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Declan Lynch: Even if they lose the bet, they win the game


Of the many stories of Aengus Fanning which were told last week, a personal favourite was the one about him encouraging his step-grandson Mungo to have the occasional bet.

He would advise Mungo that an investment in, say, Everton to beat Blackburn at home, might be the smart play. But he would not want the young man to face all the consequences of the gamble on his own.

So he would back his judgement by supplying the funds for the bet, perhaps by way of a birthday present, or on some other special occasion, or just because it was Tuesday.

Which is probably fair enough. As the key adviser on the deal, Aengus would have felt a certain responsibility in the event of an unhappy outcome. But what was even fairer was his practice of "refunding" the stake money to Mungo if the bet went down.

Indeed, that was more than fair. It was generous.

Perhaps it resonates with me because my own father used to do something similar. We would occasionally go to a race meeting, at which I might have, say, £1, to get me through the day's betting -- at a rate of 20p a race on the Tote, assuming that I had at least one winner during the day, that should see me though.

Ah, but what of the days when I had no winner? And yes, there were some...

Well, there was a sort of an unspoken understanding that, even if I had lost all the money, ultimately this would not be allowed to happen. At some point, later in the day, my father would quietly hand me £1 to replace the one I had lost, thus restoring my fortunes and my spirits.

Now, a celebrity psychologist such as Dr David Coleman might find all this very interesting. He might question the sort of "parenting" which would involve this tacit approval of gambling, even some encouragement in that direction. Though he would also surely see the merit of it, the way that it introduces the young man to darker and more dangerous aspects of the human experience, while also providing him with the reassurance that the old man is always there for him, if things go awry.

But no psychologist, no guru, no teacher, none of our fathers or our grandfathers could ever have imagined that this is how the world of high finance would be functioning in the 21st century.

Certainly it never crossed my mind, as I received that £1 from my father with an odd mixture of guilt and elation, that many years later this is how the world would work -- that I was the Anglo bondholder, as it were, and my father was the Irish Government.

Except of course, unlike my father, the Irish Government has no legal or moral or emotional responsibility in this matter, and it's not £1, it's £1bn.

Thus, as I lost my money backing seven losers on the jerry-built Tote at Laytown, and got it all back anyway, little did I realise that, along with that bailout, I was also getting a perfect

vision of the future at the high end of the European banking system.

You could call me Roman Abramovich.

And, interestingly, at one point Abramovich's people were apparently ready to sue Ireland for the return of certain "Irish Nationwide" moneys, confirming the notion that guys like him are not just allowed to win the money game even when they lose, it is actually illegal for them to lose.

The force is with them to such an extent, it's a bit like me being able to take legal action against my father in the unlikely event that he would not replenish my coffers out of the goodness of his heart.

Interestingly, too, in a court case the Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky said of Abramovich that "he really convinced me for a long time that he is my son... he is genius like that, no doubt".

They are all our sons, really, and we will not see them stuck. Little Billy Bondholder is out there, having a great time, indulging all his appetites, however wild and capricious they may be, but eventually coming to no harm.

Nor does the guaranteed payback take the good out of it for him. Personally, I always got the same buzz out of betting during my own juvenile "bondholder" days, as I got when I grew up and I had to take the losses myself, with a haircut of 100 per cent.

The primal energies of gambling are still engaged by the act itself -- gambling, as we know, is not necessarily all about the money, gambling is about... well... gambling. It's a buzz in itself. And if you get the money back regardless, you've still had your fun.

But it is not right to be taking the risk out of betting for people who are supposed to be grown up and responsible for their own actions. It is not natural.

Indeed, it is an utter perversion of how the world should work.

It's as if a father had continued to pay all of his son's gambling debts long after the son left home and moved to the big city, with the father eventually needing to sell the family home when the ne'er-do-well goes down spectacularly in a massive game of poker -- and not only does said ne'er-do-well not thank him for it, he has come to expect nothing less, viewing it as a basic entitlement.

But that's enough about me, this is about Little Billy Bondholder and all we are doing for him. Which is a lot, even in a system in which he and his money and the delinquent forces which they represent, are the only things that matter.

Yes even at this advanced stage of depravity, I feel that we may be spoiling him, just a little bit.

Sunday Independent