On the footy punt

We all know that given the choice between working and not working just about everyone (with the notable exception of those who are related by blood to The Handicapper) would prefer the feet comfortably up, the computer fired up, the form guide opened up, and the races on the TV. This, sustained by a barrel of chicken and fridge full of malt product, is a near-perfect day.

If you get a little earn out of it.

We didn’t need Arthur Daley to teach us about the little earn. Although, were the good Arthur to be spotted at a gaming venue, I imagine it would be the greyhound racing.

People have punted forever. And in my mind the question is not “Why do people punt?” It’s “Why don’t people punt?”

And most do. Tipped a dead cert, by someone ‘in the know’ most of us revel in it. We have a pocket full of cash, and we know that for a moment we are close to the forces which really the planet. We are not trying to understand the conspiracy, we are part of it.

Backing one we have studiously picked out of the form guide affirms our superior (if fleeting) understanding of the universe, and power of our own intellect.

And then there’s footy.

I love punting on footy. Especially trading on the AFL premiership market here on Betfair. I’m one in the footy community who is free to do it.

We have learnt over the past fortnight that not everyone is. The AFL has come down very heavily on a number of footy people – coaching staff, support staff, even a goal umpire – for having tiny bets.

They are ensuring that we perceive the sport to be free of any betting corruption; ensuring we see the sport in its purity.

The penalties on these blighters are ridiculously severe. But, then again, if you are a licensed person in racing you are expected to know the rules. Football, we now know, has the same expectations.

What I find amusing is that the AFL has gone after such minor offenders. Perhaps they want us to think that the sport is so clean that even these trivial offenders can be flushed out.

A better approach (and one which would yield some magnificent stories I’m sure) would be to hold a major inquiry into fair dinkum punting on footy by licensed football people and colourful football identities over the past 25 years.

I’d be very surprised if there hadn’t been some pretty shonky stuff going on. I have no evidence other than all of human history, and human behaviour generally. Human beings understand opportunity.

I can remember a stack of bizarre results over the years which left me scratching my head. I remember Crackers Keenan hinting rather strongly on ABC radio that something funny was going on in 1995, and that there had been a rush for the 25/1 on offer for St Kilda to beat Carlton by more than 39.5. It proved to be one of the Blues only two losses for the season. “They’re leaving The Heath with bags of cash,” I recall him saying.

It goes back a long way. Consider Carlton during the finals in 1910. Three blokes were rubbed out for five years each.

When I interviewed the oldest surviving footballers from each VFL club a few years ago, most had a footy punting story to tell. And told it like it was just part of it all.

The very noble Dud Probyn, who was the oldest surviving St Kilda player at that time, was disgusted with the performance of his crack team (Wodonga West?) during a Grand Final they were certainties to win. Flabbergasted and broken, he asked his lads, who were trailing terribly at three quarter time, what was going. Nothing. He kept shaking his head. Finally his despondency touched the conscience of one of his players: “We’ve been got at, Dud.” There was a riot. A taxi was turned upside down. And the romantic notion of glorious sport was again challenged.

Ted Ellis, the brilliant and very robust Victorian centreman of the 1930s, left North Melbourne after working out something odd was happening. He couldn’t understand why the senior players, very skilful on the training track, were performing so badly.  He went to the coach, “I think the skipper and a couple of his mates are dead.”

The coach, whose salary was not very much, said, “Really?”

A few weeks later, when Ted was the last in the showers after training, the skipper and two other players approached him. Ted decked them all. And headed for Footscray.

When I spoke with Jim Bate, Essendon’s oldest player then, he told me he was a pro-runner throughout his 20s. His trainer insisted he run dead – for seven years! He was paid a trickle of the winnings. Finally Jim went, “Bugger it”, backed himself, and ran flat out in the final of the 1938 Keilor Gift. He won it. I don’t think he ever ran again.

For years of course betting on sport in Australia was illegal. But you could get on no problem, and not just in a dark lane. I remember being significantly cashed up after nailing the trifecta (9 x F x F) in the last at the Gabba dishlikas one cold Thursday night in July `89 . We knew which bookies would take you on. I had $100 on the Cats to win the flag at 6/1, and $100 on Guy Forget to win Wimbledon at 20/1. (Forget had a simple forehand volley to the open court to beat Becker in the quarter (?) and went on to lose.

Not long after you could bet legitimately on footy with the Australian bookies who had set up in Vanuatu. They were a clever lot. They had paid spies in all the footy clubs – some doing it for a bit of beer money, some no doubt to pay off their own troubled gambling bottom line. But Smooth Booth from the ABC always knew the late team changes long before they were announced. He’d ring Vanuatu.

Slowly they got closer to home. Darwin was the next point of call. And Alice.

And now it has opened up, and is all above board, and regulated.

I was a very early customer of Betfair, attracted to the idea of the pure punting market, and attracted to the idea that you could trade if you wanted to. I first met the Betfair folk because I was a customer.

Obviously I now write for the site.

But I remain convinced that the Betfair account system allows for transparency in punting, because all bets are traceable to those accounts.

Betting anomalies can also be sniffed out.

I’ll give you a hyperbolic example. Let’s say a Woop Woop United play in the AFL. They are playing a nothing match in Round 21 against another non-contender: eleventh versus twelfth. Nothing to gain. Let’s say both sets of players decide the most appropriate way to top up the players’ OS trip funds was to engineer tied scores at half-time and take whatever price is on offer, at an average price of $24.50 (say).

The boys are cashed up. The game starts after half-time. Everyone is happy.

But the rat smells. Usually turnover on the draw at half-time is pretty small. Suddenly there is a rush of money. Inquiry.

Despite the vigilance, there will always be successful stings, and some will be from footy insiders. You’d be naïve to think there wasn’t plenty being wagered already. It’s too easy. It’s not about desperation (although in some cases it might be), it’s about opportunity.

And they’re the inquiries which need to be completed.

After all, I just love a good punting yarn.

About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and footyalmanac.com.au. He has written columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears (appeared?) on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three school-age kids - Theo, Anna, Evie. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst four. His ambition was to lunch for Australia but it clashed with his other ambition - to shoot his age.


  1. John,
    I thought the Saints were very uneasy on Betfair on Monday afternoon. Plenty of operators looking to lay them (and I followed suit).
    My only real issue with Betfair is the commission. I reckon they wax a lot about linking punter to punter and skim over the 5% which rank and file pay…it neds to be factored in to your odds.

  2. JTH – Cats v Blues at Waverley around mid nineties (wish I could remember the year). I think a qualifying final. Blues were hot favourites as Geelong had some injuries to Bairstow, Hocking and I think Couch.

    The Cats belted them. Aaron Lord had a day out (it was the day Rex Hunt yelled out after Lord had kicked a beauty, “….and the Lord went baaaaang !!”)

    I still wonder about that day. We know the Blues are corrupt and cheats, maybe they backed themselves that day?

  3. Peter Flynn says


    1994 and you are right. Also no Mansfield.

    Mensch kicked 3! (exclamation mark used rather than the factorial symbol).

  4. johnharms says

    Did Mensch ever kick 3! Half a dozen would have been miraculous.

    Cats were sensational in 1994. Watched it at the Labrador FC after the TV in the Gold Coast unit blew up at 2.12pm..

  5. Peter Flynn says

    G Ablett kicked 3! (6) that day.

    Mensch’s biggest bag was 3! (6) in Round 5 2000 v Eagles at KP.

    Geelong kicked 4! (24) that day.

  6. JTH and Flynny – “….and the Lord went baaaaaang !!” has actually become a prayer in our house.

    He might have turned water into wine but he never kicked one on the left foot from 50 (that I’m aware of).

  7. Tony Robb says

    I heard from ” a close source” that a rather well know League player, who didnt mind a punt or ten but wasnt very clever at, used to let his bookie, who was very good at taking said player’s money, the points spread on games involving the said person’s team. He didnt throw games but he would decide whether the winning margin would be unders or overs and, having control of every play involving his team, he dictated the score opportunities and “errors” according to what the result needed to be.

  8. Dips,

    if my memory serves me well it all came to nothing that year, as well.

    If we had all those ones I can remember us losing we could be playing fo outright leadership now.

    Not withstanding that I am at very good terms with the football Gods at the moment.

    I do have a couple of pesky magpies hanging around the paddocks these days though and the bloke up the road let his bulldog out the other day and it pissed on my fire wood and snarled when I trued to shoo it away.

  9. Pamela Sherpa says

    Well John I must be related to the Handicapper .I dislike betting on anything other than animals. I think that betting on football compromises the integrity of the game. How can you tell whether a bloke is accidentally or intentionally missing a set shot from 10 metres out when you know money is wagered on the result of games? I dislike the betting ads during live games and ad breaks. The radio commentaries are also littered with betting talk.It is really off putting. I have no interest in betting and hate the way I get bombarded by it when I watch a game.
    Glad I don’t have young kids watching the games.

  10. It is also rumoured that a certain cricket team who won a high profile shortened version of the game at the MCG a couple of decades ago were apparently renouned for having the odd wager on themselves to under perform.

    This was of concern to one of their numbers who came up with a previously not considered idea to have a wager on themselves to over perform. The odds were pretty attractive. What a good idea. Brilliant.

    The rest is history.

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