Wednesday 20 November 2019

Now it's all just one big 'palpable error'

Sport tells us everything we need to know about the money game and about the game of life itself, writes Declan Lynch

Illustration: Jim Cogan
Illustration: Jim Cogan
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

People come up to me in the street all the time - or not, as the case may be - and ask me why I am always on about sports and betting and suchlike, when I could be writing about things that are far less interesting.

There was a time when I'd reply with that old Albert Camus line about football teaching him everything he knows about human responsibility, but these days it is teaching us more than that.

Last week in the sports section, Dion Fanning saw the decline of Newcastle United as "a self-contained example of what austerity and mediocrity can do when they combine to shun any notions of creativity or imagination. The erosion of the human spirit, the wilful ignorance about what a football club means to a community are irrelevant when faced with a rampant and destructive ideology."

This is true, of course, with the owner Mike Ashley apparently bringing the spirit of his Sports Direct retail empire to the running of a grand old club.

But if the fans of Newcastle have gained a special understanding of the great forces that bear down upon the multitudes, in this at least they are not alone.

Last week too, Roman Abramovich could be seen celebrating Chelsea's Premier League title, reminding us that he is one of approximately 20 people in the world who have all the money, as a result of the enlightened philosophies which have prevailed in our time - though at least this former Irish Nationwide bondholder had bought Chelsea and invested in the club with what could technically be described as his own money.

Most of us who support Liverpool or Manchester United were happily unaware of how all that buying-and-selling thing worked, that there were men out there who were even more advanced in their thinking than Abramovich, until we were introduced to the concept of the "leveraged buy-out".

Until then, like the fools that we were, we thought that if you wanted to buy a football club, you needed to be very rich. And that in order to be very rich you needed to have loads of money.


If you were in "the leverage business", you could buy the club essentially with the club's own money, which would be used to pay back the massive loans that enabled you to buy the club in the first place.

So now we had rich folks with no money, as such, prompting many of us to ask ourselves, why did we not think of that?

And if the rich folks apparently have no money, if they are only pretending, soon you will find that the poor folks don't have much of it either.

Evidently, the world had learned nothing from Leeds United, which in the early 2000s gave us a perfect vision of something that we later knew as "securitisation", with their practice of buying players with money that they didn't actually have at the time, but that they would ideally earn if they enjoyed many years of success in the Champions League - and when that didn't happen, Leeds was destroyed, followed not long afterwards by much of western society which was being run in equally futuristic style.

But for the most luminous insights into the money game, and indeed the game of life itself, we must look again to the betting corporations, and in particular to a scene which developed recently in Charleville over the meaning of a bet on Rory McIlroy.

A Mr Deady had gone into Paddy Power and had €50 on one of the day's "specials", a bet on Mcllroy at 14/1 to shoot par or better on Day 2 of the Masters - it was so inviting he invested another €50 on behalf of his friend, Mike Sexton.

While these odds seemed extremely generous, even deeply wrong, at the request of Mr Deady the person at the desk cleared it with headquarters, and wrote the bet out in full, signing it for authenticity.

The corporation eventually realised that the bet should have stated that McIlroy needed to shoot a bogey-free round for the punters to "collect".

So they did not pay the men their €700 each in winnings, they offered instead to return the stakes.

The reasoning of the corporation was that this had been a "palpable error".

It is a good one, that - a "palpable error". In case of a "palpable error", the corporation absolves itself of responsibility to accept its mistake.

I'd like that to be written down in my Terms and Conditions too, because I have made a few "palpable errors" along the way, bets that must have seemed ridiculous to whoever was taking them, and even to myself about five seconds after the money was down - and yet somehow they were all allowed to stand.

I am thinking too of the people who bought a house for, say, €750,000, explaining to the bank that this was a "palpable error", what with the house now worth €250,000. And that for the bank to lend €750,000 was an equally "palpable error", so can they just call it quits then?

Alas, in this world there are some who are forgiven their "palpable errors" - forgiven by themselves at least - and many who are not.

Sunday Independent

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