Archie Bland on World Cup 2014: USA v Ghana was good...

...but nothing like getting one over my mates by predicting the score

As I leaned forward on the sofa and took a jittery gulp of my beer at a quarter to one yesterday morning, I thought to myself: I hate those ads for bookmakers. You know the ones: there’s been a glut of them in recent years and they’re always the same. There’s a charismatic uncle type, Cockney or comically foreign, to represent the bookie, and a group of lively young men who’ve wandered in from a WKD Blue campaign being filmed next door, having a hell of a time as they piss away their paycheques on correct half-time score accas. The troubling decision to go long on the number of corners with an impulsive £20 is made to feel implausibly heroic.

Just in time for the World Cup, there’s another new one, featuring a set of likely lads who have each been assigned their own reductive betting persona: The Professor, Mr Brightside, Gut Truster, and so on. Gut Truster, in particular, is obviously a man with a problem, but treated like a role model: “You don’t choose the bet, mate,” he tells the camera confidentially. “The bet chooses you.” As they swagger down the street arm in arm, boozy Reservoir Dogs in Ben Sherman, the slogan appears: “This is the Ladbrokes life.” The grimmest thing about it: this is the glamorised version.

All of this gives me the creeps, and while I stick the occasional optimistic tenner on a longshot first goalscorer, I’ve never thought of myself as a gambler. So why the racing heart? Why the bug-eyed attention to USA v Ghana, a match about which I cared little, when I was only about six hours away from getting up? The answer, I’m slightly embarrassed to say, is this: I had backed 2-1 to the USA, and they were knocking on the door. Then, in the 86th minute, the debutant substitute John Brooks connected with a corner, sending a sharp header into the ground and up and out of the goalkeeper’s reach. He went berserk. I pumped my fist more vigorously than I would like to admit, and grunted “Come on!” Then I worried that I might wake my girlfriend, and put a lid on it.

This isn’t the Ladbrokes life, though. This is something a bit different. My friend Tom is part of a group of old mates who mark major football tournaments with the well-named Julian Rimet Prediction League, run through a fairly snazzy website knocked up by one of the more technologically adept members. They were looking for extra participants – I suspect mostly to bolster the pot – and so I paid my £20 and signed up. And somehow, by the wholly unsporting mechanic of not predicting a single draw and backing the probable favourite in every case, I found myself top of the league. I know we’re not a week into the tournament yet. I know, as Mark Lawrenson might sagely point out, that there’s a lot of football to be played. But when young John Brooks rose like a lovely Yankee salmon, matching the scoreline to my prediction exactly, I was forced to admit: I want to win. I haven’t gone through my guesses again with a correct-score odds predictor on hand, but it may only be a matter of time.

I feel like a bit of a tosser, to be honest: Tom aside, I don’t really know any of these people, and here I am, jovially weighing in on the round-robin emails with mediocre World-Cuppy one-liners – Gut Truster gone circular. If, by some miracle, I do cling on to a spot in the money, I’ll feel like I’ve pulled a fast one.

Still, as I write this, I’m all too aware that I’ve only got 15 minutes before the next set of predictions get locked down, and I find myself wanting to just have one more check.

In the ordinary run of things, I would never get into something like this. Every time I’ve tried Fantasy Football I’ve given up after about six weeks, around the first time that I forget to make my substitutions and leave my cheap relegation-fodder centre-back in the starting XI for the game against the league leaders.

But the World Cup is delightfully different. It’s not just the Julian Rimet: I’m also participating in three office-based contests. There’s a vanilla sweepstake, and another with booby prizes for best celebrations and worst overall performances. Then there’s the sports desk’s deliriously complex version, which requires your prediction of every result, top scorer, total goals scored, and, I believe, the number of times Gabriel Clarke will give himself a mental high-five for the penetrating psychological acuity of the way he has phrased his question about the starting line-up.

I suppose this is all a waste of money – £35 altogether, and £10 of it on my crushingly disappointing picks for the sweepstake, Algeria and Switzerland. And I am, to be honest, pretty certain I’m not going to win any of them: the Julian Rimet, I fear, is a cruel mistress, and I will shortly be found out.

Unlike the Gut Truster and his pals, I guess I’ll be able to live with this. Normally, having a stake in contests you wouldn’t otherwise care about is a certain route to misery. But for the blissful four weeks of the World Cup, it’s something else. It’s a way of re-enforcing the fact that this isn’t the dreary, mostly-disappointing football of a wet winter Saturday, but an exuberant festival that’s already given us Van Persie, vanishing spray, and the delicious bamboozlement of Jonathan Pearce. It’s a way of getting more excited about something great, not about something crap. And so I stayed up, and got a bit too into it. It would have been more sensible to have been asleep when Jürgen’s boys put one over on the Black Stars, it’s true. But it wouldn’t have been half as much fun.

Sport
footballLIVE City face Stoke, while Warnock returns to Palace dugout
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
gadgets + techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
News
Paul McCartney backs the
people
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
News
i100
News
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone