This moment came for me around eighteen years ago, when as a seventeen year lad, someone in the pub football team I was playing for at the time had been telling us all the reasons why Hibernian were going to win the Scottish Cup that year. From memory, one of the Old Firm had gone out of the cup already and Hibs had a favourable draw in the next round, so they were “good value”.
A couple of us nodded our heads like we agreed with him, so when he offered us the chance of going to the bookies with him to put a few quid on it, we sensed an opportunity to prove our masculinity, and jumped at the chance.
Looking back now, I realise it is a rite of passage for every young male in the UK, some would argue more than being served in a pub for the first time.
Entering the small independent bookies (anyone from the Huddersfield area will know the one), the smell of smoke was noticeable from outside the shop, and the fact you had to go downstairs from the pavement to get into the shop (underground), added to the sense of it being an adventure into the unknown.
Once inside it became clear that the staple diet of the regulars was tea from plastic cups, accompanied by Regal King Size.
I looked round, ruffled pages from the Racing Post pinned to the wall, screwed up betting slips on the floor, tables and chairs which looked like they’d been there since the 1970’s, the nicotine stained ceiling, and the thick air of cigarette smoke filling the place.
My mate and I looked at each other, trying to be inconspicuous like this was the kind of thing we did all the time. The lad whose idea it was to come to the bookies walked over with some betting slips, and those cheap red pens.
‘Right, how much you having on?’
I was in Sixth Form college, working in a mini-market around ten hours a week, it was clear I wasn’t about to send shockwaves through the betting industry. It was that moment many seventeen year old lads will have encountered, much like admitting that you don’t actually like the taste of lager, where you don’t want to admit how small the stake you’re putting on is.
‘Erm, dunno, I’ve only got a couple of quid on me’
A roll of the eyes from my two companions (both of whom were working full time I might add). I then sneaked a look over the shoulder of my equally clueless mate, as I could see he was stealing a look over the shoulder of the expert, to know what to actually write on the slip.
Hibernian to win Scottish Cup - £2
At this point I suddenly jolted up at the shouting in the shop, something only exaggerated by the low ceilings in there, but soon realised this was only the old West Indian blokes in there berating a jockey on the race on the tv screens. I hoped no-one had seen my sudden reaction.
Then came the moment of truth, going to the counter to put the bet on. I’d had half a mind to ask my older looking accomplices to put it on for me if I gave them the money, but I knew I’d never hear the end of it at football, and I also saw how the old dear behind the counter looked like she couldn’t care less about age restrictions.
I walked up to the counter, chest out, and ready to put my deepest voice on. Placed my betting slip and two pound coins on the counter.
‘Just this one please’
The cashier stopped puffing on her cigarette and looked at it. While I’d put on my deepest voice, hers put mine to shame. It was like a Yorkshire version of Frank Butcher.
‘You want the tax on this love?’
Tax? Tax?? What the fuck is tax?!? No-one told me about “the tax!”
‘Er, er, no it’s ok thanks’
She raised her eyebrows, put the slip in a machine and handed it back to me. I felt like all the eyes in the shop were on me. It was done though, the bet was placed. I proudly put the slip in my wallet.
We left the shop to the sound of idle chitter-chatter amongst the regulars and racing commentary from the screens
Out in the fresh air I realised my clothes smelled like those of someone with a forty a day habit. I knew at Sixth Form the next day I’d be able to mention being “down the bookies”. I’d successfully got in, put a bet on, and got out.
While this particular bookies was small, pokey, and smoke-filled, there was a certain charm the modern day ones, with the zombies playing on the FOBT’s and virtual racing and football filling the screens, lack.
Oh, and for what it’s worth, Hibs got beaten in the next round.