For fans of financially troubled Weymouth Football Club, the chance of a humiliating defeat usually only adds to their woes. But when the entire squad went on strike, leaving only the youth team available for the next match, supporters cashed in on one of the biggest betting coups in non-league football.
More than £1 million was paid out after punters placed huge bets on Weymouth losing against Rushden & Diamonds.
As the match became the hottest betting prospect in the country many bewildered bookmakers were forced to cut odds before suspending betting entirely.
The regular team, which has not been paid at all this year because of the club’s debts, walked out after discovering that there was no medical insurance for the game.
Despite a valiant attempt by the Weymouth teenage team, when the final whistle blew they had been trounced 9-0.
One punter, who wanted to remain anonymous, told how he had earlier raced from one Devon bookmaker to the next to place thousands of pounds in bets.
He said: “As soon as word began leaking out on Friday night that it might be the entire youth team playing the next day we began putting on bets. We put on money at all the local bookmakers and then started driving to all the surrounding towns to get more bets on.
“We then began ringing friends around the country to get them to put on money for us. Even as the price began shortening we kept putting on thousands because there was no way a team of 17-year-olds was going to win that game.”
About £680,000 was traded on a Rushden win on the Betfair exchange alone. At first the odds were 15-8. By kick-off at 3pm on Saturday the odds on Rushden winning were just 4-6 and some bookmakers had stopped taking bets.
The 1,000 Weymouth supporters, some of whom felt mixed emotions at having made money from their team’s loss, gave the young squad a standing ovation.
Keith Avant, 30, said he didn’t know whether to laugh or cry after winning £237 from his team’s defeat. “I put £100 on and got £237 back. I heard all the players were walking away so I went out to make the bet.
“It was a bit emotional as a Weymouth fan as you don’t want to bet against your own team. But it was a good investment.”
A Coral spokesman said: “Normally £30,000 to £40,000 would be paid out on a match like this across the whole industry. But we paid out in the region of £100,000 and we are 20 per cent of the industry.”
He added that Coral changed the odds after learning that the public was aware the club was fielding its youth team.
A Ladbrokes spokesman said: “We got wind of it on Saturday morning after we noticed an unexpected number of people placing bets. We were able to slash the odds and fortunately it was not too bad.”
Steve Palmer, deputy sports editor at theRacing Post, said that the match had become “the centre of the betting universe” before the game.
“Nonleague football is one of the few sports where punters can get an edge on the bookmakers,” he said. “They can have superior knowledge and the bookmakers can get caught with their trousers down.”
George Primarolo, spokesman for Totesport, which was one of the first bookmakers to suspend betting on the game, said: “We took it down once it appeared people knew more than us. We are quite used to this sort of thing happening in the lower leagues because teams can struggle financially and all of a sudden a couple of players cannot play.
“It’s not like the Premier League where all the team news is broadcast everywhere. I am sure there are some people who did very well out of it.”