Grumpy Oldie Man Matthew Nor­man

Time’s up for gam­bling’s ‘hard man’ cheer­leader

The Oldie - - CONTENTS - matthew nor­man

One of the many things peo­ple are never ask­ing me, for rea­sons loosely linked to their in­dif­fer­ence about my opin­ions, is this. What would be your first edict if a mildly bizarre con­flu­ence of long shots in­stalled you as Bri­tain’s ab­so­lute dic­ta­tor? Un­til re­cently, since you don’t ask, it would have been to re­nounce the per­ma­nent seat on the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil and gift it to In­dia.

This re­mains an ur­gent re­quire­ment. The sooner this coun­try for­mally recog­nises its Brexit tur­bocharged corkscrew spin into global ir­rel­e­vance, the sooner it might be­gin re­cov­er­ing from the crip­pling post-im­pe­rial malaise of mis­placed ar­ro­gance.

Yet the key to ef­fec­tive dic­ta­tor­ship is the abil­ity to pri­ori­tise. You can’t take ev­ery­thing at once, as the late Führer’s in­va­sion of the Soviet Union seemed to con­firm. Tough choices must be made.

On this ba­sis, the first edict will man­date the im­pris­on­ment – with hard labour, but with­out trial or prospect of pa­role – of the ac­tor and pro­fes­sional er­satz hard man Ray Win­stone.

I would add a lit­tle light tor­ture fea­tur­ing Syr­ian in­ter­roga­tors, elec­trodes and one or two go­nads. But with po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness re­port­edly hav­ing gone mad, the neo­phyte dic­ta­tor has to be wary of civil lib­er­ties ob­jec­tions, how­ever fan­ci­ful.

The charge sheet against Win­stone has noth­ing to do with his act­ing. It’s for his role as lau­re­ate of TV gam­bling adverts that he must pay with his lib­erty.

If you watch tele­vised sport, he’s in­escapable. When­ever a foot­ball ref­eree blows for half time, or ten­nis play­ers switch ends, or one of Sky’s golf­ing mup­pets in­sists that a tour­na­ment in which some­one leads the field by 27 strokes with three holes to play is ‘com­ing nicely to the boil – so do stay with us’… When­ever a com­mer­cial break pops along, there he is, Ray Win­stone, tow­er­ing over us like Godzilla with a Kray

The Oldie as­so­ciate fan­tasy, re­mind­ing us, ‘I bet re­spon­si­bly wiv Bet365.’

Pass­ing over the moral­ity… Ac­tu­ally, let’s not. Of the myr­iad ve­nal­i­ties in­dulged by re­cent gov­ern­ments, the crud­est is per­mit­ting the ped­dling of a drug, which I and count­less like me know from ex­pe­ri­ence to be highly ad­dic­tive, for what­ever tiny pro­por­tion of its tax rev­enues the Trea­sury rakes in.

You would as morally al­low some Medel­lín side­kick of Pablo Es­co­bar to in­ter­rupt the Riga Open snooker with ‘I snort re­spon­si­bly with Gak365!’ Many en­joy the oc­ca­sional line with­out get­ting hooked, just as many have the odd bet with­out get­ting hooked. But would you want it shoved down your throat, or up your nos­tril, ev­ery time Rafael Nadal takes a ‘bath­room break’?

What in­duces the psy­chotic jags more even than the fact is the style. A mock­ney Big Brother, Win­stone’s head fills gar­gan­tuan screens as he gazes down on com­padres in the ‘army’ of pun­ters that forms the ‘largest bet­ting cahmp-an­nie in the world’. Lairy young geezers dahn the pub, in other words, whom he greets with a de­cep­tively cheery ‘Oi!’ Like him, these foot sol­diers in the Eurasian hordes of mug pun­ters ‘never sleep’. They are ‘al­ways watch­ing’ ev­ery out­post of world­wide sport as the odds con­tin­u­ously shift.

Win­stone isn’t alone. There was a time, and not so long ago, when the sup­pos­edly ge­nial Sky foot­ball pre­sen­ter Jeff Stelling was such a cud­dly fig­ure that he was en­trusted with the Richard White­ley Memo­rial Chair on Count­down.

To­day, on be­half of Sky Bet, he plugs an en­tice­ment called ‘Su­per­boost’, whereby the odds are tem­po­rar­ily hoiked. Three times, even as Peter de­nied Christ at the crow­ing of the cock, he yells the word ‘su­per’ be­fore slap­ping his hands to­gether above his head as he shrieks ‘boost’ with the fo­cused de­range­ment of one whip­ping the faith­ful into a frenzy at Nurem­berg.

Per­haps it’s a sub­con­scious re­flec­tion of an alarm­ing trend through­out the demo­cratic West that the gam­bling ads have ac­quired a fascis­tic tone. Ob­vi­ously, there is a dou­ble stan­dard in some­one openly day­dream­ing about to­tal­i­tar­ian rule com­plain­ing about that. But this is one of the lovely things about be­ing a dic­ta­tor. Who will dare call you out for hypocrisy?

Adverts for other firms, if less sin­is­ter, are barely less ir­ri­tat­ing. Bet­fair’s fea­tures im­pos­si­bly good-look­ing men, as if to im­ply that hav­ing a pony on Liver­pool at 11-8 will cir­cum­vent any need for plas­tic surgery.

In an­other, a guy in a wheel­chair looks lividly on, tune­lessly singing a cretinous lyric to the tune of Span­dau Bal­let’s Gold, as his team scores to land a bet. The sub­lim­i­nal mes­sag­ing here, I think, is that gam­bling is at least as much a solemn duty as a harm­less plea­sure.

It isn’t harm­less to those pre­dis­posed to ad­dic­tion, of course. One day, the le­galised push­ing of a dan­ger­ous drug will be one of those dark cu­riosi­ties about which more civilised fu­ture gen­er­a­tions read with hor­ri­fied dis­be­lief – at the lower end of the his­toric in­credulity scale headed by hu­man slav­ery and the mass pop­u­lar­ity of Noel Ed­monds.

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