I'll tell you why Manchester lost Every one's a winner

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My name is M. I am a gambler. I am a compulsive gambler. I suffer from a very rare form of compulsive gambling. I get an irresistible urge to rush out and place a bet about every 18 months, after which the urge to gamble leaves me completely for another year and a half, especially if I win.

The last time I placed a bet was two days ago, on Saturday morning, when I went down to the betting shop to put some money on the Cup Final. Now I won't be doing it again until 1996 or 1997.

The first serious bet I can remember placing was about 20 years ago, when I was taken to Epsom on Derby Day. (Is that right? Epsom? The Derby? Or is it Ascot? You see how little I know ...)

I don't think I had ever been to a race meeting before. This wasn't because my family was puritan so much as because I grew up in north Wales, where there aren't many places flat enough to get horses to run side by side for any distance. All I can remember about horse-racing as a child is being taken to a point-to-point at Bangor-on-Dee, and all I can remember about that is that it was very cold and the picnic was not good enough to make up for the boredom.

So it was an inexperienced racegoer that turned up that day for the Derby. So inexperienced that when I staggered into the green expanse of Epsom, and was approached by an old man saying :``Like to know the name of the winner of the first race?" I didn't have the wit to say ``No''.

``I most certainly would, elderly gent," I said, or kindly words to that effect. He waved an envelope at me.

``Buy this for a fiver," he said, ``and you will find the name of the winner of the first race inside.''

I didn't ask any of the obvious questions, like: ``If you know the name of the winner why are you wasting time selling it for pounds 5 when you could be backing it?'' I simply bought the envelope and opened it.

Inside there was a slip of paper telling me that Duke Ellington would win the first race. This seemed promising, if unlikely. I found it hard to believe that there really was a horse named after one of my favourite musicians, but sure enough, there he was, on the card, so like an idiot I went and put pounds 10 or pounds 15 on him...

You've probably guessed the rest of the story. Duke Ellington cantered home first, and I won about pounds 50. I went looking for the old man to find out who would win the second race. He had vanished. Without his help I didn't really feel qualified to bet, and still had most of the pounds 50 in my pocket at the end of the day.

After that I started my regular gambling in earnest. About once every two years I would suddenly get an overwhelming flash of insight that a horse was going to win a race. Occasionally I would go out and back it and almost always it would win.

(I can remember once getting this urge while driving through Cheltenham, and, much to my wife's amazement, stopping at a William Hill shop to place a bet. The horse came first. I presented the betting slip later at my local William Hill in Notting Hill and asked for my winnings.

``Which branch of William Hill in Cheltenham did you place your bet at?", they asked. I had no idea.

``Do you know how many branches of William Hill there are in Cheltenham?" they asked, aggrieved, and spent an hour phoning round before handing the money over. Strange business, this betting.)

Anyway, on Saturday I suddenly had a presentiment that Everton were going to win. I wanted Everton to win as well, because I wanted Manchester United to lose. I wanted United to lose because United had knocked my home team, Wrexham, out of the Cup, and I couldn't forgive them for that. But this was different from wanting Everton to win - I just knew that they were going to win, so I went to the local betting shop and said I wanted to put pounds 10 on Everton.

``Waste of money, at the odds they're offering," said one girl.

``I thought I told you not to discourage big-spending customers," said another girl, and they both burst into shrieks of laughter. But they took my money, and Everton

duly won, and all the pundits on TV couldn't explain why Manchester lost, and I could have told them. Because I had money on Everton.

STOP PRESS: I've just realised that my team Wrexham are fighting out the Welsh Cup Final as I write, on Sunday. I'd like to rush out and put a bet on them to help them win, but I'm not due to bet again till the end of 1996 now. Sorry, Wrexham.