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Almanack: Pools panel draw a veil

THE Pools Panel are obliged to 'sit' in order to decide the result of all postponed matches on the coupons. Last Saturday, for instance, they spent most of the afternoon predicting the likely outcome of Knowsley v Matlock in the Northern Premier League. Hardly a back- breaking day's work.

Who are the Pools Panel? Where do they meet? Can anyone join? Almanack investigated. The Pools Panel was set up by the Pool Promoters' Association during the harsh winter of 1963. The panel meet in the Park Lane Hilton in London. They comprise Lord Peston (chairman), an economist and keen Arsenal fan; Arthur Ellis (vice-chairman), the eminent ex-referee; Roger Hunt (Liverpool and England); Tony Green (Albion Rovers, Blackpool and Newcastle); Ronnie Simpson (Newcastle, Celtic, Hibernian and Scotland); and Gordon Banks (Stoke, Leicester and England).

Every Saturday from the first in November to the last in April, the panel assemble at the hotel (conference rooms: pounds 175- pounds 395). They are primed with relevant form information, and locked away in a room before the kick-off of the matches that have survived the weather. No one else is allowed in the room with them. They are released after the half-time whistle has blown in the surviving matches, and their deliberations are faxed and telephoned to the BBC, ITV and the Press Association before the results of any real games are known. Panel members are paid, but a PPA official firmly but politely declined to say how much. Appointments to the panel and - by implication - the ending of such appointments are at the discretion of the PPA.

Enquiries at the Park Lane Hilton into the eating and imbibing habits of the panel during their meetings drew an equally firm response. 'Unfortunately I can't give any information out,' a Hilton spokesman said, 'because it is quite a secret thing.' Not even what flavour sandwiches they like? 'No. I can't say a thing.'

But the hotel's call-waiting system had already revealed all. 'In the balmy atmosphere of the South Seas,' a sultry female voice purred, 'explore the unique aroma from our Chinese smoke ovens and the flavours of exotic food and colourful cocktails.' So now we know.