Born to Punt
Steve Palmer

Having seen Steve Palmer featured in the three part BBC documentary "Britain at the Bookies" in 2015, I thought I'd take advantage of the opportunity to pick this up and, hopefully, find out a bit more about the guy and what makes him tick.

At the time of his BBC appearance he'd been reined in by his pregnant fiance, after punting his way through seventy five grand in a fairly short period, due to her aspirations of getting on the property ladder and needing him not to blow their last twenty five so they could put a deposit down. After this, he established a dedicated betting fund of two grand (two bags of sand), and was intent on growing it steadily through discriminating betting. At first I thought this book was a record of this particular endeavour, and it wasn't until I looked at the publication details, and read the intro, that I realised "Born to Punt" was an account of his betting escapades in 2010, and not his more recent plan of action. Back then he writes his aim was to grow his bankroll to £30K+, whereupon having reached a "facespitter" level he could throw in the day job as a sports columnist with the Racing Post and punt for a living; £30K being what he considered was needed as a bankroll to do it (gambling for a living) as a pro.

Steve gratuated from Bournemouth university (small "u") with a "Desmond Tutu" in Multi-Media Studies and Journalism, which he confesses he salvaged with some late-in-the-programme effort in the final part of his final year. He admits to spending most of the first two and two thirds of his time at uni jollying it up with his mates drinking lager and gambling in the local bookies. Having admitted that, he still did better than one of his oppos who "settled" for a third. As recognition of completing a higher education I should think a third from Bournemouth carries as much weight as a rodent's left bollock. I'm probably not entitled to an opinion though as I never actually did it myself (college and uni after leaving school that is), although my "O" level in Geography has meant that I've been able to find my way to work every day since leaving school at sixteen - something that many of the graduates I've been acquainted with seemed to have found a challenge.

After leaving uni, Steve capitalised on his university education and picked up a twenty five quid a day job as the "assistant pro" (read doing anything and everything) at a golf course near to where he was living in Weymouth. Reading his short recollection of his time there, it seems that having to be the one behind the course confectionary counter didn't gel with fulfilling his aspirations, and not too long afterwards he jumped ship after applying for, and being offered, the post of a junior writer with the Racing Post. He's been with the RP, notwithstanding the odd break, ever since.

So what of the book? An almost day-by-day synopsis of the bets Mr P placed during 2010, sandwiched between, in the main, inane ramblings relating to his singleton, chaotic lifestyle. There are a few amusing anecdotes which raised a smile as I read, but overall it's pretty bland and at times borders on drivel. The positive is that it's all presented in an easy to digest style, and it certainly isn't going to take too much intellectual effort to get through. Interestingly, Mr P won the Sports Journalists Association's accolade of "Sports Betting writer of the Year" two years on the trot immediately prior to writing "Born to Punt"; I'd be interested to know just how many nominations there were? If Mr P was the cream of his trade in 2008/9, I dread to think what the also-rans were like. Journalist with a very small "J" I think - probably better and more accurate to use the term columnist. As it happens this prestigious honour was discontinued after the 2013 award was presented to Greg Wood, possibly because there just weren't sufficient nominees in the pipeline to justify having the gong crafted each year? Cynic that I am . . .

So what of Steve's betting and the outcomes? I don't know anything about golf or darts, and as the year in question was seven years ago it's hard to know whether his punts on the footie were as a result of a discerning analysis of the prospects, or a random scatter-gun approach. Having read what I have, and in the absence of any commentary around why he placed bets on what he did, I've summised it's the latter, and that Steve is indeed a dyed-in-the-wool degenerate gambler (who'll have a bet on just about anything). Somewhere within his recollections he does write that he was giving up betting on the dogs as a lost cause, although with his appearance in "Britain at the Bookies", it's clear that this particular resolution didn't last - perhaps that was something written in the heat of a frustrating loss and he didn't mean it, or I've missed something subtle somewhere? Or . . . it might be that he just can't stay away . . .

Having spent ten minutes consulting with Mr Google, there's no doubt that Mr P has had his share of results; one was a single win double netting fifty two bags, although on the other hand some successes are long-odds punts (200-1 in one case) that come good and will skew his P&L running balance - or would if he kept one. My gut feeling, having dipped in and out of his book, is that this doesn't happen. At the time of writing he'd been hard betting for fifteen years, and I'd be very surprised if his accumulated losses over that period didn't run to tens of thousands, possibly making it into six figures. I could be wrong of course . . . but then I could be right. If he was asked I doubt very much whether he could give a figure that wasn't simply plucked out of the air.

The most poignant element of "Born to Punt" comprises just a single page; page 299, "Looking to the future". A lady asks him how long he's going to keep going (read betting), and he replies, "As long as it takes ... or until I die. Or until I find happiness some way else". He was 33 at the time, and states that he was as skint in 2010 as he was when he left uni ten years earlier. Bearing in mind throughout that time he'd been in full time, and one assumes fairly well paid, employment just where had it all gone? Silly question of course. Seven years on since then, he's married and a dad and I very much hope this is the happiness of "some way else", and that he's toned down the silly punting and put his good lady and kid firmly at the top of his list of priorities. I hope. Problem is with all dyed-in-the-wool obsessives/addicts is that there's always the risk of a relapse - take away the magnet for a moment and the compass needle always goes back to pointing north. Always.

You can find Steve Palmer's latest column with the Racing Post here. I don't know anything about golf, but I've calculated the bookies' overround on the best prices he gives as being a smidgeon over 15%. So good luck with that.

If you'd like to judge this one for yourself, there are plenty of copies available for around three quid with free postage at AbeBooks.co.uk.

April 2017.


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