Freddie Williams: Bookmaker of amazing boldness

Freddie Williams was the buccaneering bookmaker who left onlookers amazed by an incredible boldness that, at the end of one remarkable day at the races, had cost him £1m. He attained celebrity status as the immovable object that met the irresistible force of J.P. McManus, the singularly audacious punter whose huge wagers during the Cheltenham National Hunt Festival each March are one of horse-racing's constants.

Their personal conflict might have bankrupted lesser players, yet relations were always cordial amid McManus's six-figure investments. Such Corinthian spirit, made easier by each man's wealth, captivated many who followed the betting moves at the leading racing and greyhound meetings, and made Williams a hugely popular and high-profile bookmaker.

Williams's most bruising encounter with McManus came on a day he would never forget, as it was to end in terror. It began at the Cheltenham Festival on 16 March 2006. McManus had struck a £100,000 bet to win £600,000 on Reveillez, who won, then followed up with £5,000 each way on Kadoun, another of his horses, at 50-1. When Kadoun won, in the last race of the day, Williams owed McManus more than £1m. As if that were that not bad enough, on driving away from the course in his Jaguar with his daughter Julie and her boyfriend, Andrew, Williams was ambushed by an armed gang. Though the three escaped physically unscathed, the ordeal shook them badly. The assailants were said to have made off with £70,000.

It had long been Williams's ambition to be a bookmaker at Cheltenham. Born in the coal-mining heartland of Cumnock, South Ayrshire, he developed an aptitude for laying odds at a young age, watching the miners playing endless games of pitch and toss. "There was nothing to do then but work and gamble," recalled Williams, whose grandfather and father had both gone down the pit. Freddie's first role model was his great-grandfather. When a pit accident robbed him of an arm, cut off in an accident, he recovered to set up in business as a coal merchant.

Freddie was bedridden as a child and missed out on pit life after failing a medical as a result of polio. He swept floors in the local Curries of Auchinleck lemonade factory, and acted as a bookie's runner before graduating to lay his own odds in a small way at Auchinleck greyhound track.

Though his schooling was interrupted and his education compromised, Freddie Williams had an aptitude that allowed him to rise to manager at the lemonade plant. A buy-out among staff increased his involvement, and later he took over the business. In 1991 he sold his stake and four years later opened the alcopop manufacturer Caledonian Bottlers, which boasted a state-of-the-art factory employing 50 full-time staff, and used natural Scottish spring water.

Williams maintained, however, that bookmaking, not bottling, was his livelihood. He had established a bookmaker's pitch at Ayr racecourse in 1974, where he became known as a daredevil, and then put his name down for a coveted spot at Cheltenham. But the "dead man's shoes" system of bookmaker pitch transfer was a source of great frustration, and Williams languished on the waiting list for 20 years. In one interview, he said: "I started off at 120 on the list and by the 1990s I was at number 40. It was never going to happen, but then the rules changed and you could buy a pitch. I was the first to buy one. I thought, 'Here I am! I'm not just here for a day out – I'm taking on the biggest hitters in the game.' "

So it was that on 1 January 1999, Williams arrived for Cheltenham's traditional New Year's Day meeting. McManus tested his nerve immediately, placing £90,000 on the Queen Mother's runner Buckside. The 2-1 favourite led at the last fence, but faded into second place. Seven weeks earlier, Williams had undergone a quadruple heart bypass.

He never looked back. In March 1999 he took on McManus and other big hitters over the three days of the National Hunt Festival. He clearly loved the cut and thrust, never flinching no matter how high the stakes. "Fearless" Freddie was soon in his pomp, making appearances on Channel 4 racing where he shared his love of the betting ring, and the game of wits, bravado and instinct he waged with customers, who ranged from heavy hitters to £2 punters at Glasgow's Shawfield greyhound track.

Shannon Gale marked the start of battle royal with McManus. Williams accepted a bet of £100,000 each way on the 7-1 chance. Honours were shared when the horse ran fourth, ensuring an each-way payout of £175,000 rather than the £875,000 had it won.

Williams enjoyed studying his clients as much as the horses, seeking give-away signs of confidence or uncertainty. He stood at other racecourses and at greyhound tracks, and owned a string of racehorses. In 2004 he bought the 78 St Vincent Street restaurant in Glasgow, installing his daughter Julie as manager, it was said to stop her following him into the betting game. When his marriage broke down in 2006, it was reported that a £1m divorce settlement had been agreed.

Williams worked until he dropped, suffering a heart attack after a day spent working at Ayr races and an evening working at Shawfield. His philosophy was summed up in the view that the final race each day did not mean an end to the winning or the losing. "There is no last race," he would often say.

Tony Smurthwaite

Frederick Sidney Williams, soft-drink manufacturer and bookmaker: born Cumnock, Ayrshire 28 October 1942; married Sheila Edwards (two daughters; marriage dissolved 2006); died Cumnock 21 June 2008.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face
books
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv'The Last Kingdom' is based on historical events
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
filmSir Ian McKellen will play retired detective in new film
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
'Molecular Man +1+1+1' by Jonathan Borofsky at Yorkshire Sculpture park
tv
News
Glamour magazine hosts a yoga class with Yogalosophy author Mandy Ingber on June 10, 2013 in New York City.
newsFather Padraig O'Baoill said the exercise was 'unsavoury' in a weekly parish newsletter
Extras
indybest
News
people'She is unstoppable', says Jean Paul Gaultier at Paris show
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Trainee Recruitment Consultants For Multiple UK Offices

£18000 - £25000 per annum + DOE, OTE £40000: SThree: LONDON - BRISTOL - DUBLIN...

Embedded Software Engineer - Process Coordinator

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare, Bonus, Holiday : Progressive ...

Subject Leader of ICT & Computing

£21588 - £36756 per annum + negotiable: Randstad Education Chelmsford: ICT/Com...

C# Senior Web developer (C#, VBA, Strong Education,C++, JAVA)

£40000 - £80000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Senio...

Day In a Page

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
10 best girls' summer dresses

Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil