Wednesday, 6 August 2008

The Pools

My Grandfather was a believer in the saying that children should be seen and not heard, especially at mealtimes. By contrast, Mum and Dad had a more relaxed attitude to mealtimes and used them as an opportunity for us to share our news. There was however one time of the week where speaking was definitely not encouraged – during the reading out of the football results as Dad made notes to see if he’d got those eight score draws that would make him rich.

Several different companies such as Littlewoods, Vernons, Zetters and Brittens organised the pools, the most famous of which was historically known as Treble Chance. Littlewoods football pools was founded in 1923 by Sir John Moores, Vernons in 1925, Zetters in 1933, and Brittens in 1946. By the 1930s, playing The Pools was a national pastime with millions soon taking part. Competitors were given a list of football matches set to take place over the coming week, and attempted to pick a line of eight of them whose results would be worth most points by the scoring scheme, traditionally by crossing specific boxes on a printed coupon. A proportion of the players' combined entry fees was distributed among the competitors whose entries were worth the highest scores. In its heyday over a third of the population played every week with dreams of financial gain hinging on those Saturday teatime football results. The original Millionaire Maker, the Football Pools has literally given billions to millions.

The coupons would be distributed and collected each week by an agent or they could be posted direct. Dad used an agent most of the time and always played Littlewoods Pools as they were reckoned top pay out more. Originally Dad would listen to the results on the radio but then, latterly, on TV. The BBC television programme Grandstand used to broadcast the winning match numbers and any Pools Panel verdicts as part of its "Final Score" segment in the late afternoon. Remarkably, only two people have so far announced the classified football results on the programme since its inception in 1958 - Len Martin until his death in 1995 and, since then, Tim Gudgin. Pools news was also given out on the BBC radio programme Sports Report until May 2007.

One of the most notorious and well remembered characters associated with the Pools was Viv Nicholson - the Castleford miner's wife who vowed to "spend, spend, spend" after her husband Keith scooped the Littlewoods jackpot in 1961. And spend she did, blowing almost half their £152,000 fortune (£2.2 million by today's standards) in just four years on all-night partying, new hairdos, cars and clothes!

On 26 January 1963, the panel of former players and referees provided expert opinion on 52 of the 55 postponed games that week.The panel continues to sit every week with World Cup winners Gordon Banks and Roger Hunt and Scotland international Tony Green making the decisions that could make someone a fortune. As the business developed so did the games and in 1973 Spot the Ball launched as a weekly game, quickly becoming another favourite of the British public.

In 1994, Littlewoods Football Pools became the first company to sponsor the FA Cup competition. This followed the company's sponsorship of the League Cup which began in 1986.

The biggest ever pools winners had to wait 10 days to get their hands on the money because the head of the syndicate was on holiday on the Costa Blanca and refused to come home early! Terry Wilson was on holiday with fellow syndicate members Brian and Doreen Froggat when news of the record-breaking win of £2,924,622 came through. It was left to Harold Hampson, syndicate member and former landlord of the Yew Tree Inn in Worsley, Greater Manchester, to break the news to his fellow winners.

Harold said, "I was doing a bit of gardening when one of the syndicate members arrived with Stan Roberts from Littlewoods. He told me that we'd have to wait for confirmation of the win and we spent a nervous couple of hours - and the best part of a bottle of whiskey - waiting for the call. How do you describe that feeling of finding out you've won the pools - you just can't.

The Pools record was set in November 1994 on the same weekend of the first-ever National Lottery. In recent years the Lottery, or Lotto as it is now called, has taken over as the quick way to become a millionaire. The Pools went quickly into decline. Littlewoods Football Pools launched its own Lotto game in 2001 - now played by over 80,000. But now the New Football Pools have been launched.

The New Football Pools, owned and operated by Sportech PLC, brings together the UK's three biggest football pools companies - Littlewoods, Vernons and Zetters for the very first time. The New Football Pools continues to support and develop sportsand good causes in the UK through grants awarded by its Football Pools Trust. Over its 85-year history, The Pools has contributed over £1.1 billion to football, other sports, the arts and good causes.

The New Football Pools can be played on-line and a wide variety of games are available – including the Classic Pools which could net a lucky winner (with 8 high-scoring score draws) jackpot of £2.5m.

Want to play? Visit -


dan said...

do you have any information regarding who & when set up the Empire Pools and when it ceased

Scriptor Senex said...

No, sorry. Don't know about Empire Pools and haven't been able to find it on Google.