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Police syndicate cop the cash in pools win

PUBLISHED: 16:20 18 January 2018

Some of the policemen who shared a football pools win while stationed on South Quay in Great Yarmouth moved into the new headquarters planned for this Howard Street North demolition site. It opened in 1962.
Picture: MERCURY LIBRARY

Some of the policemen who shared a football pools win while stationed on South Quay in Great Yarmouth moved into the new headquarters planned for this Howard Street North demolition site. It opened in 1962. Picture: MERCURY LIBRARY

Archant

That Scottish burr, perfect enunciation and expert timing were the trademarks of James Alexander Gordon, the BBC radio announcer whose voice on Saturday teatimes was familiar to listeners for decades as they listened to him reading out the classified football results.

The framed cheque of the policemen's football pools win. Picture: JOHN CALTHORPE The framed cheque of the policemen's football pools win. Picture: JOHN CALTHORPE

He died in 2014, aged 78, having read those results from 1972 to 2013 and become an unlikely legend. But long before his arrival, football pools induced Saturday night fever among punters praying for a life-changing win.

In 1959, for example, a group of police officers in the Great Yarmouth force were prompted into forming a syndicate to have a punt on the pools, inspired by the news that a group of Kent coppers in Margate had scooped a prize of many thousands of £s.

Long retired sergeant John Calthorpe, of Elm Avenue, Gorleston, recalls that the 2-10pm shift was on parade, ready to take over, when someone mentioned the Margate syndicate’s bonanza.

“We all talked it over and as the result nearly all the shift agreed to invest together in a similar venture,” he tells me. “I said I would arrange it, and most gave me around two shillings (10p today) for one share or more.

South Quay in Yarmouth where the pools winners were stationed at the borough police HQ. The force outgrew its Middlegate premises and moved to the riverside in 1947.
Picture: CLIFFORD TEMPLE South Quay in Yarmouth where the pools winners were stationed at the borough police HQ. The force outgrew its Middlegate premises and moved to the riverside in 1947. Picture: CLIFFORD TEMPLE

“We had been investing for a few weeks, and on another Saturday afternoon we awaited the football scores on the radio. As a colleague read them out, it soon became clear that we had covered several score draws in our entry.

“There were not very many draws so we reckoned we could have been in line for a good win.

“All that weekend we all talked it over. We looked back at previous Saturday competitions to get some idea as to what the payout would be. Our full investment had been around £4 a week, made up of 40 two shilling shares

“It was the main topic of discussion for the next few days. Two members agreed to sell their share at a high rate to others.

“We were going to have to wait until the following Monday or Tuesday before the dividends were announced. I listened to the radio when possible, just in case a big win was mentioned.

“On the Tuesday lunchtime a colleague called at my home (in University Crescent, Gorleston) to tell me there had been an item on the radio: a Mrs Bainbridge, who ran a café in Nottingham, had scooped the main prize so our dividend would not be wonderful.

“When we worked it out, our entry would qualify for several smaller amounts totalling over £1,600, enough to have bought a nice house in those days.

“Now the many questions came. For example, had I filled up the entry properly, and had it arrived at Littlewoods in Liverpool? How long would it be before we received the winning cheque?”

It was nearly a week before the investors learned the exact size of their win: £1,812 and 12 shillings. John was correct about the total being enough buy a nice house - estate agents’ advertisements in the Yarmouth Mercury at the time put a three-bedroom semi-detached house at about £2,000 and a terrace property cost around £1,600.

After John cashed the cheque, “all the investors called at my home to collect their respective winnings. Some were able to use their winnings for a foreign holiday.”

Considering the amount, that might sound far-fetched today, but the 1950s introduction of cheap package holidays to Spain and its islands made it feasible for an ordinary working man.

“That ever-hopeful weekly check continued in Yarmouth police headquarters (at that time, on South Quay) where a small consortium of officers saw it as the only way of escaping from ‘the nick’ and crime-fighting to enjoy a life of retirement in luxury,” continued John.

The consortium underwent changes but the weekly investment continued. “We had some luck but the most we received at any one time was around £200,” he added.

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