab in the dark while dragging two children through the Sainsbury’s multi-story in Walton-on-Thames.
Teams: Chelsea, Norwich, Watford, Palace and Everton.
Winnings: 40p (overall loss of £3.60)

So there you have it. Proof, if there ever was, that a fool and his money really can be easily parted. That’s unless the gambler has told me an outrageous lie and I am actually the one who’s scooped on a huge wad of cash. There’s no way I can check, you see.

Nevertheless, in trusty gambling style I have cried ‘best out of three?’ and shall return to the fray with a different scheme that’s practically guaranteed to turn the tide.

Next week: Blind Gambling 2 – The Return of the Cretin!

No Hiding Place

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It’s now been two months since I hatched this crazy scheme in
the triumphant glow of England’s Ashes glory. Since then I haven’t watched, read or talked about English football, making it the longest period of sustained footy-dodging I’ve endured since primary school.

What have I learned? Well, nothing to challenge Archimedes, that’s for sure. But that’s not to say I haven’t picked up the odd piece of weirdness here and there either.

For what it’s worth, this is my top ten so far:

  1. Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais basically summed up my plight in 1973 when they wrote the Likely Lads episode No Hiding Place. (https://vimeo.com/135305590). It details the endless grief suffered by Bob and Terry as they try to sidestep the result of an England vs Bulgaria match for an entire day. Other than the general beigeness of 70’s Britain, it’s pretty much how my life has been since the Trent Bridge test match (60 All Out. That’s 60. S.I.X.T.Y).
  1. One day? That’s so simple I wouldn’t even call it child’s play. The really difficult part kicks in around the seven-week mark when you find yourself mentally berating your own eyes for lingering over a random headline because it features the words “Klopp” (surely, the greatest gift ever handed to Evertonians?). Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 13.42.45
  1. It’s also around the seven-week mark that you grow tired of having to explain your mad scheme to whoever’s about to launch into a footy-led conversation. I may have to go ‘all-footballer’ and have it tattooed on my arm. That’s if they’re still slavishly following Becks’ style lead. I haven’t seen ’em to tell either way, you see!
  1. As I’m a Chelsea fan, most people generally try to lure me into a footy chat with the words “So do you think Jose will get the boot then?” This is a very bad thing for anyone who’s trying to avoid football because: a) It tells me the Blues are still pants; b) I assumed he would have gone long ago, even if Chelsea were top of the league with 100 goals per man. Roman must be on the crazy juice somewhere.
  1. There’s no easy way to stop a footy chat in its infancy without sounding rude. So you have to be blunt and straight to the point. The process of hearing yourself spout such lunacy then provokes an internal monologue that ultimately leads to an existential crisis: “Am I in any way sane?” Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 13.38.10
  1. 70% of men respond to this explanation with blank incomprehension. 29% say they wouldn’t miss footy if they did the same. 1% claim they have done it for their whole lives, so don’t see what the big deal is. (these figures may not be entirely accurate).
  1. The best reaction so far has come from a Liverpool supporter who just stared at me, desperately tried to think of something to say, failed, then walked away. It was clearly a step too far. I’d have got a better reception if I’d told him that Stevie G was the transsexual love child of Ian Rush and Nicola Sturgeon in her pre-LEGO makeover days.
  1. In psychological terms I have now entered into ‘The Wall Stage’. Apparently, this is the moment where the over-optimism of your initial endeavor (‘the honeymoon stage’) starts to wear off and you’re most in danger of a relapse. If I were a drug fiend I would now be scouring the local area for a dealer – but not actively gathering supplies. 184H
  1. The Evening Standard is my nemesis. It only exists to fill the tube with people shoving the sport pages in my face. Et tu Sun Online and Twitter Trending.
  1. I fear for my sanity post-Rugby World Cup. There’s a very good chance I could be stalking the streets with a banana gun.

Blind Predictions #1

BlindManSignAs I’ve now gone a couple of months without footy, I reckon it’s time to up the stakes. So in the next few days I’m going to place some bets to see how I fare against a proper gambler who both knows what he’s doing and how each side is faring.

In the meantime, I reckon I can still gauge the fortunes of the top clubs based on their previous form and general hunches. In the interests of objectivity, I am going to leave out Chelsea, Crystal Palace and Southampton, because I have accidentally stumbled onto some of their details (or been force fed them by lunatic fans). The rest, I honestly don’t have any idea about.

So here are my predictions for September based on my footy knowledge and pure guesswork. Chances are I’ll be as wide of the mark as a Per Mertesacker bicycle kick. But you never know…..

#1 Arsenal will have at least four key players out through injury. A couple of these won’t return for the entire season. I’m going to go for Danny Wellbeck, Jack Wilshere, the OX and Aaron Ramsay. Chances are the Gunners are also going to be struggling for goals.

#2 Brendan Rodgers’ job will be on the line after a poor start lacking any form of cohesion. The new players won’t be up to scratch despite Liverpool trusting him with the GDP of an average-sized Latin American country. Oh, and Sturridge will be injured.

#3 Man City will be stuttering their way to success. The overall impression will be that they should be much better given the money they’ve spent, but simply can’t be arsed to break sweat. Without Aguero they would barely have a point. They will also be rubbish in Europe.

#4 Man Utd will be defending like a bunch of schoolboys and hardly managing to pass the ball to each other, yet to widespread consternation they will still be sitting in the Top 4. Van Gaal will blame this on a lack of signings and stress that things just need a bit more time to gel.

#5 Tottenham will be looking good but struggling to score. They’ll soon hit a purple patch then fade. Levy will already be lining-up the next manager.

#6 One of the so-called lesser teams will be having an amazing start and terrorising the big boys. Southampton had their turn last year. I’m going for West Ham under Bilic.

#7 Sunderland will be bottom of the table and already steadying themselves for a backs-to-the-wall campaign that’ll last until the very last day of the season.

#8 Newcastle’s fans will have already started their ‘Kick Out Mike Ashley’ campaign on the terraces. They’ll still be the masters of suicidal defending.

#9 Jose will be claiming the whole world is conspiring against Chelsea and, very probably, looking for another job by the start of October.

#10 A foreign striker for one of the smaller teams will be unstoppable. As I have no idea who anyone has signed I’m going to have to choose a club off the top of my head. So I’m going to go for Aston Villa. It’s about time they had a half-decent season.

Signs of Cold Turkey #1

On Sunday night I dreamt that I had a dog called Alan Brazil. Why my mind
settled on the ex-Man Utd and Ipswich forward I have no idea, but I like it. imgres-2

Just think of the possibilities in the park: “Fetch Alan Brazil! Fetch!”

“No Alan Brazil! Sit down Alan Brazil!!”

It’s got all sorts of genius. Although it does mean I would have to pick up Alan Brazil’s poo. Hmmm.

No! I am settled on the idea. If I ever get a dog I am going to call him Alan Brazil. Or maybe Remy Meade?

Moment of Clarity

The sign on the pub said “Chelsea vs Arsenal, LIVE, Saturday 19th“. My immediate thought: “Not sure I’d want to watch that, not the way Chelsea’s season’s going. Arsenal will probably kill them. And they’ve got Peter Cech..”

It was only a momentary flicker. Yet it revealed everything. WhyWithHands

Despite my daily struggle to dodge footy I still know exactly how Chelsea are faring this season. And, like all long-term Chelsea fans, I still assume they will always lose to Arsenal. Sure, I don’t know the exact scores or who’s been playing like a buffoon but I know for certain that they’ve had a woeful start to the season and are somewhere in the bottom half.

How do I know this? First, because I worked in an office a couple of weeks ago and the first thing anyone said to me was “Your season’s gone a bit pear-shaped hasn’t it!” This was backed-up by a string of footy-related gags from the blokes sharing my desk.

The best was from a Saints fan. “I’m not going to reveal anything. I’m just going to say that we’ve had a crap start to the season but even we’re above you.”

That about said it all. That is, until yesterday when I made the mistake of opening a friend’s Facebook post. It simply said ‘best day ever’. I thought he was getting married or having a baby. It turned out that his mate is a big Everton fan and they’d just beaten Chelsea 3-1.

“For the love of…. ”

So despite isolating myself from football for the best past of six weeks, I am still stuck in the position of worrying about the ebbs and flows of Chelsea’s form. I’ve spent decades doing the exact same thing, only with information. Now I’m able to do it without ever trying to find out anything about them.

When I first ventured into Stamford Bridge the club was a joke ruled by a crazed version of Papa Smurf. The National Front newspaper was openly sold on the terraces, the back row of The Shed (the home end, bottom right hand corner of the pic, below) was an open sewer, we never won a game (not even against Newcastle) and our best player was Pat Nevin. Prior to that it was Colin Pates but he made a big money move to Arsenal so that they could stick him in their reserves. images

The Shed also had a unique form of fire protection. Basically, the roof was so pants that all the rainwater collected in one spot and flooded onto the terrace like a man-made Niagara. It came in very handy during a Man Utd game when a chip van caught alight. The flames didn’t stand a chance against that torrent. We all knew it too. Not a single person bothered to move.

That was in the mid-80s. It was a time where it was virtually impossible to buy a Chelsea shirt and the ‘club shop’ was a converted newsagents in Fulham Broadway. You had a choice between a scarf, a programme or a flag. Or maybe a wooly hat in the winter. Not that you could get past the ranks of police horses to make it through the shop door anyway. Stamfordbridge_zps4992b751

The team was rubbish. The stadium worse. The Birmingham City of the South. Now? There is literally no escape from Chelsea. Thanks to the Internet the club is everywhere.

But it’s not just them. I also know that Tottenham won their first game of the season yesterday and that Rooney scored a hat-trick over the weekend. This has all come through looking at random notes on Facebook that seemingly had nothing whatsoever to do with footy.

So, the big question now is whether I stop looking at Facebook entirely? For a start, it would save me from the thousand-or-so cat videos that are uploaded every day. Or any of those huge psycho-speak banners that pretend to hand you enlightenment with such twaddle as “Only a fool would follow the foolish into foolish, foolishness.”

Then again, maybe I could create my own version based upon the lessons of the past month.

“A man who avoids footy can only find footy.”

Hit or Miss?

football-checkerboard-ballsDo you miss it?

It’s a question that’s been put to me a number of times in the past month. Truth is, I can’t decide.

If you take the concept to mean ‘the fear of missing out’ then, no, I don’t believe I’ve closed myself off to a deep well of inspiration, joy or stimulation. The fact that I don’t know who scored what, or who’s been sacked, or where Everton are in the league, really doesn’t bother me.

I also don’t feel as if I’m missing out by no longer having to relentlessly follow the footy scores on my phone or delicately needing to engineer ways of watching Match of the Day over the weekend.

My chats in the pub or over the dinner table haven’t once been harmed by my total inability to talk about footy either. I have simply become slightly more adept at spotting the approach of footy-talk and diverting the conversation in another direction.

Yet at the same time life has definitely changed. These days I read the newspaper from front cover to back, so that I can judge when the football news is approaching by folding over the top corner of the last few pages.

I also can’t listen to the radio at any time near the hour mark and need to have my headphones primed at all times when working beside other blokes, just in case they happen to start talking about the fates of Liverpool or Southampton (in case you’re interested, Jimi Hendrix is brilliant for this).

When watching the TV news I’m essentially as jumpy as a seasoning cat and constantly sticking my fingers in my ears or thrusting my hand out to block the screen while loudly barking ‘la, la, la, la, not listening, not listening’ and pacing out of the room.

It is, frankly, ludicrous.  headphones

But here’s the rub: in recent days I have found myself increasingly drawn to the snippets of footy-related news to have defeated my radar. It’s only been a couple of very tiny stories about Rooney and Hodgson, and neither has actually contained any information. They’ve basically just been plugs for news features inside The Times and Independent.

The difference is I’ve looked. I’ve wanted to know. A few weeks ago I wouldn’t have considered this and instantly turned my head. But I looked and wanted – actually wanted – to know.

In psychological terms this can be written off as ‘compulsively trying to engage with rewarding stimuli’. Essentially, I am trying to shave the edge off my footy withdrawal with a short, safe burst of Rooney news.

If that is the case, however, then surely I must be missing footy to some degree? How else can you explain my decision to want to read about Rooney, when I’ve now clocked up a month of totally avoiding him and his ilk? The only way I can accurately describe it is to say that I don’t want to look but can’t stop myself. As the head shrinkers say, it’s a compulsion.

Or is it? I actually believe it goes far deeper.

SOCCERJOne thing I have learned from this lunacy is just how omnipresent footy is in our society. From the TV to the Internet, to advertising hoardings, the signs outside pubs and children’s clothing, there’s hardly anything that hasn’t been touched by the Premier League to some degree. Don’t believe me? Walk into a shop – any shop – and see if there’s anything footy-related on show.

Put it this way: this week I discovered that England beat San Marino 6-0, with Rooney equally Bobby Charlton’s all-time scoring record in the process. This is despite not knowing there was a game beforehand or looking at the sports news. How did I find out? Through reading a website recipe for butter-steamed Greens and quickly glancing at a sidebar.

So do I miss footy? Not on a conscious level. But subliminally, I fear there truly is no escape.

Now I need to find out why.