Saturday 22 October 2016

Television review... Epitaph for a gambling man

* Britain at the Bookies (BBC1)
* Peter O'Sullevan (Sky Sports News)

Published 03/08/2015 | 02:30

Illustration: Jim Cogan
Illustration: Jim Cogan

For Steve Palmer, I do not think it will end well. He is one of the more compelling figures in BBC1's Britain at the Bookies, probably because there is this creeping sense that his grand visions will not be realised - indeed that they may turn into something else altogether.

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Steve is to a certain extent a professional gambler, in that he is a golf tipster who writes a column for the Racing Post about his punting. But he yearns to become a true professional, which in his opinion would ultimately require a fighting fund of about 200 grand.

Which, of course, would itself be amassed not by savings and wise investments, but by punting.

All perfectly reasonable and logical so far, but as we often discover when we take a closer look at the modus operandi of these betting men, certain flaws begin to appear in the grand design.

On a slow day, for example, we saw Steve in the betting office so anxious for a bit of action he started putting money on the dogs at Swindon. Now there are no rules which govern the methods of aspiring professional gamblers, no code of behaviour, but broadly speaking, they are supposed to be fiercely disciplined, utterly opposed to having "fun" or just betting to pass the time, and generally allergic to the very concept of placing actual money on the morning dogs at Swindon.

And still Steve had £40 on the dog in the blue vest in Trap 2, for reasons that were not explained, and while the race was in progress he stood there singing the tune of We Shall Overcome with the words, "this will not be beaten".

But it was beaten. And a few other dogs that he backed were beaten, before he took to the horses for a change of mood. And still he had not ventured into his own area of expertise, the golf.

On Steve's greatest day in golf he won 52 grand, by picking the winners of two tournaments and putting them in a double. He also won 22 grand for a stake of a grand when Rory McIlroy won the USPGA. Yet as he sat on the couch reflecting on his success with his wife Nicola, there was also talk of 100 grand which Steve had once possessed - now there's a fighting fund - which had somehow gone down to about 25 grand when the time came to put a deposit on a house.

Undaunted, with a baby on the way, he laid out his strategy - "win an absolute bundle before the baby is born...loaded...send him to Eton, and off to Cambridge after that...Prime Minister Palmer by the end of it..."

Unfortunately, when Michael van Gerwen failed to win the Darts World Championship, Steve was challenged to find an alternative route to Number 10 for the little fellow.

Yet in a meeting with his editor Bruce he was still able to see the sadness in the lives of other men, who are "happy with their lot, when their lot isn't really very good, you know?". There was dark talk of people who choose to "go to their allotment", or maybe do a jigsaw puzzle on a Saturday afternoon, when there is money to be made.

No, I do not think it will end well.


What would Peter O'Sullevan have done? If Steve had asked himself this question, he probably wouldn't be betting on the Darts at all, and as for the Swindon dogs ... I think not.

Apart from being one of the great commentators, O'Sullevan was that rarest of men, a gambler who made money backing horses. Indeed his collaborations with our Vincent O'Brien are recalled by the aficionados with awe.

And according to John McCririck, speaking on Sky Sports News, O'Sullevan's success was partly due to the fact that he was exceptionally hard-headed, a man who "never took under the odds". By this, McCririck meant that O'Sullevan wouldn't put his money down unless he got the best possible price.

McCririck nailed it: "He never took under the odds - what better epitaph could you have than that?"

What better epitaph indeed?

There are some who'd be aiming for a different kind of epitaph, like, "he freed a nation from bondage", or "he brought peace to mankind."

But "He never took under the odds?"

That's the one.

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