Winning The Pools

Long before there was a National Lottery, or instant-win scratchcards, in Britain we had the Football Pools. This was a weekly gamble on the results of football matches played all over the country, and the companies involved employed door-to-door collectors.

They would come at the same time in the evening, on the same day each week. After taking your completed Pools Form and the stake money, they would hand you a new form for next week’s matches. They always wished you ‘good luck’ as they left, as it was not unknown for any lucky winner to tip their collector handsomely.

I started ‘doing the pools’ as it was known, quite late in life. I was already married, and attracted by the increase in jackpot prizes that had been widely publicised. For a modest outlay, I had the chance of winning hundreds of thousands of pounds. Considering a very nice house in Wimbledon had just cost us only £27,000, a prize approaching £500,000 was a life-changing amount.

This was no random gamble in the form of a lucky dip, or selection of numbers. It involved betting on which teams were more likely to win or draw, and whether they were playing at their home ground, or away. Not an easy job for me, as I had not been a football fan since I was eleven years old. However, I did buy newspapers, and could read about the current performance of football teams in the sports section.

In fact, the Pools was so widely played, newspapers would also supply ‘pools forecasts’ to help people filling out their pools forms, which were actually called (for some unknown reason) ‘coupons’. Big winners would often attract publicity, mostly bad, about how they had wasted their winnings. But there was a box to tick for ‘No publicity’. I always ticked that box, just in case.

My preferred option was called ‘Three Eight From Tens’. You had to pick eight score draws from ten matches played, and I played three lines of that, using different teams on each line. On Sundays, I would check in the back of my newspaper after it had been delivered, to see if any of my lines had won.

Sometimes there were small prizes, based on how many others had picked the same results, but it was the winner of the huge jackpot that we all dreamed of becoming. The only person in Britain to pick the eight score draws from just ten games.

For a long time, nothing happened. Then one day it did.

I had eight score draws on one line. I checked it at least a dozen times, and it was true. My heart was beating fast, and yet I was sure there would be some mistake. There was a number to telephone if you thought you had won, and I dialled it with trembling fingers. I used Littlewoods, the biggest of the pools companies, and I got through to a nice lady at their headquarters in Liverpool.

She checked my numbers, and confirmed that I did indeed have eight score draws, and should win a ‘substantial’ prize. I left my details, and she agreed that I had ticked ‘No Publicity’, so would be sent a cheque with my winnings. She was unable to tell me the full amount, as it was too early to have vetted any other claims.

To say I was excited would be an understatement. I telephoned some of my closest friends, and arranged to meet them at lunchtime in a south London pub. My (first) wife and I drove over there just after midday, and I told everyone the great news. I was free with the drinks, and wondering what I was going to spend that small fortune on.

We discussed buying houses for friends and relatives, exotic holidays, new cars, even giving up work and living abroad. And I was only thirty years old.

When the letter came a few days later, I could see the company name printed on the envelope, and almost ripped the cheque in my excitement to tear it open.

Despite looking at the numbers and typed figures at least fifty times, I had to face the disappointment. It was just £410. The accompanying letter informed me that it would have been £410,000, but almost 1,000 other people had also guessed the same eight score draws that week. Okay, £410 was over a month’s salary for me at the time, but it took a very long while for me to shake off the disappointment of not winning the jackpot.

In 1986, The Pools paid out its first £1,000,000 prize. By then, I had long stopped bothering to play. I reasoned I had missed my chance, and that pools numbers, like lightning, don’t strike twice in the same place.

Littlewoods is still running Footballs Pools to this day, though since the National Lottery began in 1994, hardly anyone ‘does the pools’ anymore.

59 thoughts on “Winning The Pools

  1. I use to bet on football I avoid the lottery like I avoid slot machines….rigged against me…..I apologize for I’m still cannot like any post of yours…..just to let you know that I am reading just not liking….sorry chuq

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I can only imagine your disappointment Pete, but a months salary is no small win! Every now and then I buy a lotto ticket when the pot gets enormous, like millions of other people, I’ve never won more than $20. I just like the idea of winning, not actually winning! I mean what would I do with all that money. I think it might be more of a burden than a blessing. xxoo, C

    Liked by 1 person

  3. (1) Oh, it’s Winning The Pools? I thought it was an article about Winnie the Pooh.
    (2) I’ve lived in Las Vegas for 26 years now. I once played $5 at a roulette table (and won a couple of dollars), and once put a few coins in a slot machine (but lost). That’s the extent of my gambling here in Nevada. We don’t have a lottery here, but there is one at the California border. I worked on the Nevada side of the border for a few years (the parking lot extended into both states), and co-workers would often walk across the parking lot to the lotto store to buy tickets. I never did.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I still buy a weekly lottery ticket, but that is the extent of my gambling activity. One reason why I was never attracted to visit Las Vegas is because I have no interest in gambling. 🙂
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. As someone who does our free American football pools here, I can appreciate what a letdown that must have been. I’ve won a few times but not any kind of live-changing money.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great story, Pete. I’ve bought a few lottery tickets–mostly scratch offs where the odds of winning are astronomically negative, but less astronomically negative then playing “the lottery,” worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Unlike you, I’ve never won anything close to a month’s salary, but I did win 600.00 one time. My husband bought me a hundred dollars in scratch offs as a birthday present, so we really won 500.00. Nevertheless, I was happy.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I remember my dad doing the Pools every week. He did have a modest win when I was very young – too young to remember so I don’t know if he had been expecting the jackpot and was disappointed. To be honest, I didn’t know you could still do the Pools.

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  7. I remember “the pools” from when I was a child. I never did understand it and it looked very complicated. Once in a while I have been lucky enough to win small but significant prizes. I had a colleague once who always won on the horses. We were on a training course once at the dreaded Heston Hilton, doing a weight and balance course which involved computer codes. When “Uncle Jack” as we all called him went to the off-track, he applied some of the codes to jockey and horse names and he won enough to take us to the theatre and dinner. Uncle Jack was one of those wonderful people that was always good to be around in fun times and sad. I miss him a lot. Your post reminded me of him.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad to remind you of Uncle Jack, Carolyn. I have been to a few horse-racing events during my life. I used to set myself a limit of a £5 win-only bet on each race. I rarely lost that much, but never won more than £100.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Here the state has figured out another way to make money off gambling. As on yesterday I can sit in my home and bet on sports teams and win money legitimately(as opposed to other ongoing ways to bet on sports.) I guess they finally caved on the pressure. But from whom?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The online gambling companies here are owned by huge corporations that can apply all kinds of political pressure, mostly through donations to political parties. One of the biggest, SKY BET is owned by Rupert Murdoch. Fortunately, I am not a natural gambler, so never spend more than the £2 a week on my lottery ticket.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I win a lot of the time on the National Lottery. Sadly, it is always a lucky dip for the Wednesday draw for matching two numbers, or £10 which just covers a month’s tickets. 🙂
      Best wishes, Pete. x

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Thanks for sharing this Pete…I like that the “pools” involved skill not luck. Here in the US, lottery fever is sadly part of our obsession with betting and gambling…there was once a story about a couple that won the $1-million lottery, went out and celebrated far beyond their means, only to discover the next day they had gotten all of the numbers right THE PREVIOUS WEEK, not the current one paying out. Ooops!

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    1. I do play the lottery, but only for one ticket at £2 a week. I would certainly never spend in advance until I saw the money was in my bank account. 🙂
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  10. What a disappointment for you! I once won £1700 on Bingo at our caravan park, but nothing since. We never took part in the Pools back then as we never had any spare cash. We buy a lottery ticket now every Friday and have had small wins so far.

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    1. Hard to say now mate. Three years later I was getting divorced, and moving into my shoe-box house in Surrey Docks. Sally would have been entitled to half the money anyway, but maybe that big win might have forestalled the break up? I will never know of course.
      Cheers, Keith. x

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  11. What a disappointment! Here, the football pools were the only ones in existence (apart from the official lottery) for a very long time, although there were actual places where you had to go and pick up the forms and then deliver them there as well (usually the same as the weekly lottery). My father played every week religiously, and I and my mother had to play as well with him, although neither of us understood or cared for football. We never won anything, other than sometimes the money to play again. At least it was nice to experience the excitement for a while, Pete!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Ah, the power of expectation! If she told you that you’d won a small prize you’d probably have been quite pleased.
    Doing the pools is probably fairly innocuous but nowadays gambling is quite out of hand. I’ve stood in queues for ages behind people buying a single item and then spending loads of time buying scratch cards. And don’t even get me started on the Internet; I find the ads annoying but if someone has a gambling problem it must be utterly impossible.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It is far too easy to gamble now, I agree. I do play a weekly ticket on the National Lottery, but I have never bought a scratchcard. I once worked with a guy in the ambulance service who won £1,000 on a scratchcard. He spent most of it buying more scratchcards to try to win the ‘big money prize’.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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