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Good morning all,

Over the weekend I managed to rip a hole in pair of my favourite jeans, and given yesterday's racing didn't make much appeal I decided to have a wander into town to go and buy a new pair.

After finding a pair I liked, I realised it was almost time for my one bet yesterday, Oliver's Gold, to run at Cartmel so I had reason to call into the local bookmakers.

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Now, I don't go into bookies offices very much any more, so it came as a bit of a shock to find the place absolutely deserted at 3pm in the afternoon. Where have all the people gone? Those characters of yesteryear that I'm sure we all knew, whether it be on course or at the track? I recall a few that I knew on today's piece, plus today's pick from Nottingham.

Our local bookies, as a kid, was an small independant. Great little place it was, no fruit machines, Extel service (when I first started going in). I remember the shock we all felt when the owner actually put a coffee machine in, that was about as far as he was willing to go where technology was concerned. You paid at the counter for it, and the number of times you heard him say “has he paid for that tea?” from behind the counter would be in the dozens most days. He hated giving stuff away, and was very careful with his money.

Harry would come in most Mondays and Tuesdays after work. Used to back a lot of favourites, expecting every one of them to win. When they didn't, he'd be off into one of his tirades. “Twisting b*stards, twisting bloody swine” he'd mutter over and over again, waiting for someone to join in and share his point of view. Unless you were a stranger, you never did, as you knew it'd take you another half-hour to shake him off….

George used to come in most days. He never had much money, and it would usually be a series of 2p doubles and trebles. I remember the day he hit 7 winners out of his 8 selections, and drew over £80. He thought he'd won the lottery, bless him. Didn't take him that long to drink through the proceeds, however, and he was soon back to borrowing a quid which “I'll pay you on Thursday” he always said. You were lucky if he did.

Frankie was a lovely bloke that came in late afternoon for a bet most days. Another one that liked a favourite, you'd often hear him exclaim “I was going to back that, but I thought the price was too big.” Yep, anything bigger than 3-1 and Frankie would have it down as a non-trier. Always a laugh and a joke with him though, so you were happy for him when he won.

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And then there was my mate Ron. Ron, on the other hand, loved a big price. He'd usually back two in a race, both e/w, usually never less than 16-1. Big handicaps were his thing, he loved those. And when you got to October he'd start looking for horses that hadn't won all year, and start backing those. “Gotta pay for the corn, Dave”, he'd tell me, seemingly blissfully unaware of what horses actually ate. I worked with Ron for quite a while, and we'd often have a Lucky 15 between us at lunchtime. Then listen as the results came in – back in the day, they actually used to give the results out hourly on the radio – before the post-mortem into where it all went wrong….

I'll do some more of these tomorrow from the bookmakers I've worked in over time. Could write a book on them!

Today, I'm going with Mordoree in the 8.20 at Nottingham tonight, a meeting I'm attending. He's been mentioned before as one that's been on trackers for quite a while – I saw him as a 2-y-o and he always looked the type to win a race or two at three once handicapped, and he looks on the verge of winning one now. Hopefully it will be tonight, as conditions look fine, and Nottingham's long straight should give him plenty of time to wind up.

Good luck with all your bets today,


8 thoughts on “Characters”

  1. Ah.. yes hard to imagine today Radio 2 (pre 5 live days) having all the racing results on the hour. Aye all the characters, the extel blower, the board man..all long gone never to return.

    As for deserted betting shops as an example from my own city. When I started betting in the 80s there were 5 shops in the city centre now there are 12+ In the suburb where I now live there was one high street bookmaker shop and one indy. Today no indy left and four chain shops. No surprise a small pool of punters shared around more shops with the new altar being the FOBT’s. Add in younger people betting on mobile and tablets and the shops are just there for the slots.

  2. Why not write that book .you have a good writing style .
    Mike pannett a jobbing copper , made a few bob out of his stories .
    You could too .

  3. Great trip down memory lane David…my experience is much the same over in the north west too, all the mod cons in the bookies palaces available but nobody around to take them up…except for one or two who seem to have come already ‘plugged in’ into those infernal machines… there’s all the coffee you could wish for as much info on each race with proper pens to write out the selection onto crisp white paper slips…no pencils or Izal toilet paper in sight, no ‘speaker’ in the corner telling you it’s misty at ‘Bath’ or that your selection didn’t actually win the last race, due to the ‘caller’ having concentrated on what he could see rather than what was actually happening ..Nope, my experience is that the characters great or small have long left the plush new shops and that their days are pretty much numbered…the sense of ‘community’ seems to have slowly evaporated…or at least transferred itself over to ‘online’ groups…more’s the pity!

  4. A big problem is the appalling customer service in a lot of the larger shop chains ,whereby many of the better staff have left and their replacements are 80% + disinterested and try to do as little work as possible,being irritated if a customer wants to place a bet while they are busy on their phones organising their social life;
    If you put that together with often volume not being very loud and the infernal irritating bleeping from those moronic FOBT, being played by accompanying unpleasant characters generally, most betting shops are not very good places to watch racing these days.
    There are a few honourable exceptions however ,although annoyingly they have largely closed in the last year,as their leases have expired (I’m in London ).
    How prevalent this is I’m not sure but I was told by a shop manager friend that the unofficial policy of one company is I’m to discourage betting on racing and promote the FOBT And the self service betting terminals which offer disgraceful odds , as a big majority of shops are net losers in the book regarding their horseracing and football book over the counter.And they are also way more restrictive on amounts than they used be- Although that may be due to the fact that a lot of them have cut their trading staff numbers.
    It’s the machines that make the profit. A real shame as I miss the craic and banter.

  5. There’s no doubt whatsoever that the smoking ban has a lot to do with the disappearance of punters. Most, like myself, smoked.

    In fact I saw the betting shops empty immediately after the ban came into force.

    I enjoyed smoking my pipe whilst punting and having a banter with the regulars. I haven’t been back since the smoking ban was enforced, and neither have they.

    It’s the death of the traditional bookie shop ambience. All you’ve got left now is the FOTB junkies, fixated solely on their machines.

  6. I just love your daily piece, such a great philosophical view.
    Keep it up! Write a book you,ve plainly got the talent for it.

    Kind regards. Peters

  7. Enjoyed that read. I was a boardmarker back in the day, loved it, ended up manager God only knows how.Don’t frequent shops now myself. Staff don’t even what a Super Yankee is.

  8. Punters have never had it so good. Every race live on television,no smoking, no betting tax, pleasant seating,free tea and coffee,special concessions etc,etc. Compare that to scruffy,smoke ridden and just a commentary. I know which i prefer.

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