Danger of gambling with a career

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The Independent Online
In addition to listening to expositions of theory and practice, the routine for young footballers once included an introduction to the thrill of betting. It was something that my father, himself an old pro, warned against. "Join the union," he sai d, "and stay away from the gamblers."

This, and the pecuniary evident in some of my team-mates ensured that it was a while before I succumbed to the temptation. Instead, I stuck with the more serious types - you may think it surprising, but every club has them - who seldom took a drink and were considered to be good family men. The metamorphosis was gradual.

Since a time that memory recreates as being one of comparative innocence, I have come across any number of sportsmen who are the poorer for failing to observe that bookmakers dress the best and work the least.

This a foible common to all walks of life, not least journalism, but there is often widespread shock when it results in sportsmen coming up against the sort of financial predicament that brought about Peter Shilton's suspension from his post as manager of Plymouth Argyle yesterday.

Some years ago, on an England tour of South America, we fell out. The details are unimportant, but as I recall, there was fault on both sides. The next day, Shilton generously offered a hand in friendship. The basis for reconciliation seemed to be that we both liked a bet, although his were considerably larger than mine.

On a personal note, that is not the basis of relationships formed with some footballers, but it helped cement them. The irresistible thing to say is that I find risk-takers appealing.

The former Rangers and Scotland half-back, Jim Baxter, could once be heard speaking with uncharacteristic reverence about his countryman, Dave Mackay, who many understandably believe to be the most influential player in Tottenham Hotspur's history.

What Baxter remarked on was Mackay's daring. "The Marquis [Mackay's nickname in the Scotland team] would bet you to death. Whatever you attempted in training, or just hanging around the place, he'd bet himself to do better."

The great Celtic manager, Jock Stein, never took a drink in his sadly foreshortened life, but on and off the field, gambling came naturally to him. one manager had the "blower" - a method by which racecourse commentaries were relayed to betting shops - connected to his office.

A coach of considerable distinction was "warned off" after failing to settle a monumental bet. Two players were involved in an outrageous scam that involved large on-course betting by an Indian stallholder plucked from Petticoat Lane and passed off as a prince.

Going back a bit in time, a telephone was removed from the home dressing-room at Arsenal, following the discovery that bets on horses were being placed immediately before the kick-off.

When one of the club's finest players and later captain, the Scottish international, Jimmy Logie, went missing just 20 minutes before the 1950 FA Cup final against Liverpool, it was discovered that he had crept out to learn the result of a dog race.

The marvellous Australian all-rounder, Keith Miller, was more likely to consult the racing calendar than the tour itinerary. When bowling against England at Lords, information on a bet reached Miller by signal from the players' balcony.

"Gather it lost," Len Hutton said sardonically, after a ferocious bumper had whistled past his head. "Too bloody right it did," Miller replied.

In the years of sad decline, when he was grateful to be employed as a casino "greeter" at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, it was put to Joe Louis that he would have grown exceedingly rich as a heavyweight in the modern era. "Just bigger bets," he said phi l osophically. "Just bigger bets."

From experience, there are any number of people in sport who would find it easier to fill in their tax returns than make out a betting slip. The remainder have my sympathy.