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PLAYING THE POOLS

It’s fair to say the Football Pools became a British institution. While their founders had constructed the business to alter their own social circumstances, they invertedly created a means through which other ordinary people could acquire some much-needed wealth. From 1925, weekly gross receipts grew, to the extent that in 1926 they became the target of anti-betting organisations and the police, for at the time betting was illegal. The police prosecuted the company under the condition it was illegal to even print the coupons! In court, John was convicted but instantly appealed, his appeal was upheld - he and Cecil escaped prison. An unforeseen byproduct of this tumultuous time was the national publicity the company received. Soon enough most people had heard of the Littlewoods Football Pools and wanted to try their luck at winning a fortune overnight.

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Eventually, match season would become concomitant with completing coupons, they became a ritual and entrenched football into working-class culture. Even the government would later recognise the role of the Pools in raising morale by commissioning Unity Pools, an alliance between top pools promoters formed during the Second World War. Up to 14 million people sat every week tentatively waiting for those Saturday tea-time scores! It’s hardly surprising it was so popular considering you could gamble £1.20 and win over a million in return, as was the case with Elaine McDonagh in 1987, but irrespective of these factors, people invested in the Pools because John invested in his workers.

The Littlewoods workforce was overwhelmingly comprised of women whom he treated to trips to the beach and cinema, or offered to pay for secretarial night school so they could achieve their potential. Not only did this engender retainment, but it also stimulated recruitment, which enabled expansion. Put simply, everyone wanted to work for Littlewoods! When the Pools became Cecil’s responsibility in 1932, he reviewed and revitalised the business, introducing the world-renowned 'Littlewoods Treble Chance' Pool in 1946, as well as raising the maximum dividend to create bigger payouts. The Pools went from strength to strength, until well into the nineties when The National Lottery surpassed their success.   

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