I NEVER bet on Liverpool. Not a penny departs my fingers across the bookmaker’s counter; a handshake is sheepishly rebuffed when offered by an argumentative companion; my name never appears by the ‘Liverpool’ selection on any sweepstake card.
A silly superstition you may say, a ridiculous refusal to tempt the footballing fates. But no, my refusal to seek financial gain from the fortunes of my beloved club is rooted in indisputable fact: I cost the Reds the ‘double’ in 1974. As a young student in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, I placed a small wager (which should have been spent on an economics text book) in March of that year on Liverpool winning the two coveted domestic trophies, at a combined price of 18/1. This was shortly before we were due to play Leeds United, who had remained top of the table since the start of the season, and were hot favourites to see off their only realistic challengers at Anfield the following Saturday.
Given that we were unbeaten in nine league games, taking 15 points in old money in the process, and were in the semi-finals of the FA Cup, I thought I’d teach these bookmaker Johnnies a lesson for their temerity in paying insufficient regard to the prospects of the finest team in the land retaining their league title and clinching their second Wembley triumph.
At first all went well; we beat Leeds 1-0 and followed that up with narrow wins against Wolves and QPR. Ladbrokes flew into a panic and rumours swept the city about the new ‘player’ in town, who had spotted the ridiculous odds against a seeming inevitability and bet a sizeable part of his local authority grant on its occurrence. And, of course, this particular gentleman decided to tell as many people as possible about his prospective coup, trumpeting his gambling acumen around the college bars and planning publicly what he was going to do with the money.
It was at this precise moment that the gods who protect the bookmakers’ lifestyles dispatched the seagulls of misfortune to discharge their body waste over both my and Liverpool’s lofty aspirations. Taking just seven points from the last 16 available did for our challenge, and left me to live on toast and sawdust fritters for the rest of the term. We did of course annihilate my host city’s representatives in the Cup Final, but this did not dissuade me from vowing a life of abstinence where betting on Liverpool was concerned.
I mention this now not, as you may be thinking, because I’m struggling for something to write about this week, but because last Sunday I came as near to breaking that vow as I’ve ever been since that date. The temptation to wager that Liverpool would fail to trouble the scorers in the absence of Luis Suarez was almost overwhelming. Who would step up to the plate and reverse the pattern of the last two seasons in avoiding goalkeeper, post and bar to register our second away win of the season? I just couldn’t see it.
Luckily for me – and those expecting Christmas presents – I found hidden reserves of fortitude and bypassed the betting booths and was rewarded for my abstinence with a thrilling comeback which secured all three points. Though with Johnson, Cole and Collins as the scorers, I’m sure I heard the mocking laughter of the bookmakers’ elders echoing round the stands.