Personally I hate the “International Break“ weekends. There is a very limited programme of league football as the England team go off to play a meaningless fixture against such mighty opponents as the plucky amateurs of the Pitcairn Islands or some such side.
For the last 65 years Saturday has been about football for me, and I don`t enjoy the withdrawal symptoms when it is taken away. Given the strength of the Premier League, the emergence of some real English talent and a very good manager, we should be trouncing these minor European nations. We learn very little from these games except that certain countries in Eastern Europe have a minority of fans who are racist.
But coming back to Saturdays and football, I am reminded of my grandfather who worked in Portsmouth dockyard as a shipwright and lived in a very modest terraced house in North End in Portsmouth. He did the pools as most people did in those days. At five o clock on a Saturday afternoon the whole house became silent as he crouched over his coupon with his pencil (always a pencil) in hand.
My brother and I were forbidden to speak as the music to Sports Report gently faded and the plummy voice of the guy reading the results crackled away from the large Bakalite radio. The fire flickered in the grate as we all held our breath. My grandad did not show any emotion until the results from the Scottish second division had been read after which he would gently fold up the Littlewoods coupon and put it in his pocket. We were then allowed to speak. I don`t think he ever won, but it definitely gave him some pleasure and even a little excitement. He would not have recognized doing the pools as gambling and he would certainly not recognize the gambling that is associated with football today. It has become big business, and is causing concern that children are being introduced to gambling via football. It is estimated that 370,000 children between 11 and 16 gamble on a weekly basis, much of it related to football. Half of the Premier League clubs will have their shirts sponsored by gambling companies this season, a very blatant route to influence young fans.
But it is very lucrative for those teams who will share £349 million in sponsorship from gambling. 17 of the 24 Championship clubs are also sponsored by gambling companies. It is everywhere in football. There are of course some famous examples of football personalities being involved in gambling. I recently chatted to a player who had played under Harry Redknapp`s management and he told me that Harry always had a TV in the changing room tuned to the racing, and was often more interested in the horse carrying his bet than the team about to take the field. Mick Channon and the late Alan Ball were also racing fanatics. Mick Channon has gone on to become a very successful trainer in his own right.
And of course there was the case of Wayne Shaw, playing in goal for Sutton Utd who eat a pie during the FA Cup tie against Arsenal in 2017. Unfortunately he was aware that a bookie had offered odds of 8-1 on him doing this, and the FA and Sutton Utd took a very dim view. Wayne, who was 23 stone and subject to chants from opposition fans of “who ate all the pies“, was suspended but achieved a certain notoriety which led him to being offered the job of pie taster by Morrisons the supermarket.
So gambling has its lighter side, but with an estimated 400,000 problem gamblers in the UK it should be more tightly controlled in football especially amongst children.
Notes from Hawks director Jeff Hooper.