It’s part of local folklore that back in the day Norwich had something which few other cities possessed, and that was that the City Walls contained within their geography a church for every week of the year and, possibly better still, a pub for every single day of the year.
This of course would have proved very handy as the concept of modern hen and stag parties, which originated around the time Queen Victoria came to the throne in a rush of crinoline and high morality, took off from their hedonistic runway.
Think about it: Friday night to go wild in the den of iniquity of your choice, Saturday to suffer the ceremony itself, and a huge choice of churches covering most variations on Christianity to indulge in a little penitence on the Sunday. What was not to like?
Moving some 100 years forward we found ourselves at a stage where a legal and social revolution came along from which there was no turning back.
I am not talking about the advent of Elvis soon to be followed by The Beatles here, although I easily could be given that the year in question was 1960.
The Conservative Government of the time, led by Harold Macmillan, passed a bill in Parliament in September 1960, and on January 1, 1961, it became legal to bet in the UK – in suitably licensed premises which instantly became known to the world and his greyhound as betting shops. The die was cast.
Not only did this give the Tories a cash grab [I was tempted to make a social comment at this point, but thought better of it!] in terms of a brand new levy known in common parlance as betting tax, it also caused a seismic change to the way people placed their bets in this country.
Gone overnight was the beloved pub as the key cog in the transmission unit.
When Alexandrina Victoria of Saxe Coburg was, erm, consorting with her Prince Consort Albert and for the 100 or so years that followed, bookmakers would set up base in a friendly pub, hire runners to tell what the odds were at any given hour, collect bets and pay off the winners, while lookouts warned about the presence of policemen, who were in any case often reluctant to enforce the law or were open to taking a small bribe for looking the other way!
The role of the 1950s bookie’s runner was immortalised by George Cole as Flash Harry in the contemporaneous St Trinian’s series of British films. George later went on to play another important role of that type, this time as Harry’s half-brother Arthur Daley in the incomparable TV series Minder***
When city streets were packed with terraced houses there seemed to be a pub on most street corners, and suddenly, very often in close proximity to these working-class boozers, up sprung the betting shop where all that had gone before became unnecessary and business was done on these premises, not the pub. But very often the two remained interminably linked as there was surely nowhere better to study form and see what your mates had picked as the right nag to pile in on.
The horse they told you they had backed was invariably the one that they hadn’t, of course.
I briefly had a sixth-form holiday job as a Saturday boy in a long-gone bookie on London’s Commercial Road, FW Jordan & Sons, Licensed Turf Accountants. It was actually owned by a Spanish guy called Paco, and his surname most certainly wasn’t Jordan any more than his dad was called Frank.
Working for Paco had a purpose though as the aura of that “shop” successfully managed to put me off gambling for life.
The names William Hill and Joe Coral quickly became known in London, then across the South, and finally humongous great swathes of the entire UK.
This brings me, at last some of you might understandably say, to the point.
Although its core value of maximising profit continues to be at the very heart of the industry, the rise of the Internet has ensured that the gambling scene has gone through the roof as so many global players do battle for what would seem like a bottomless pit of market share.
Betting firms associating themselves with football is no longer a new thing and I’m sure you good MFW readers are all too aware that Norwich City have not escaped the wrath of the moral majority on occasion.
The obvious, in-your-face side of this comes with the shirt logo.
The other day I received my regular weekly bulletin from Celtic, who confirmed that if I wanted to buy a home, away, or even third replica shirt I could choose one without the sponsor’s logo. Same shirt, same exorbitant cost – okay, I realise and appreciate that the Bhoys charge the going rate for the product, certainly no more than any of their rivals, anyway.
This practice is not new – Celtic have done it before and one of the London clubs – I think perhaps West Ham but I’m not certain – tried it a while back too. Watford may very well also be joining in this season.
In this case, it is one of our old acquaintances, DafaBet, who will suffer from the few Hoops tops that are sold sans logo. It’s worthy of note that they appear to accept this arrangement without batting [or is that betting?] an eyelid.
I have a Celtic hoodie that features a large Adidas logo – as manufacturers of all Celtic kit, that is just fine by me. The DafaBet signage doesn’t feature but I would still have bought the garment if I did, just as I wasn’t deterred from buying the Norwich City top I’m pictured in this article wearing while pretending to study the form of the gee-gees.
I might not be a fan of betting, but if that’s how you get your kicks, I’ve no lofty moralistic desire to dissuade you. I might think it is folly, and not always harmless to somebody with an addictive personality to indulge in [I should know, I have that type of personality and must fight very hard to keep it in check sometimes], but it’s not really a matter for me to get on my high horse about.
But then things moved on a little in terms of the question: where should a team draw a line in the sand simply say to a prospective sponsor: NO!
Yes, I do mean BK8, the company who a couple of years ago were on the verge of having their logo machined in order to pass it on to Errea, as our kit manufacturer was then, to become prominently installed on our yellow and green shirts.
The deal never came to fruition.
It was stopped at the last minute when the outcry from City supporters and other local people from various organised groups over BK8’s online marketing strategy of using scantily-clad young ladies to promote their business reached a very loud crescendo indeed.
I can certainly understand why many people would have been offended by the idea of NCFC being seen to support this type of thing. I wasn’t exactly offended, more bitterly disappointed at the time as I commented on Sam Seaman‘s article back in June 2021 [hi Sam!]:
“Didn’t they realise what the reaction to this was likely to be? Credibility destroyed I’m afraid. I’m not going into the rights & wrongs of pc, wokeism or whatever you want to call it these days and I’m not easily offended but there’s a limit, even for a traditional old geezer like me. I certainly won’t be buying anything with this company’s logo on it.”
While I understand that a couple of senior City moneymen heavily backed BK8 “because they offered considerably more [money] than anybody else” I remain quietly pleased to this day that the deal never got off the ground.
Our friends at Aston Villa now have BK8 on board whether they like it or not as the Asian-based, Malta-registered company finally gets its feet through the PL door and the Aston Villa Supporters’ Trust are about as happy as most of us were. Not.
“The BK8 agreement is a cynical last-minute attempt to scoop the financial gains ahead of the voluntary ban on front-of-shirt gambling sponsors. Fans, players, and club staff alike want Villa to be as successful as possible, [but] that should not come at the expense of exposing fans to the exploitative practices of gambling operators”.
And for me, I’ve just experienced one of my “I’m glad it’s not us” moments, which does nothing to solve any problems but does make me feel a little bit better that, in the end, we didn’t succumb to the advances of BK8 and its like.
***I know Arfur Daley wasn’t really Flash Harry’s half-brother, but it was a line I would have squeezed into Minder somehow, maybe a bit like Messrs Perry and Croft did with Arthur Lowe when Captain Mainwaring met his brother, George.
I know this song is pure kitsch, but what the heck: