On the 150th anniversary of Dostoevsky’s seminal The Gambler comes the tale of a bettor who lives it every hour of every day. Australian football, rugby, rugby league, dogs, tennis, snooker, horse racing. It is odds of 1.01 that Findlay has bet every sport on Betfair. I doubt that even the man himself knows how much he has won or lost down the years. Over 99% of bettors do not, and with good reason. As U2 sang on Every Breaking Wave, “Every gambler knows that to lose / is what you’re really there for”. We can say for sure what Findlay’s biggest loss was: a £2,500,000 bet on New Zealand to win the 2007 Rugby World Cup. France prevailed with an incorrect last-minute penalty that should not have been awarded. Next time you get a bad beat, chew on that.
That’s what this book is all about: the highs and lows of a shrewd, instinctual gambler. After lumping on the 10/11 Navratilova to win a Wimbledon match with money that he had borrowed from a builder’s kitty in his day job, Findlay knew he could get on a roll at any time in order to get the “readies”. These would not come from the aforementioned building job, as he was sacked the next week. He was no stranger to playing hard and loose with the truth, having previously “done bird” for credit card fraud.
His most famous, and beloved, dog “Big Fella Thanks” was bought in Ireland and named after a comment that Charlie Haughey had made to Ben Dunne after receiving a payoff. Haughey had apparently said “thanks big fella” which had to be legally changed to “Big Fella Thanks”. After some previously bad beats in big dog races, Findlay learnt, in the words of Curley O’Driscoll, that “you have to take your beating in this game”. “Big Fella Thanks” won virtually everything and duly went on a 31-race unbeaten streak. Findlay cared for the greyhound at home until he died.
Snooker player Willie Thorne was dying a very different sort of death after going out drinking with Findlay during a tournament. Naturally, when Thorne played the next day, Findlay lumped on his opponent Terry Griffiths who duly smashed the worse-for-wear Thorne 4-0.
Findlay’s story is also that of the generational change to the “machine” Betfair, where he still does most of his trading today, and the rise of the purely financial punter like Tony Bloom. His most legendary day of horse racing was when Denman won the 2008 Gold Cup. That race still gives me Goosebumps and is up there with Dawn Run in Cheltenham folklore. Findlay won £1,000,000 on him that day. Incredibly, this was probably from a lower stake than when he bet £360,000 on Denman to win £33,000 in his second ever hurdle race.
Findlay was perhaps unfairly banned from racing. He laid a horse despite having a net back position. Yet, I cannot help but think: don’t lay your own horses. Seems simple enough to me. Some of his whining about this being a conspiracy by people who didn’t like him is also wide of the mark. In fact, it reminded me of the similar wailings that emanated from the man who ghost wrote this book, Neil Harman, the disgraced ex-Times tennis journalist, after he was caught out plagiarising another persons work some years back. Birds of a feather and all that. Overall, file under mildly interesting read.