Bidding a fond farewell to groundbreaking Stan James
The Thursday column
Monday was Migration Day, complete with a capital M and a capital D. A video introduced by Jermaine Jenas and featuring words from Nicky Henderson welcomed Stan James customers to Unibet, promising “a bettor experience”.
And that was that. Stan James were gone, joining the likes of Stanley, Mecca, Surrey and plenty of others in the betting brand bin.
Life moves on and it’s difficult enough dealing with humans, pets and racehorses that are no longer with us without mourning renamed betting companies, but I couldn’t help but feel a little nostalgic pang all the same.
Stan James were a cracking outfit back in the day and the transformation of the betting landscape from a strict diet of horses plus a smattering of dogs and football to the current multi-option world in which we can bet on whatever we want whenever we want and in whichever way we want (but just be careful not to win too much) might just have taken a little longer to materialise had it not been for them.
The venture started 45 years ago when Steve Fisher and his business partner James Holder opened a betting shop in Berkshire. The name came from the St of Steve, the An of his wife Anne and the James of James Holder.
The company opened more outlets in the coming years but their breakthrough from just another chain of shops to something more meaningful came in the early 1990s and coincided with the launch of Sky Sports.
Where previously betting on events that did not involve four-legged competitors or a football coupon was rare, Fisher spotted an opportunity to offer Sky customers the chance to augment their viewing pleasure on all these exotic events that were being transmitted live with a wager.
They advertised in the Life and the Post and they exploited Teletext’s ability to place odds under the noses of a new audience.
Anyone under 30 will probably struggle to comprehend that something as basic as Teletext had any chance of success but for some of us it was like watching Concorde’s maiden flight. You keyed in the relevant page from the advert in the Post and, hey presto, you were served with a rolling set of pages featuring live odds.
More by Bruce Millington
If you were unlucky on a busy Saturday the page you wanted had flicked on to the next one before you could digest the price you were seeking and you would have to wait for 38 more changes of screen before it came around again, but it seemed pretty damned cutting edge at the time.
Before long those of us who had longed for a more extensive menu of sports betting options were having our appetites handsomely fed.
As Sky’s output expanded so did the range of events and markets offered by Stan James and then by their bigger, better-known high street competitors, all of whom were now marketing their telebetting facilities.
If the most significant betting revolution since off-course wagering was legalised in 1961 was the introduction of live pictures into shops, the second was the creation of punting from home via the phone and Stan James were at the forefront of that.
Spreads, exchanges and the internet followed, but what Stan James did during the 1990s was ground-breaking and for that reason their name will live on long after Migration Day.
Hard to warm to ice queen's tale of woe
This may be an opinion that will land me in jail, such is the fervour with which we are supposed to cheer on athletes who share the same passport as us these days, but I am struggling to share this general feeling of sorrow that exists for Elise Christie.
The Winter Olympics largely passed me by this time, although I loved the BBC’s title sequence, but I did find myself at a loose end one morning while Christie was trying to win a medal.
I had been aware of the short track speed skater’s reputation as one of Britain’s unluckiest sportspeople, and so when she went crashing into the barriers in a semi-final of 1,500 metres it seemed like another chapter to an already sad story, especially as the BBC presenting team reacted like someone had just run over their kitten with a lawnmower.
But then I started to pay more attention and it quickly became abundantly clear anyone partaking in short track speed skating has to expect these things to happen. It is simply the most ridiculous sport I have ever seen.
If someone told you to concoct an activity that would have the best possible chance of creating controversy and hard-luck stories this is it. Proper-sized speed skating is excellent, a graceful exhibition of strength, stamina and poise.
But presumably those giant ice rinks that are required to host it are few and far between so the short track version has been created to enable more people to get involved. Or something.
However, in the same way running horseraces around a dog track would not work, short track skating is a hopeless mess that relies on luck to determine its winners time after time.
Even allowing for the lack of space on the track for the number of competitors that take part, though, Christie’s Olympic record is quite something.
In 2010 she finished 11th, 19th and 20th in the three events she went in for (and by the way, like Olympic swimming, there are far too many races over similar distances that the same person can enter) but the trouble really started four years later, when she managed to get herself disqualified from the 500, 1,000 and 1,500 metres.
And the misery continued this time in South Korea as she crashed in the 500m final, took that tumble in the 1,500m and was then chucked out of the 1,000m after being blamed for causing two crashes.
You would have to be callous not to feel a shred of sympathy for Christie, whose dreams of Olympic glory after so much hard work have been crushed so often, but her chosen sport is little less of a lottery than the kind of mad things they used to organise during the international versions of It’s A Knockout and down the years she has clearly failed to get the hang of keeping on the right side of the judges.
Perhaps in 2022 her moment will come, and fair play to her if it does. But hers is a badly-conceived sport that carries an absurd level of risk of disruption and heartache so there is no guarantee the torment will finally end in Beijing.
Terrific T20 should be the jewel in cricket's crown
If speed skating is a sport that does not work in a shorter form, cricket is one that we have now seen clearly does.
The T20 version of the game is the greatest sporting innovation of the 21st century and yet there are still some cricket crusties who want to turn back the tide and act to preserve the popularity of the longer forms of the sport.
England coach Trevor Bayliss has called for T20 internationals to be scrapped to avoid burnout among players and coaches, but that is completely the wrong way of looking at it.
T20 is popular and attracts big crowds so the sport is going to have to get used to that and adapt rather than tell the customers they are wrong for not preferring Tests and 50-over games.
Until such time as the sport finally embraces a Test match World Cup there is no future for five-dayers and the best way to avoid burnout is for the cricketers who can cut it at T20 level to focus on that and leave matches that last for more than three days to the others, who can then put on a show for those time-rich people who like to sit and watch the scoreboard slowly change like anglers on the riverbank hoping for a bite but not being too fussed because the peace and tranquility is the main thing.
Forest's offer puts them top of the tree
Football club of the week are Nottingham Forest, who have announced some superbly low season ticket prices for young fans for next season.
If you are aged between four and 11 your ticket will cost a tenner, which works out at 44p per match, while a season of City Ground action for those aged between 12 and 17 is £50 and it’s £100 if you are 18-23.
Forest are not the only club who realise how important it is to attract young supporters but it is unfair that they and others like them should be doing so much to introduce youngsters to the joys of live football.
It is hoped more clubs, particularly those from the upper divisions, create such excellent value for young fans because if they don’t football will become strictly a TV experience for the next generations and that presents a significant threat to the sport’s future.
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