Play Footie5 and you could, win £25 000

Coventry Telegraph - - FRONT PAGE -

THE Foot­ball Pools of­fered peo­ple a chance to win large sums of money by pre­dict­ing the out­come of matches - and tens of thou­sands of peo­ple played ev­ery week.

Coventry win­ners in­cluded San­dra Bom­broffe, who was just 18 in Fe­bru­ary 1971 when she shared the £36,929 prize - more than £500,000 in to­day’s money - with her boss Vera Fel­lows.

Now there’s a new web­site, The Pools, which of­fers on­line games like the free to play Footie5.

But some may not have heard of the Clas­sic Pools.

Why was it so pop­u­lar, why did it stop and what did peo­ple win?

To answer these ques­tions we go back to the be­gin­ning when The Foot­ball Pools first be­gan.

The year 1923 saw the BBC be­ing given its first li­cence to broad­cast, the wed­ding of Prince Al­bert and Lady El­iz­a­beth Bowes-Lyon, and the Liquor Act mak­ing it illegal to sell al­co­hol to un­der 18s.

The Em­pire Sta­dium opened its doors at Wem­b­ley, Dixie Dean started his foot­balling ca­reer at Tran­mere, and three young en­trepreneurs from Manch­ester started a foot­ball pools from a small of­fice in Liver­pool’s Church Street.

Lit­tle­wood Foot­ball Pools, named af­ter the birth sur­name of one of that trio, got off to a shaky start, with hardly any­one ap­proached with coupons out­side foot­ball grounds be­ing keen to play.

One of the three founders was Com­mer­cial Ca­ble Com­pany em­ployee John Moores, the am­bi­tious 27-year-old son of a Lancashire brick­layer. While the new busi­ness seemed shaky, he ev­i­dently saw some­thing in it and bought out his two part­ners.

And Moores’ faith in the prod­uct was re­warded – be­cause by the end of the 1920s it had be­come a suc­cess.

The end of the decade also co­in­cided with the Wall Street Crash, and you would have ex­pected the sub­se­quent De­pres­sion to have sounded the death knell for the Pools. But in­stead, the 1930s were years in which Lit­tle­woods flour­ished.

Not only did foot­ball and ev­ery­thing sur­round­ing it – in­clud­ing hav­ing a flut­ter on the re­sults – thrive in ad­ver­sity, be­com­ing in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar, but it meant Lit­tle­woods be­came an im­por­tant em­ployer in a city hit hard by poverty and hope­less­ness.

More than 10,000 staff, most of them women, were em­ployed to run the pools op­er­a­tion, first at the com­pany site in Whitechapel, then Hood Street.

And in 1938, the im­pres­sive Art Deco Lit­tle­woods Build­ing was opened in Edge Lane.

Lit­tle­woods was one of a num­ber of Pools com­pa­nies op­er­at­ing in Bri­tain, and dur­ing World War II it joined forces with Zet­ters and fel­low Liver­pool firm Ver­nons to be­come the Unity Pools.

Mean­while the com­pany’s Edge Lane head­quar­ters were put at the dis­posal of the war ef­fort.

In Septem­ber 1939, its presses were used to print 17 mil­lion Na­tional Regis­tra­tion forms, and later the build­ing be­came a fac­tory pro­duc­ing parachutes made by the pools girls, bar­rage bal­loons and dinghies, as well as home to the gov­ern­ment’s cen­sor­ship depart­ment.

The end of the war only in­creased the ap­petite of the Bri­tish pub­lic for the Pools. Lit­tle­woods in­tro­duced the pop­u­lar Tre­ble Chance in 1946, Pools col­lec­tors in 1957, and ex­panded its op­er­a­tions with of­fices in Cardiff and Glas­gow.

It might raise a few eye­brows now, but it also started a ‘Ladies Coupon’ which proved very pop­u­lar.

The harsh win­ter of 1947 had been a chal­lenge, and that was faced again in the fa­mous win­ter of 1962/3 when week af­ter week, matches were post­poned or can­celled be­cause of the weather.

It led to the for­ma­tion of the Pools Panel, chaired by Lord Brabazon and made up of a group of ref­er­ees and for­mer play­ers like Tom Fin­ney, who met be­hind closed doors to de­cide the the­o­ret­i­cal re­sults of matches to use in the event they didn’t go ahead.

Spot the Ball started in 1973 and the com­pe­ti­tion, which had an in­tri­cate and highly-pre­cise judg­ing pro­ce­dure, could gen­er­ate some big wins. Stafford­shire win­dow sales­man Bryan Shen­ton won twice in 12 months, net­ting him £118,000 as well as a Lo­tus Elise and a hol­i­day to Las Ve­gas.

But it wasn’t just pay outs to win­ners. Lit­tle­woods also ploughed money back in to the game through char­i­ties like The Foot­ball Trust, brain­child of Ce­cil Moores and funded with other pools com­pa­nies, which worked to im­prove ground safety and crowd con­trol.

In 1994, Lit­tle­woods fi­nally closed its land­mark Edge Lane base, mov­ing op­er­a­tions fully to its site on Walton Hall Av­enue.

It was the same year a syn­di­cate of reg­u­lars at a Manch­ester pub won £2.94m, and that one of the big­gest chal­lenges to the Pools was launched - the Na­tional Lot­tery – with its weekly multi mil­lion­pound jack­pots.

De­spite the odds of win­ning be­ing much higher, the Lot­tery had a seis­mic ef­fect on the Pools.

But Lit­tle­woods fought back with a se­ries of promotions, new games and tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tions in­clud­ing go­ing on­line and, just ahead of the new mil­len­nium, the in­tro­duc­tion of the Poolscard and hand-held ter­mi­nals.

Over the com­ing weeks we will bring­ing you more mem­o­ries on The Foot­ball Pools.

How the Lit­tle­woods Pools build­ing in Edge Lane, Liver­pool, used to look. Im­age from the Na­tional Foot­ball Mu­seum

Mail bags re­ceived and checked in at the head­quar­ters of Unity Foot­ball Pools in Liver­pool, in 1939. Be­low, Keith and Vi­vian Ni­chol­son cel­e­brate their pools win.

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