Arsenal FC has a long engagement with betting on football, going right the way back to the organisation of an archery tournament in November 1902. It raised about £1,200 – equivalent to a quarter of the club’s annual income from gate receipts at the time!
Now that might seem strange – the organisation of an archery competition by a Football League club, but Arsenal were not the first to arrange such an affair. However as far as we know they were the last.
History shows that 23 such events had been held across the country prior to Arsenal’s tournament, but the event held at Woolwich Arsenal’s ground was the first of its kind in the south of England. And from the start it was a success as Arsenal sold about 80,000 tickets at 6d (2.5p) each to participants living as far away as Nottingham and Doncaster.
On the day of the tournament, Arsenal’s ground opened at 9.30am with a board measuring 17 feet square set up near one of the stands. It contained 80,000 pieces of paper each one representing one of the sold tickets.
Then, a young lady, standing some way from the board, fired an arrow at the board with the aim of selecting the lucky winning number.
Unfortunately the lady in question was not much of a markswoman and she missed, but she did manage to hit the board on the 3rd attempt with the arrow piercing the ticket number 15,055. The lucky winner was Mr Grubb of 190 Plumstead Road who won £50 (worth about £3,000 today).
Of course the very latest approach is Enhanced Odds, which had it been in place at the time would have made life even more interesting. Enhanced Odds really does show how far we have come from the days when only the toffs at race courses were allowed to place bets.
After that over 300 other people had a go at shooting at the target and ultimately 150 prizes were won, but not until quite a few of the attempts ended up in the stand, with some even landing on the road outside. Fortunately there were no reports of passers by being injured.
However that was not the end of the matter for within a week the police had become involved, suggesting the event was not a game of skill (which was legal) but in effect a lottery (which at the time was illegal).
Following this Arsenal’s manager, Harry Bradshaw, was charged with “keeping the Manor Ground for the exercise of a lottery” and was found guilty, fined £5 and had costs of £10 awarded against him. However no action was taken against the club, and so they kept the money.
Our next involvement with gambling came when Lt Col Sir Henry Norris MP, who was at the time the chairman and dominant shareholder in Arsenal, introduced the Ready Money Football Betting Bill into Parliament on 11 February 1920 on behalf of the Football Association and the associations of Wales, Ireland and Scotland.
The Gaming Act of 1845 and the Betting Act of 1853 prohibited most commercial gambling except on-course betting at race meetings, and the 1906 Street Betting Act further criminalized gambling in public. But gambling on football matches continued and indeed was at the centre of the infamous match fixing scandal that Liverpool and Manchester Utd players were found guilty of in 1915.
Sir Henry’s bill stopped the handing out of leaflets to supporters which promoted gambling on the following week’s fixtures. It wasn’t that Sir Henry was against gambling but rather that the predictions needed when betting using the leaflets were so difficult to get right that virtually no one ever won although tens of thousands tried to win each week.
This act then paved the way for the introduction of football pools in 1923 by Littlewoods, and these were legal because they were seen as games of skill, not chance.
And thus the gambling on football matches finally became legal – and of course has developed from this point on, ever since.