The football pools were a major part of sports betting in the 20th century and became ingrained as a British institution for decades. Players were given the chance to predict results and dream of life-changing amounts of money at a time when such large prizes were not as widely available as they are today via lotteries and other competitions.
Originally run by Littlewoods when it was founded in 1923, the football pools were extremely cheap to enter and only played once a week, making it a wildly popular game that appealed to low-level gamblers. Viv Nicholson famously vowed to ‘spend, spend, spend’ when she and her husband scooped more than £152,000 in 1961 and remained in the public eye for years.
A number of different games were launched as time went by and the most successful was the Treble Chance, which is now known as ‘Classic Pools’. This involved selecting 10, 11 or 12 football matches from the coming week’s fixture list - usually all Saturday matches in the main English and Scottish leagues - which players predicted would finish as score draws.
The scoring system consisted of three points for a score draw, i.e 1-1, 2-2, 3-3 etc, and two points for no-score draws, also known as goalless draws where a match would finish 0-0. One point would be scored for all matches which resulted in a win to either side, and the top eight matches would be counted out of the ten, 11 or 12 selections.
A score of 24 was therefore the maximum anyone could score, and the game would be played by marking boxes on a coupon, which could then be sent off in the post. A Pools Panel would also adjudicate on any matches which did not go ahead for any reason, such as a postponement due to bad weather, with a group of experts deciding whether the match should be classed as a score draw, no-score draw, home win or away win.
The football pools are no longer played as regularly due to the rise in other types of sports betting as well as the ever-increasing popularity of lottery games, but it can still be found online and was so big in its heyday that many traditionalists still love to play, while for others it offers a refreshing alternative to more modern forms of gambling.
Sportech PLC now runs the football pools and provides the classic game as well as other popular variations, such as Jackpot 12, Premier 10 and Soccer 6, where players just have to predict whether specified matches will end in a home win, away win or a draw. There is also a fresh take on the classic Spot the Ball competition, where a football has been removed from a photograph and players must indicate where they think it is on a grid.
Over £1.3 billion has been raised for sports, the arts and good causes in the history of the football pools and although the game may now operate in a niche market, the fact that it is still going nearly a century since it was introduced proves its enduring appeal.
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