Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Under the disguise of fixing lobbying, this Bill will crush democratic protest (Independent)

There is no question that British democracy is at the mercy of wealthy and corporate interests, but the Lobbying Bill takes aim at our hard-won freedoms instead, writes Owen Jones.

2. Our Westminster elite isn't up to dealing with Syria's crisis (Guardian)

Britain may no longer have a political establishment that can credibly speak to the public about the gravest affairs of state, writes John Harris.

3. Obama risks more than his credibility (Financial Times)

The US president may be getting into a game he cannot control, writes Edward Luce.

4. What the bully boys of broadcasting today could learn from Frost (Daily Mail)

David's hallmark characteristic was his affability and niceness, writes Melanie Phillips. And it was this good-natured quality that encouraged people to drop their guard.

5. Once Washington made the Middle East tremble – now no one there takes it seriously (Independent)

Our present leaders are paying the price for the dishonesty of Bush and Blair, says Robert Fisk.

6. The delayed attack on Syria is good for Britain – and the PM (Daily Telegraph)

By postponing military action, MPs did the right thing – and paid tribute to David Cameron, says Boris Johnson. 

7. How to end the silly season (Guardian)

MPs can save us from the media monster eating itself – by cutting short their long holidays, says Helen Lewis.

8. Lessons for Greece from derelict Detroit (Financial Times)

The US city symbolises modern industrial decline, writes Wolfgang Münchau. There is no reason to think it could not happen elsewhere.

9. Our reputation is in your hands, Mr Miliband (Times)

As Barack Obama awaits Congress’s vote on Syria there is one man who could restore Britain’s status as a key ally, writes Malcolm Rifkind.

10. Calling in SNP’s best communicator is sign of panic in 'Yes’ camp (Daily Telegraph)

The separatists’ campaign is coming apart and Kevin Pringle is not a miracle worker, writes Alan Cochrane.

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