Blast from the Past: Everyone dreamed of winning the football pools

My father-in-law came to visit the other day and asked why there was no carpet on the stairs.

I informed him we were getting a new one. “Ooh, have you won the pools?” he exclaimed.

The mere mention of winning the pools sent me tumbling down a rabbit hole of misty-eyed nostalgia, to the days before the National Lottery, when winning the pools was the only route to riches for ordinary folk.

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The game was launched in 1923 by reps handing out coupons at Old Trafford as a way of predicting football results in the hope of winning huge cash prizes. Vernons, Brittens and Zetters became big players but Littlewoods was the market leader.

Back in 1961, it was Littlewoods who paid out a whopping £152,000 (£4.2m in modern money) to Viv Nicholson from Castleford who became notorious after vowing to “spend, spend, spend”.

Everyone daydreamed of winning the jackpot like beehived Viv, fantasising about what they’d do with such untold riches. Move to a nice bungalow with crazy paving, a conservatory and a Jacuzzi? Go on cruise? Buy a speedboat? Buy two speedboats? But then they’d get worried about grasping friends and tick the ‘no publicity’ box.

Still, if you happened to buy a new car, or carpet, say, rumours were rife that you’d won the pools. You just couldn’t win!

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