Grand National 1996 – Tales From The Betting Ring (Book Excerpt)

This is an excerpt from Skint Mob.

I was extremely pleased when the boss bought a pitch at Liverpool, just for the Saturday of the Grand National. I had never been so was very excited at the prospect of seeing the great race in the flesh. We were to bet on the embankment which was down by the start of the race near the usually dramatic first and second fences of the race. It was also the cheapest enclosure at the course. The pitch has previously been worked by an ageing silver ring firm and was according to them, maybe not surprisingly, a ‘goldmine’. It was ideal for the boss, he was going to enjoy the day out too and being a position that is only used the one day of the year there was no onus to make that long journey more than once a year.

As word got around that the firm had bought the pitch other rumours about the ‘goldmine’ came out, more like a gold rush in the Wild West was one opinion. Apparently although there was undoubtedly a large crowd out there they were according to some, drunken hooligans all, add to that aggressive and thieving and you get the picture that was being painted for us. Most of the stories about bookies getting rushed and their hods dipped or gangs of hard cases flash mobbing a pitch with a fabricated dispute and intimidating the firm into coughing up a sum of money in fear of their lives were third hand. Even though obviously told with a little bit of devilment  they patently preyed on the bosses mind. He did his best to give the impression that he had shrugged it all off. After all, the firm that sold it must have had a combined age of 400 years and had probably worked the pitch for 100 of them so it couldn’t be that bad.

On the eve of our first trip up to Liverpool it appeared that it could, or at least it had preyed on the bosses mind enough to give me a call. Tiverton had long-since had a reputation for harbouring its fair share of yobbos, at least for a small market town, so that is why he thought of me. Not for my street-fighting prowess, hell no, I’m 5′ 7” in my socks but always found it easy to get on well with the town’s hard nuts. That was the talent he was after. He wanted to know if I knew a ‘Reliable hard bastard that wouldn’t steal from us and knew a bit about racing’ anyone who met the criteria was to be asked if they’d like to come to the Grand National 1996 and work on the joint for a day.

I did know a few such fellows, most of the Tiverton hard cases around my age would have a punt in between their pints on a Saturday, that was enough to know about horseracing the boss told me. The one I asked was the hardest case in town. He was one of the volatile ones who was friendly enough to me on most occasions but you wouldn’t take liberties with him because you were still just as likely to get a smack around the chops if you said something out of turn. I saw this as a great opportunity to get in the tough guy’s good books a little bit more and thus protect my safety in Tiverton’s rougher drinking establishments in the future. My theory did seem to be barking up the right tree when the guy I had in mind was extremely excited to be asked. He was pretty chuffed when he got the full story that he was there as protection as well as giving change and was ready at the allotted time very early on the Saturday morning. He was dressed to the nines, suit and tie with a very smart raincoat. He sat in the front with the boss and elected to keep his coat on despite the boss suggesting as it was a long journey and he might be more comfortable with it off.

On the journey up to Liverpool the allotted hard-man told a fair few stories about how often he had been to the races and of his betting successes. Obvious to the boss and me that they were being embroidered somewhat, but not to worry it was his brick shit-house presence and hopefully amiable attitude that was needed. We stopped for a fry-up on the way up. The coat didn’t come off but the breakfast gratefully accepted and eagerly scoffed. My first sight of the approach to Aintree was a bit of a shock to all of us. The road was full of shops all metal shuttered and closed and had a grass verge running down the centre of it, strewn with rubbish. This quite desolate scene was a little alarming and I for one was glad to have brought our Tiverton protection. I think being miles outside of our comfort zone and heads filled with horror stories had affected us more than it should have, after all this was the world’s most famous horserace not some gypsy flapping track.

We had been advised that we would be better off paying to park in a nearby working mens’ club and walking the short distance to our enclosure to aid a quick getaway after racing. We followed instructions, paid the fiver and parked the car. The boss and I started unpacking the kit while our passenger shifted around looking uncomfortable, hardly surprising after being sat in the car for the best part of five hours with a rain coat on. He grimaced a bit and reached into the inside of his pocket, rummaged around a bit then to my horror and the bosses utter astonishment pulled out a large rubber cosh saying “This bastard has been sticking in my ribs for f***ing miles.” It was a horrendous freeze-frame type moment where I was unsure what was going to happen next. He broke the silence by re-sheathing his weapon with an “Oh that’s better” before returning to the passenger seat to get his bag, we dared not ask what was in there…………

(C) Simon Nott

‘Skint Mob’ it is about bookies, punters and racecourse regulars and has been quite well-received. Here’s a review from the Racing Post on Sunday 23rd March.

Review from the Racing Post 23/03/14

Review from the Racing Post 23/03/14

It’s available here on Amazon – Kindle and Paperback


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by John Carney on April 6, 2013 at 7:38 am

    A good read, but the end lacked a punch, or several!☺ The self preservation aspect made me laugh, though. Excellent, thanks.


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