They may have been hit by the recession, but bookies are already rubbing their hands at the prospect of cleaning up next year. As with every World Cup year, 2010 will be represent a bumper harvest for the British betting industry, not least because it knows it will effectively be granted a license to print money by the good old English punter.
The same pattern repeats itself every four years: England qualify for the tournament, the press and media talk up their chances of clinching the trophy in the months leading up to the big event, the nation gets swept up in a wave of overoptimism and puts its hard-earned cash on an England victory. Then, unfailingly, they get knocked out in the quarter-finals, invariably on penalties by Portugal or Argentina. Though they should know better, England fans just can’t resist the patriotic urge to back their boys to come home with the trophy even though it hasn’t happened for 44 years.
England probably have a better side than they did in Germany in 2006, when they lost to Portugal on penalties in the quarter-finals, have been drawn to play in a very easy group and the colder climes of South Africa, where it is midwinter in June, are likely to suit. But the fact is the cornerstone of any World Cup success is founded on a decent defence – and England are weak in that area – particularly when it comes to having a half-decent goalkeeper. They also can’t keep the ball for toffee.
As usual England aren’t fit to lace the boots of Spain, Brazil or even France – yes France, with or without Thierry Henry. But such is the eagerness for Joe Bloggs to back the Three Lions that bookmakers have once again priced up England stingily.
The favourable draw in South Africa on Friday prompted betting firms to make Fabio Capello’s side outright second-favourites at 5-1 to cover their liabilities. However outlandish an England win may be, such an outcome would ruin most bookmakers if they gave them their true odds.
“We are desperate for England to do well,” said William Hill spokesman Graham Sharpe, “but not quite well enough to win as that would cost us millions. Our ideal scenario is for England to reach the Final but lose on a penalty shoot-out. That is a 90/1 chance. But even if England do win – well, we’ve had forty three years since 1966 to save up.”
Whatever the outcome, the finals are expected to bring the bookies unprecedented business. “The last World Cup came close to producing a £1 billion turnover, but we have no doubt that the 2010 tournament will smash through the barrier and go well beyond,” said Sharpe. “The excitement and interest surrounding the tournament is at an all time high – and it looks the most open World Cup for many years, which will enhance the betting interest.”
Over recent years the nature of football betting has evolved so that in-play markets have become the staple diet of the sports punter. In the past once your correct score of first goalscorer bet had lost, there was no way of recouping your losses. But in-play bets such as next goalscorer, next goal method or race to 9 corners – which are the speciality of Bet 365, have breathed new life into the market.
Doubtless, even more weird and wonderful bets will proliferate in anticipation of the greatest show on earth, when the nation will down tools, get excited and watch from behind the sofa as John Terry skies England’s World Cup hopes into row Z from the penalty spot.