Dubbed “the original millionaire maker”, The Pools recently celebrated its 100th anniversary, complete with a world record-setting football match—in a cathedral! Let's see how the last 100 years have shaped this great British institution.
How The Pools works
Whilst it once had a reputation of glitz, glamour and celebrity, younger players today can be forgiven for not knowing exactly what The Pools is or how it works.
There are now several variations, but the classic game essentially allows players to enter a football prize pool for a low buy-in, affording them the chance to “dream big without spending huge”.
From a predefined list of upcoming football matches, players must predict which of the fixtures are going to end in a draw. The score in each drawn game must be 1:1 or higher to count, and the number of draws correctly predicted determines the likelihood of a cash payout.
A history of The Pools
Here are some of the most defining moments in the long and illustrious history that have shaped The Pools over the last 100 years.
1923: Littlewoods Football Pool
Formed in Liverpool by John Moores and two work colleagues, each of whom invested £50 of their own cash, Littlewoods Football Pools was born. The initial 4,000 tickets were sold outside Manchester United’s Old Trafford ground.
The number of Pools players continued to swell over the following years, with players enjoying the chance to win life-changing sums of money for an affordable buy-in.
England was transformed by the war and, whilst The Pools continued to grow in popularity, the Littlewoods building was occupied by the Government’s censorship department, with the machines used to print tickets for The Pools suddenly tasked with producing 17 million call-up papers.
By 1940, less than a year into the Second World War, the Littlewoods Football Pools workforce were reinvented as a parachute-making operation, creating and delivering 20,000 parachutes in just three months.
In post-war Britain, despite paper rationing, rising taxes and economic strain being felt by all, The Pools thrived, opening new offices in Cardiff and Glasgow to accommodate this success.
1950s-1960s: Innovation in the age of computers
By the early ‘50s, The Pools had a workforce of more than 10,000, mostly women, whose task it was to check five million tickets each and every week.
For this reason, The Pools was among the first British companies to embrace modern technologies, bringing high-speed scanners into their workplaces, and then an IBM 360 computer.
1961: Spend, spend, spend!
When, in 1961, her husband Keith won £152,319 on The Pools (equivalent to more than £3.6m today), a Yorkshirewoman named Viv Nicholson told the media that she was going to "spend, spend, spend" and became an instant tabloid celebrity.
With a lavish taste for sportscars, furs, designer clothing and expensive holidays, Viv burnt through their fortune and admitted having no concept of worth or how to manage her money. She eventually bankrupted herself and experienced a number of controversies and tragedies, as well as being the subject of a 1977 BAFTA-winning film.
The Pools had established itself as a glamorous institution with the power to grant fortunes and change lives.
1970s-Present: Making millionaires
The Pools has come a long way from its humble beginnings. In the minds of many, The Pools is now associated with giant cheques, celebrities and red carpets. Since its conception, the organisation has awarded more than 60 million prizes.
In 2007, Littlewoods merged with two competitors to form what is now known as ‘The Football Pools’, adopting a modern approach which allows players to buy their tickets and play a range of other games through their website.
Liverpool remains the home of The Pools, spiritually and otherwise, and it is in Liverpool Cathedral that The Pools’ 100-year anniversary celebrations took place. Unusually, however, they didn't take the form of a cake-and-champagne ordeal, but, instead, a record-setting football match.
Officially the very first football match ever to be played inside a cathedral, two teams of celebrities, including X-Factor personalities, actors, TV presenters, and pro footballers enjoyed a twenty-minute six-a-side game.
Refereed by the local Reverend, it is hoped that the game will ultimately draw more people to the cathedral, and encourage its use for more unconventional events in the future.
The Pools’ CEO, James Arnold, commented on how the match was all about creating memories.
“We wanted to create a memorable sporting spectacle in the city where The Football Pools’ incredible story began and this was absolutely it.”
The future of The Pools
Whilst the flashbulbs, red carpets and giant cheques may have been lost in the wake of digital technologies, The Pools is still going strong and occupies a fond place in the memories of many.
Today, playing The Pools is easier than ever, and players can get involved in classic Pools for as little as £1, demonstrating that it hasn’t compromised on its original intention: to offer people a chance to “dream big without spending huge”.
Regarding its recent cause for celebration, The Pools website states, “Reaching 100 years is a significant achievement, but looking ahead to the future is as exciting as treasuring the past.”