Sporty: the life of a professional gambler (part 2)
Bet Exchange News April 2005
Recognising the potential
As a lad I had followed Celtic religiously, but my â€˜betting career’ put an end to that. However, when I sold my last betting shop I took advantage of my rediscovered freedom and started to go to football matches again. I started to pick a team, have a few quid on them and go to the match. I did this for about 18 months and by the summer of 1987 I had a very strong opinion of Scottish football and division one in particular.
In 1987 Hamilton had been relegated to Division one. I had seen all the other teams they would be playing against, and I thought they stood a great chance of shining in such company - particularly as I rated their manager John Lambie very highly. I was amazed to see that Corals went 6/1 on them, and more amazed still that they allowed me £2k at this price. Hamilton got off to a flyer and with top up bets I placed throughout the year I made an end of season profit of £18,000.
Throughout this season I started to recognise the potential in this and began to take it a lot more seriously. I had a lucky break early on when after the second game I was introduced to Hamilton captain Gerry Collins. We quickly became very good friends and he became a major influence in my betting on Scottish football.
Getting to the matches
The following year my big gamble was on Dunfermline who I backed down from 6/1. I approached this season slightly differently in that throughout the year whilst always keeping Dunfermline a winner I ensured that Falkirk and Airdrie, their nearest challengers were never losers. By now I was taking it more seriously than ever. As well as going to every Dunfermline match I also went to as many other games as I could. In those days there was very little Scottish football on the television, therefore going to all these matches gave me a huge advantage. Gerry used to travel all over the place to look at teams and players and I would tag along. We would meet players and managers and they would always get the Sporty inquisition. “what happened on Saturday, how did team x play, how do you think it will go on Saturday? Gerry and I would arrive early before the match and wait outside. Players, coaches and managers would come and chat to Gerry. I would bide my time then pounce and pick their brains!
I also started going to the pre-season friendlies. I would get there early and see if I knew anyone. I’ve always enjoyed talking and I was happy to chat to the local fans to see what I could pick up. Whilst you could get all sorts of priceless nuggets it was interesting that a team’s own fans were often their worst critics. They would rarely fancy their chances and I would end up trying to convince them they were going to win the league! We would meet up throughout the season and have a laugh - â€œI told you so â€“ you doubting Thomas!â€ I used to see some of these fans in subsequent seasons when I was â€˜supporting’ an opposing team, and we would always exchange some friendly banter and of course swop views.
By now I had got into the habit of following my money throughout the season going to every game I could and it became a huge pleasure to be there on the day that the team clinched the championship. You can imagine my joy when at the end of an incredibly close battle, the Fifers finally clinched the title on the last day of the season with a home draw bringing me a profit of £57,000.
Moving in the right circles
After this win I had a few relatively quiet years with profits accumulating at a more modest level. I did however continue to work hard at it. As well as going to as many matches and talking to as many people as possible, I used to get as many local newspapers sent to me as I could. I was never really one for studying facts and figures, but I did find reading reviews of matches that I hadn’t been to very useful. My efforts yielded some rewards but nothing spectacular, however that was all to change in the 94/95 season and the start of the new league structure which is still in place to this day in Scotland.
I always used to price up all the Scottish divisions the Sunday after the leagues had finished. This was the pre Bosman era and there were few changes in the close season so that you could price up a team’s chances at the end of one season in the safe knowledge that things would largely be the same at the start of the following season. Since 1987 Gerry had taken me as his guest to the Scottish PFA’s dinner on the Sunday night. The managers used to sit, or end up on the same table. Gerry introduced me and I would get out my price card which I had made to 108% so that it was realistic, and seek their opinions. My card caused a lot of interest and was hotly debated. As I became known people were increasingly happy to speak to me, in fact directors would seek me out. “Sporty, what chance have we got this year?” I did my best to get as many people on their own for a chat and with a few drinks inside them they were always forthcoming, giving clues about who had money to spend and who didn’t. Some even gave me their telephone number and new relationships were forged. At the end of the evening my price card would go back into my pocket, sometimes with a few minor alterations but normally unchanged. After that I kept it to myself.
The win of a lifetime
Having set my prices I waited for the bookies to announce their prices. One Saturday in June 94 I was out late and was able to pick up an early issue of the following day’s Sunday Mail. In the paper was an article based around Corals prices for the forthcoming season. Two prices leapt out of the page at me.
Division 2 Morton 6/1
Division 3 Forfar 9/2
I had both teams far shorter than this on my card, particularly Forfar. They had spent £60,000 in May, a lot of money for them, bringing in four new players. I thought they were a 7/4 chance. I lay on my bed staring at these prices in disbelief. This was the chance I had been waiting for.
I didn’t want to show my hand so I waited until all the majors came out with their prices, which they did in July. To my delight they were largely happy to go along with Coral’s prices. I then set about maximising this opportunity. I knew that as long as I kept the winnings from each bet below £500 the shop would not have to ring Head Office. Without these phone calls the Head Offices would have no way of knowing about the liabilities building up and would have no reason to reduce the price. I spent the next few days travelling around all over the place backing Forfar, Morton and the two of them in doubles. Once I had been to every bookie I could I started again! At no point did the price come down. Later when the Racing Post tipped Middlesbrough at 8/1 for the 1 st division and Carlisle at 8/1 for the third division I combined these into accumulators and trebles with Morton and Forfar.
At the end of the season when all the Forfar bets came to light Corals went potty!
All four of these teams won their respective leagues and I won an enormous sum in excess of £300k. I decided that I would never give any of this money back and spent the lot over the next six months buying a commercial property and flats most of which I still have.
Back to the norm
In 1995/6 I made £15k. After my big win it had become much more difficult. The bookies became far more cautious, pricing up the markets much later and it became very difficult for me to get on. All the shops had my description and whilst I got around this to a certain extent by taking someone round with me to get the bets on I was never particularly comfortable with this. I was also getting tired of going to all the matches, especially as I was dependent on public transport or cadging lifts, as I had never learned to drive.
1996/7 I returned to form winning £100k having backed St Johnstone at 7/2 for div 1, Ayr 10/1 for div 2 and Caley Thistle at 10/3 for Div 3. These combined into a lumpy treble did the real damage for the bookies. The last day of the season was spent at Berwick watching Ayr winning the league. I always enjoyed the winning celebrations but never really enjoyed the collecting, for me the challenge was getting the money on in the first place.
In 1997/8 I lost money and the following year I had a ten grand double come in on Hibs and Livingstone at 5/1 for some reason the Tote kept accommodating me. That was the end of my big winning streak. From then on I didn’t lose as I always made a book, but I only made pennies. By then I just felt that I really needed a break from it. Business wise I just could not afford the time so I greatly reduced my interest and pretty much stopped going to matches.
As a footnote I should tell you about the bet I didn’t want to win. In 1988 Celtic did the double, but I really felt they were about to go into decline. Every day my Securicor driver who collected the race night films and was a mad Celtic man would rave on about the Celts. To wind him up I got another friend of mine who works with Corals to get me a price on Rangers to win 9 league championships in a row equalling Celtic’s record. I had Â£50 on at 150-1 and unfortunately Rangers did it!
I have all the photocopies of all the bets up in my loft in case the Inland Revenue wished to see them. Every so often I pick out a year and what’s more I can remember all the bets and the games that season as clear as if it was yesterday.
After a period in which betting had taken a back seat I was to have a conversation with Angus Loughran the well known betting pundit and good friend of mine for many years. This conversation was to signal the start of an exciting new phase in my betting career.
“Sporty,” he said, “you really must get into Betfair.”
That wraps up the second part of my story, again I hope you have enjoyed reading it. If you ever fancy a chat you can always find me on Betfair ’s soccer forum.
Next month; Easy money followed by a rude awakening - my introduction to Betfair.