‘Contests with only two possible results have always been an Achilles heel for bookies.’ With some of the recent accusations about tennis matches it is easy to see why that is the case.
‘Never, ever back Ernie Els – the man’s a bottle merchant supreme.’ McGovern first said this is 1999 and believes it to this day. In June 2008 he told me, ‘Yep, I definitely stand by that Els thing. Witness the tournament towards the end of last year that he threw away.’
‘In sport an each-way bet more often than not is a wasted bet. In a contest like Wimbledon or the Open Championship I would far rather back two players on the nose than one player each-way. And straight win bets on players who do progress to the later stages often offer opportunities for hedging.’
Bookies always like to churn out special markets for the big games and in their efforts to hit the 100-market mark they can often push things in our favour. And so it happened... hidden deep among the multitude of markets from William Hill for the 2003 FA Cup Final up popped a market called ‘Massage Parlour’. Quite simply it was 9-2 for the Gunners’ Ray Parlour to be treated by the physio on the pitch at any time in the match.
Now, players always claim they never read papers – in the same way they never bet or drink! But on the morning of the game we knew, just knew, that someone in the Arsenal camp would spot our Sun headline urging Mr Parlour to hit the deck during the match. It wasn’t match fixing – just a small manipulation of a 30-second spell during the game. Nothing more. Nothing less.
‘Come on, Ray – do it for us punters,’ begged our article. And on we plunged – friends, relatives and work colleagues alike. Even my dad had a tenner and he bets in five pence stakes!
But would Ray Parlour take the bait? Would he play along? In centre midfield the feisty redhead was always likely to pick up a knock and as the game kicked off we watched intently, caring not a hoot about who won but plenty about Mr Parlour’s well-being. By half-time I was convinced we’d been done. Parlour had ridden some heavy tackles and been sent sprawling by one particular assault from a Saints muscleman. But each time he got up, dusted himself down and carried on without the need of physio Gary Lewin. Bastard!
‘Keep the faith,’ I told the many co-conspirators who rang up nervous, sweating and anxious during the halftime interval. But I didn’t really believe, either. Nearly 20 minutes of the second-half passed with Parlour calm, unflustered and dominant in midfield, riding tackles like the consummate pro he was. We’d given up on the bet. And then out of nowhere… Halle-bloody-lujah! Southampton’s Chris Marsden made partial contact with our Ray and he fell to the turf. The cameras panned away. Agony for us. Was our man hurt? Oh please. Not a broken leg or anything like that. But a little muscle strain worthy of Gary Lewin’s cold sponge. Still the cameras focused on the play. Yet suddenly as the ball went out for a throw-in there was music to our ears! Cheering inside the Millennium Stadium. I kid you not. Cheering. And why? Because that oh-so-wonderful Mr Lewin was sprinting onto the pitch to tend the even-more-wonderful Mr Parlour now laying prone. Oh, Ray. Oh, Gary. You beauties! The phone went ballistic – everyone texting or ringing with the same message: ‘Did you hear it? The cheering. The sponge. The dosh.’ We jumped around the living room, already planning a heavy night of celebration. Years on, we still have the 30-inch widescreen TV and top-of-the-range music system we bought on the back of that Cup Final bet. The kids call the TV ‘Uncle Ray’.
I’ll never know if Mr Parlour ever did read that article but the memory of that cheering still brings on a warm glow and proves that hundreds of other people certainly did read it. And bet it too. So, at last, I’ve found out just who was to blame for what we regarded at the time as a slightly unusual gamble which came off. I must admit that bookies can, just occasionally, let their guard down and provide punters with an almost potentially self-fulfilling betting proposition. And we did it again only recently when offering 100/1 about Craig Bellamy, then at Liverpool, scoring a Champions League goal and then celebrating by mimicking the action of swinging a golf club – having been disciplined by his club after a notorious incident involving both a golf club and team-mate John Arne Riesse. Sure enough, there was an old-fashioned gamble on the bet: Bellamy scored, Bellamy waved around an imaginary golf-club, and we were well and truly teed off!

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