Mike Newell Owes Me

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We’d better get promoted this season, because Mike Newell owes me.

I should explain, although the thought of just leaving it there does amuse me. I’m no gambler, and could pretty much reel off the bets I’ve placed in my entire life. A big reason why I steer clear of the bookies is my tragic record of near misses. Newell is responsible for the closest and most expensive.

 

To give you some context, allow me to offer a couple of less serious near things. When bookies started establishing stalls in stands at football grounds, I often got the feeling they had little or no knowledge of lower division football. More specifically, I felt that they had no clue who the away team were. I’d be in the home stand and the bookie, obviously aiming at a target audience of home fans, would sometimes offer outrageously silly odds on Wrexham players being first scorers.

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I remember being suckered into a punt on Dennis Lawrence at outrageously long odds – if they’d known he would tower over the home side’s centre backs they might have thought again. That bet didn’t come close to fruition: I can’t recall what match it was, but have a vague recollection of watching a game with a growing sense of annoyance that we weren’t getting over the half way line, never mind winning a set piece for The Tall Man to devour!

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Karl Connolly in the 2-1 win over Ipswich in 1995.

A much nearer miss, and I’m sure you’ll understand my eagerness to jump onto this bet, came at Huddersfield. I was astonished to see how long Karl Connolly’s odds were for the first goal. I mean, this was Karl Connolly! King Karl! He used to score a few, you know? 

 

Obviously I lumped everything on him as first scorer and imagined the sweet bounty my £2 stake would return to me. Early on, and we’re starting well. Then comes the moment that makes my heart leap. We win a penalty. And who takes our penalties? Step forward Mister Connolly.

 

I had one foot in the aisle, waiting to sprint to the bookie. I was composing the beautiful rant I would embark upon as I gathered my massive pile of winnings in my arms, laughing at their stupidity. For Karl Connolly never missed penalties. Except this time.

 

How many times have you seen a penalty taker try a Panenka, but the keeper doesn’t move? Not many, I’ll bet? Well, I’ve seen one.

 

Our glorious FA Cup win at West Ham in 1997 featured a different type of gambling mishap, as my Dad rubbed my face in the betting mess I’d created for myself. I had to get into the stadium early to set up the remarkably over-complicated commentary equipment Marcher Sound had given me – in the absence of a portable kit, they had unscrewed a massive unit from the wall and given me pages of instructions on how to assemble it and make it work.

 

Left to his own devices, Dad wandered the East End for a bit until he came upon a bookies. Here’s the first cruel twist in what happened that afternoon: as far as I’m aware, he’s never gambled, except for a traditional punt on the Grand National. Yet something – boredom, kismet, explain it how you will – gripped him and he went in and placed a bet on Wrexham’s first scorer. 

 

On the face of it, it was not a good bet. He lumped his money on Kevin Russell, and then arrived at the ground to find he wasn’t even starting. If you’re not up on your Wrexham history, you’re probably still well ahead of me. Russell, of course, comes off the bench to score a glorious last minute winner. While I was delighted with the result, I was less thrilled when I found that the father of the serial bet-loser had the golden touch!

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…and Kevin Russell scored the winner in the replay.

Obviously there are more examples of my gambling misfortunes. I recall taking part in a sweep for the time of the first goal in a Merseyside derby. A packed bar meant the winner would take £90 home, and as a student I wasn’t about to turn my nose up at that! However, just before my minute began, a player went down injured. The physio came on and I watched as my sixty seconds ticked away. The ball wasn’t in play at all for my allotted minute, and of course, as the clock turned over, Everton hit the free kick into the box and it was volleyed home! I missed out by two seconds!

 

I’m pretty sure Mike Newell wasn’t the player who scored that goal, but I still have beef with him. He cost me a heck of a lot more than £90!

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I was at Goodison Park to watch a match, and decided to buy a Golden Goal ticket. Everton used to do a roaring trade in those little tickets, which featured a minute and a second. The time of the first goal would be taken from the stadium scoreboard and obviously the prize would be substantial.

 

My time was quite close to half time, and I found that my obsessive desire to win meant I couldn’t really enjoy the game. I was there as a neutral, but desperately wanted every attack to come to nothing. Never mind entertainment, I wanted my riches!

 

As my time drew close, with the game still goalless, Everton went on the attack. I edged forwards as the ball was played in the box, half an eye on the scoreboard. As my second turned, Newell hit a close range volley. Everyone around me leapt to their feet – I joined them for a different reason. They dreamed of victory; I dreamed of sailing my yacht around The Flash scoffing at passers-by in my captain’s uniform.

 

The fact that the shot hit the bar was bad enough. Newell reaching the rebound and heading it in, as the clock turned over to the next second, was taking the mick. 

 

I still clung onto the hope that whoever had to adjudicate might have not been fully paying attention, but five minutes later the winning time was announced. One second after mine. No yacht. No captain’s outfit. The Glamour Model sitting next to me muttered something about broken promises under her breath and left. 

 

We’d better get promoted this season, because Mike Newell owes me.

Here’s my column from last week’s Leader. It forms part of the paper’s comprehensive pre-match coverage every Friday, featuring interviews, an in-depth look at the opposition and lots of statistical analysis. All content in the column (c) www.leaderlive.co.uk.

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