Is it wrong to bet on your own team to lose?
Can cold hard cash make up for the pain of seeing your side defeated?
I wrote that headline with a great deal of trepidation, because for many football fans, betting against your own team is a crime that is simply beyond the pale.
And, up until recently, I agreed with them. But it is time to stand up and be counted and say that I, a Leyton Orient season ticket holder of 22 years and counting, have made money by backing our opponents in the last two games.
So what provoked the change of heart?
Let me provide some context.
After writing about the disastrous period of my club’s history over the past three years under the appalling mismanagement of Italian ‘businessman’ (I’m yet to see any evidence that this guy has the first clue how to run any sort of business) not once, but twice, the story of Orient’s plight has now become known to most football fans with an interest in life beyond the Premier League.
It says much about the chaos that’s engulfed the club that even the second missive, written in January, now seems hopelessly out-of-date, with yet another managerial change, yet more players leaving, yet more youth teamers thrust into a hopeless situation and then, finally, the winding-up hearing in the high court which attracted the interest of the wider press and spurred the Leyton Orient Fans Trust (LOFT) into opening up a ‘recovery fund’, to provide the cash to enable the club to move on – in some form – from life under billionaire Bechetti, taking place since then.
Of course, at the moment, it’s still out of our hands since – despite the winding-up order hearing resulting in an adjournment until June after Bechetti paid the tax bill which led to the order being issued and promised to settle other debts – he refuses to talk to potential buyers and, despite said promise in court, has not paid the wages of staff or players this month.
The situation at Orient is very difficult to explain to others since it doesn’t make any logical sense: our owner has withdrawn all funding and has seemingly deliberately run us into the ground and yet will not sell, or give the club to someone else when he has clearly lost all interest in it. There is no communication so we do not know his motives, but it seems to be: it’s my toy and if I can’t have it, then I’ll smash it up so no one else can.
And the net result of all this off-field nonsense? Y’know, on the pitch; the actual game of football?
Well, we are rock bottom of the football league with relegation to the conference for the first time in the club’s history likely to be confirmed this coming Easter Monday, with the lineup of our last game containing a staggering nine players under the age of 20.
Forget Jesus, if God really wanted to demonstrate what a resurrection was he’d keep us in the football league this year – but that’s just not going to happen.
Having been to most home games and a smattering of aways this season, I have seen the sum total of two victories.
One away at Grimsby very early on (where, hilariously, there was excited talk of promotion) and the second and final one at home to Crawley on Boxing Day. Our other two home victories – back in August against Stevenage and then in December against Accrington – I couldn’t attend.
Other than those three home wins, at Brisbane Road this season there’s been a solitary draw, and 17 (SEVENTEEN) soul-crushing defeats.
It’s hard to describe how depressing it is turning up every week, having that faint glimmer of hope that every fan has just before kick-off (“maybe we can do it this week lads, maybe the ball will bounce for us this game”) and then watching your team get turned over. Again. Despite preparing for defeat every week, it still kicks you in the gut when that ball goes in your net. Over and over again.
What’s weird (and good) about it though, is that there’s been very little anger directed at the players on the pitch. For the first half of the season, when we actually had some senior players, it was clear that the turmoil from above, the constant change of mangers and the interference of the owner in team selection was having a hugely negative effect.
And for the second half of the season, when more and more youth teamers have been drafted in to fill the gaps as players have been sold, sacked or simply not allowed to play, it’s clear that, despite virtually all of them displaying serious potential, talent, spirit and commitment, they’re just not equipped to deal with a relegation battle in League Two.
Put simply, it’s not their fault. They’ve tried, they’re just not up to it at this point in time.
It doesn’t feel like a ‘real’ relegation because it’s not been a fair fight. It’s very strange. At least we’ve had the consistently brilliant therapy group that is the Leyton Orient Supporters Club – with their legendary selection of real ale and craft beer – to help us through the tough times.
So back (eventually) to the question at hand. Is it ever acceptable to bet against your own team?
I’ve been tempted before. On each of the three times I’ve seen us lose in the play-off final (it’s a tough life being an Os fan), I’ve come close to backing the opposition with the justification that I’d be happy to pay £20 or whatever to see us win, and if we lose then at least you’d have some cash to console yourself with. I’ve never gone through with it though.
The rubicon was crossed two Saturdays ago, with three factors coming into play.
Firstly, a pre-match meeting with a Wycombe-supporting friend – at which we discussed the excellent form of Adebayo ‘The Beast’ Akinfenwa and the astute management of Gareth Ainsworth. Secondly, the arrival of the Orient team sheet which featured a player scraped up from the depths of the squad due to injury who hadn’t played since November, and even then was one of the worst players I’ve ever seen wear an Orient shirt. And thirdly, the observation that Wycombe were an unbelievably good value evens to win.
It was now or never. I looked again at the team sheet and could not for the life of me see how we were going to a) score a goal or b) not concede one. And, in my experience at least, in football, if those two things happen, you tend to lose the game. I looked again, coldly, at the league table, at our form, at the opponents we were facing, at the understandable lack of confidence in the squad. We were definitely going to lose. A neutral would have had it as a dead cert. I didn’t want us to lose, but I don’t want to be crap at playing football in my seven-a-side team every Friday and that doesn’t happen either.
Maybe, if I made some money, I’d at least get something out of another painful Saturday. Surely it was worth a try?
On it went.
In the event, we played well, we put in a spirited performance and two absolutely howling decisions from the ref went against us.
But we didn’t score a goal. And we conceded two. So the bet was won.
I won’t argue that it didn’t feel strange. Much like the former player that scores against his old team and refuses to celebrate, I took no joy from it. It was a job done.
I did it again this weekend against Cambridge.
We lost 3-0. The bet was won.
Again, it wasn’t like winning a normal bet, there was no real enjoyment. Which is why I’ll never do it again once this disaster of a season is over. Betting is meant to be fun, it’s meant to be a laugh. But on the other hand, when bookmakers are essentially offering you free money, what are you supposed to do – turn it down?
It’s an odd moral quandry to which I've given a lot of thought. Cold hard logic would dictate there’s nothing wrong with backing the opposition, since it provides a safety net: even if you lose, it won’t completely ruin your day. But on the other hand, money means nothing when it comes to your team losing – your day will still definitely be ruined. And when you watch football you don’t want a safety net – the beauty of the game is that it’s all or nothing; the highs are made sweeter by the knowledge that the lows are there and are very real indeed.
Maybe I’m overthinking it. At the end of the day (Clive), my betting has had zero effect on those results. We’d have lost anyway, and I’d be poorer.
All I know is, I just want the Os to go back to having at least a chance of being competitive as soon as possible, and I can get back to putting them down for a win when the odds look good, or when I see the team running out on the pitch and that familiar feeling comes and I reach for the betting app... “maybe we can do it this week lads, maybe the ball will bounce for us this game...”