I like to have a flutter from time to time. Indeed, my wife would say I’m an inveterate gambler. But hard as I try, I doubt I’ll ever match Gordon Taylor. Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association, is described by Dominic Lawson in The Sunday Times as Britain’s “most highly paid trade unionist”. He needs to be. According to The Sun, he managed to stake “£4m on more than 2,000 bets in just 30 months”.
Taylor is now being pursued for gambling debts by one of the firms he used, which is presumably why his private vice found its way into the columns of a tabloid. He certainly had good reason to try and keep it quiet, says Lawson. Ten years ago, after one of his members was reported to have lost £400,000 through gambling, he warned: “People talk about drugs and alcohol in football. But there are no random tests for betting, which can easily spiral out of control.” A few years later he was even more forthright.
Yet the relationship between football and gambling is now closer than ever, with more and more top sides sponsored by gambling firms, and gambling firms constantly advertising on commercial TV during football matches.
Before the Gambling Act of 2005, the promotion of gambling was not allowed on TV. As Lawson says, it is “one of the paradoxes of New Labour that, while it increasingly clamped down on advertising by the salesmen of hard liquor and cigarettes, it gave the gaming industry everything it wanted in terms of access to the public via the television screen”.
The general liberalisation of gambling rules showed how far Tony Blair, “for all his religious pieties”, had departed from Labour’s Methodist roots. Lawson thinks that if people want to spend money idiotically they should be allowed to do so. I agree. But promoting gambling, as he says, is worse than promoting smoking: gambling is “all-consuming in its pointlessness”.
Breakfast with Frost
In the Daily Mail, Craig Brown describes a champagne breakfast the then 25-year-old David Frost gave at the Connaught Hotel in January 1966. Frost’s guests included the novelist Len Deighton, the Oxford professor of philosophy AJ Ayer and the prime minister Harold Wilson.
A year or two earlier, the prime minister of the day would have dismissed an invitation like this as “an impertinent stunt”, says Christopher Booker in his book on the Sixties. But Frost (who died this week) possessed “an intuitive sense of television’s power to recreate the world on its own unreal terms – to reduce everything and everyone, politicians and pop singers, philosophers and journalists, bishops and entertainers, to the same level, as bit players in a universal dreamworld”.
After that breakfast, says Brown, the world went “topsy turvy”. No longer was there any separation between the high and the low, the celibate and the sexy, the political and the commercial. “Everybody’s in showbiz,” as Ray Davies once sang. “Everyone’s a Star.”
Tabloid money: Jamie Oliver is a national treasure
• When I first met Jamie Oliver I thought he was “a bit flash”, says Fiona Phillips in the Daily Mirror. During a charity fundraising auction, “he bid bundles of dosh for various lots, all accompanied by hoots… and a general commotion from his table”. But I was wrong. I now know “his flashing the cash was because he has a big heart… With his increasing maturity and philanthropic actions that has become increasingly clear. Why would anyone, with a comfortable life shaping up nicely, want to start a business – his Fifteen restaurants – staffed by disaffected, sometimes historically unemployable youngsters? Why take on school dinners? And try and do the same in the US where his passion was there for all to see when he cried with frustration?”
Many people in his position would have just “trousered” the profits he’d made from his empire. But he’s candid and honest – as in his assertion that “British kids don’t like hard work and long hours”, unlike immigrant workers. “The term national treasure is nauseatingly over-used. But when it’s applied in Jamie’s case it is, like him, an honest one.”
• “It has been revealed – by people with too much time on their hands – that wearing high heels while shopping will make you spend your cash more carefully,” says Lorraine Kelly in The Sun. “Apparently, boffins have loftily concluded that ‘shoppers experience a heightened sense of balance and this makes it more likely for them to weigh up their options and go with a cheaper product’. They are actually seriously suggesting that if we want to save cash we should go for high-rise footwear.
“What absolute nonsense. If they had asked me instead of going to all the trouble of a ‘scientific study’, I‘d have told them the real reason we don’t spend so much money if we shop in our stilettos or high wedges. It’s simply because our feet start to hurt and we need to cut things short to get home to soak our bunions.”
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