Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

  1. Twitter's inadequate action over rape threats is itself an abuse (Guardian)
    Social media users should act to take back Twitter, writes Labour MP Stella Creasy.
  2. Europe ought to let its hopeless causes go bankrupt (Financial Times)
    The cure for the crisis is a dose of American-style tough love, writes Martin Sandbu
  3. I'm proud of our welfare reforms (Guardian)
    I don't apologise for trying to make the welfare state fair – it's something only this government can do, writes the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith.
  4. Mo’s breaking records, but other migrants are breaking the law (Telegraph)
    Immigrants have a lot to offer Britain, but those here illegally have no right to remain, writes Boris Johnson.
  5. Trolls, Caroline Criado-Perez, and how to tackle the dark side of Twitter (Independent)
    The site should make it easier for users to report rape and death threats, writes Owen Jones.
  6. Europe’s 'recovery’ is a conjuring trick (Telegraph)
    The eurozone has had a good year – on paper. But it is crippled by too much debt to survive intact, says Jeff Randall
  7. At last internet trolls must face the real world (Times)
    Fury over Twitter abuse of the Jane Austen banknote campaigner shows how online behaviour is having to change, writes Libby Purves.
  8. There has been no good news for Britain’s army of underemployed workers (Independent)
    The underemployment rate rose more quickly than the unemployment rate in Q1 2013, writes David Blanchflower
  9. Five ways to widen the Tory appeal and win (Times)
    Victory in 2015 is possible if the party can rediscover its popular touch with these pledges to lower-income voters, says Tim Montgomerie
  10. West needs to criticise Putin – but not support his rivals (Financial Times)
    It is not our business to pick sides in Russia’s political battles, writes Anatol Lieven.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Getty Images
Show Hide image

Is there such a thing as responsible betting?

Punters are encouraged to bet responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly.

I try not to watch the commercials between matches, or the studio discussions, or anything really, before or after, except for the match itself. And yet there is one person I never manage to escape properly – Ray Winstone. His cracked face, his mesmerising voice, his endlessly repeated spiel follow me across the room as I escape for the lav, the kitchen, the drinks cupboard.

I’m not sure which betting company he is shouting about, there are just so many of them, offering incredible odds and supposedly free bets. In the past six years, since the laws changed, TV betting adverts have increased by 600 per cent, all offering amazingly simple ways to lose money with just one tap on a smartphone.

The one I hate is the ad for BetVictor. The man who has been fronting it, appearing at windows or on roofs, who I assume is Victor, is just so slimy and horrible.

Betting firms are the ultimate football parasites, second in wealth only to kit manufacturers. They have perfected the capitalist’s art of using OPM (Other People’s Money). They’re not directly involved in football – say, in training or managing – yet they make millions off the back of its popularity. Many of the firms are based offshore in Gibraltar.

Football betting is not new. In the Fifties, my job every week at five o’clock was to sit beside my father’s bed, where he lay paralysed with MS, and write down the football results as they were read out on Sports Report. I had not to breathe, make silly remarks or guess the score. By the inflection in the announcer’s voice you could tell if it was an away win.

Earlier in the week I had filled in his Treble Chance on the Littlewoods pools. The “treble” part was because you had three chances: three points if the game you picked was a score draw, two for a goalless draw and one point for a home or away win. You chose eight games and had to reach 24 points, or as near as possible, then you were in the money.

“Not a damn sausage,” my father would say every week, once I’d marked and handed him back his predictions. He never did win a sausage.

Football pools began in the 1920s, the main ones being Littlewoods and Vernons, both based in Liverpool. They gave employment to thousands of bright young women who checked the results and sang in company choirs in their spare time. Each firm spent millions on advertising. In 1935, Littlewoods flew an aeroplane over London with a banner saying: Littlewoods Above All!

Postwar, they blossomed again, taking in £50m a year. The nation stopped at five on a Saturday to hear the scores, whether they were interested in football or not, hoping to get rich. BBC Sports Report began in 1948 with John Webster reading the results. James Alexander Gordon took over in 1974 – a voice soon familiar throughout the land.

These past few decades, football pools have been left behind, old-fashioned, low-tech, replaced by online betting using smartphones. The betting industry has totally rebooted itself. You can bet while the match is still on, trying to predict who will get the next goal, the next corner, the next throw-in. I made the last one up, but in theory you can bet instantly, on anything, at any time.

The soft sell is interesting. With the old football pools, we knew it was a remote flutter, hoping to make some money. Today the ads imply that betting on football somehow enhances the experience, adds to the enjoyment, involves you in the game itself, hence they show lads all together, drinking and laughing and putting on bets.

At the same time, punters are encouraged to do it responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly. Responsibly and respect are now two of the most meaningless words in the football language. People have been gambling, in some form, since the beginning, watching two raindrops drip down inside the cave, lying around in Roman bathhouses playing games. All they’ve done is to change the technology. You have to respect that.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war