Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Cameron shouldn’t blame our rowdy press for his own failings (Daily Telegraph)

The Prime Minister suffers because he is not very good at politics, says Benedict Brogan.

2. Why I shifted sides over Europe (Financial Times)

I have not changed my view but now appear to be on the other side of the battle lines, writes Gideon Rachman.

3. The Great Gatsby's world is every bit as unequal as Britain under the coalition (Guardian)

The wealthy in America and Britain no longer resemble the prewar elite, but appearances cannot mask how cut off they are from the rest of us, writes Aditya Chakrabortty.

4. Those aren’t loons, they’re just the over-60s (Times)

As membership dwindles, activists have less and less in common with voters, writes Rachel Sylvester. The party system needs a total rethink.

5. It feels like the right has split irrevocably (Daily Telegraph)

David Cameron's carelessness has mixed with public contempt for politicians to create a toxic brew, says Iain Martin.

6. Mervyn King's housing warning is too little, too late (Guardian)

In a British economy addicted to property inflation, the government's Help to Buy scheme threatens Fannie Mae-style disaster, writes Polly Toynbee. 

7. Tories misunderstand the last election (Financial Times)

Cameron’s estrangement from his party began with the failure of 2010, writes Janan Ganesh.

8. This is Syria's great chance for change (Guardian)

It is crucial that all sides approach June's international conference with hope as well as caution, says Jonathan Steele.

9. Who's in charge of the clattering Tory Party? (Daily Mail)

Cameron should be broadening his entourage to include hard-headed Tories with experience of the real world and the gut instincts of the British people, says a Daily Mail editorial.

10. Obama has a tricky balance to strike (Independent)

President Obama's economic record is good, but the successes of his second term risk being overshadowed by Washington's three separate "scandals", says an Independent editorial.

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