Highbury exit does not surprise bookies

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The Independent Online
For most football fans, Bruce Rioch's departure from Highbury came as a complete surprise, but at the offices of William Hill, it was the announcement the bookmakers had been anticipating for 48 hours.

At the start of each football season, Hills quote odds on what has come to be known as the "sack race": which of the Premiership managers will no longer be in charge of their club the following May. Their initial price about Rioch losing his job was 7-1, which, given the volatile nature of football management, implied that he was one of the more secure managers in the Premiership. He had, after all, finally signed a contract only the previous month.

Throughout last week, though, punters' money begged to differ, and a string of bets forced Hills to cut their odds to 3-1. By Saturday morning, the bookmakers started to suspect that the ink was already dry on Rioch's P45, and that perhaps some backers knew they were betting on a certainty.

"We had had a few nibbles at 7-1, including one bet of pounds 100," Graham Sharpe, Hill's spokes-man, said yesterday, "so we thought we'd go 3-1 to be on the safe side, but on Saturday morning, people started wanting pounds 1,000 bets. One request was from a credit punter who has never had a bet bigger than pounds 80 with us in his life, and people went into shops in Swiss Cottage and Olympia at identical times asking for pounds 1,000 on Rioch to go. Someone else had pounds 200 at 2-1 and another pounds 600 at 7-4."

The four-figure stakes were declined - "people don't ask for bets like that unless they think they know something we don't," Sharpe said - and within the hour, Hills had closed the book altogether, an action which implied the question was no longer if Rioch was to leave Highbury, but when.

These well-informed backers - and, no doubt, many others who simply felt that the original 7-1 was too big a price - did not have long to wait for their pay-out. The only consolation for William Hill, left pounds 10,000 poorer by the episode, is that if every requested bet had been accepted, the liability would have been 10 times bigger.