British NFL bettor breaks down Super Bowl Sunday in the UK

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What on earth would a Brit know about football? Quite a bit as it turns out. You see, I’m hooked, every day, no matter the time of year. And yes, even in London.

The UK is obsessed with soccer and it revels in its moniker of ‘The Beautiful Game’. Only it isn’t, but not a lot of people are prepared to admit it. Despite the hordes you might see on TV who flock to Wembley Stadium for the now thrice-yearly International Series, football over here is generally viewed as clumsy and wholly unattractive.

So, how is the Super Bowl received? Like the rest of the season never even happened.

Super Bowl weekend features radio and TV shows clamouring for interviews with ex-players and British celebrity fans for insight into who’ll win and why. The quality newspapers cover it generously and London hosts the Super Bash, which this year is being held at Indigo at The 02 and is sponsored by Xbox, no less.

In recognition of next year’s Detroit Lions vs. Kansas City Chiefs matchup at Wembley, Lions WR Golden Tate and the Kansas City cheerleaders will also be in attendance. I’ve never actually been myself, but do know that it’s not only fans of the participating teams who turn up as there’s an even sprinkling of all number of NFL jerseys.

A BRIT BETTING AMERICA’S GAME

I was first introduced to NFL betting when I worked in Coral Racing’s head office, taking bets from punters over the telephone and as this was 1987, it coincided with Super Bowl XXII the following January.

Looking at the record books now, it shows that Denver was a 3 point favorite that afternoon. However, as that was my first Super Bowl where I was a little mesmerised at the betting opportunities available, I distinctly remember Washington being available +6 on this side of the pond the Saturday before the game. Of course, they obliterated the line thanks to those 35 second quarter points.

As the Super Bowl always starts at 11:30 p.m. in the United Kingdom, that was only the second one a 16-year-old me was allowed to stay up for, so the event has always held a certain magic and it remains that way 27 years on. I can now simply take the Monday after the game off work, and do. But the sense of occasion is only heightened through watching the game in the middle of the night.

You need to be 18 years of age to legally gamble in a betting shop in the UK, so I was held back until Super Bowl XXIV, where I took my first plunge against the spread. And what could possibly go wrong when backing Denver +12 over San Francisco?

The Broncos couldn’t possibly be as bad as they were two years previously. Turns out they were. Even worse, in fact. However, that was – and ever since, from the following season, I’ve looked at every NFL game, devised my own line and gambled where appropriate. OK, and inappropriately on occasion.

I suppose this would be as good a time as any to let you in to my NFL allegiance. I’m a Seahawks fan, but certainly not somebody who’s recently jumped on to the bandwagon. Oh no, it’s been 31 years of mostly misery following Seattle and I’m not blind to the fact that right now is probably as good as it’s ever going to get for me.

My reason for choosing the Seahawks was being impressed enough at a team retiring the number 12 shirt for its fans in 1984 – the year I first started watching the sport. I needn’t go into the finer details of how Channel 4 was first launched in the UK in 1982, suffice to say the decision was made to show NFL highlights on a Sunday evening – an hour long program that showed condensed games and touchdown reels from the week before.

The launch of this completely passed me by, but as Super Bowl XVII was the first Big Game shown live in the UK, a lot of Brits quickly became Miami and Washington fans. For years after, the defining image of the sport for a lot of us was the close-up, slow motion replay of John Riggins’s face on his 43-yard fourth quarter touchdown run that gave Washington its first lead of the game.

SUPER BOWL BETTING IN THE UK

Currently, London transport is festooned with posters declaring that football is the UK’s fastest growing sport and Sky Sports’ build up to the game during this Super Bowl week is startling in the fact that it features wall-to-wall coverage.

You won’t find the same level of excitement in high street betting shops as the average punter goes in for his or her daily horse racing flutter or soccer bet, something that hasn’t and won’t change for decades. But it’s the staple diet of the high street betting industry and is how it should be.

That said, the proliferation of FOBTs (Fixed Odds Betting Terminals) in betting shops, which allows you to play casino games, has come in for enormous criticism and many is the activist lobbying the government heavily to have them banned.

To give you an idea of how easy it is to find a betting shop in London’s surrounding areas, my place of work (in a town called Ilford in the county of Essex) is on a stretch of road that sees Ladbrokes, Paddy Power and William Hill taking up three shop fronts out of five with only a Piri Piri chicken outfit and an Irish pub named “Jono’s” separating the last two. I kid you not. You could find a worse town to work in. Here’s a look:

So, with betting shops not adequately showcasing the Super Bowl, it leaves the internet as the place to go in search of the Holy Grail of bets, not that that’s ever a bad thing. You may just know, for example, that the Patriots are going to score four field goals on Sunday (12/1) or that the total points scored in the game will amount to an even number (23/20) and it’s these prop bets that really does make Super Bowl Sunday such a haven for us gamblers.

My favorite prop bet of all time was before Super Bowl XLVII (or “Har Bowl”, if you like) between the 49ers and Ravens, when you could bet on which Harbaugh brother would be shown on screen first during the game (EVEN), while a split screen shot was 4/1.

I didn’t bet at all on last year’s Super Bowl when the Seahawks got there, purely through not wanting to jinx anything and I know I can safely write that here as all of us gamblers are superstitious… aren’t we?

I’d backed Seattle +4 in Super Bowl XL against Pittsburgh and, of course, my laying money down on the Seahawks had caused even the officiating crew to conspire against us. That wasn’t going to happen again. It didn’t, and, so, what do I do this year? Backing the Patriots is what I’m doing, straight up.

Experiencing Seattle winning the Super Bowl means the jinx has been blown away and yes, just one Lombardi will do fine as it’s something I thought I’d never see. That’s not to say that I don’t care about the outcome on Sunday as that’d be downright ridiculous.

No, all it means is that I’m happy to gamble on Seahawks games again as big as the Super Bowl and I’m backing New England for that all important emotional insurance: if Seattle loses, I’m quids in, but I’d gladly lose the £40 to £50 on this one for Seattle to retain their championship.

It’s been quite the turnaround on the line with the Seahawks opening as 3-point favorites to now being available as 1.5-point underdogs. However, it’s a given that will only serve as inspiration to them. It also doesn’t hurt that the underdog is 6-1 ATS in the last seven Super Bowls. In addition, the Patriots are 0-4 ATS as favorites in their last four Super Bowls. There you have it – the betting trends at least lean towards Seattle.

Speaking of which, a spokesperson for Ladbrokes had this to say last weekend: “The early money has been all for New England, which was initially the underdog for the game, but we are now 10/11 each. We will take 95 percent of turnover (this) weekend so it is still early to tell who the public will be backing as they are two very popular teams. I do not expect there to be too much movement in the prices leading up to the game.”

SUPER BOWL GAME PLAN

Due to the aforementioned 11:30 p.m. kickoff, Super Bowl Sunday results in the most unusual day of the year for me. Even though I do now take the next day off work regardless of who the two teams are, I do like to break the Sunday into two parts.

I ensure that I’m in The Valentine pub by 1:00 p.m. at the very latest, enjoying a few beers with whoever wishes to join me. For those who love the sport like me, it’s great for the chance to discuss the game that night, the opinions becoming louder with each passing pint.

For those who simply don’t get it, they look bewildered at my choice of drinking myself to sleep by 6 p.m. (I do go home first) and waking up at around 10 p.m. to take in the build up to the game on TV. And home is where I stay.

I must admit to avoiding Super Bowl parties, as I like to take everything in with as few distractions as possible. The Super Bowl is serious business to a Limey fan of the sport of 30 years and it’s that not being allowed to stay up as a kid for Super Bowls XIX and XX and desperately looking forward to Super Bowl XXI that evokes those same feelings now and makes the event my sporting highlight of the year.

As Seattle was an AFC team at the time, I remember wanting Denver to beat the Giants in that Super Bowl and the Rose Bowl just looked, at least to me at the time, simply magnificent. Here I was, finally watching the Super Bowl. I do realise that this must all sound a little ridiculous to those of you who’ve been able to watch the game from whenever you can first remember.

Naturally, my rooting for the AFC went straight out of the window once I was old enough to gamble. However, I was on the Broncos again in Super Bowl XXXII when they were huge underdogs against defending champion Green Bay.

Much like the Washington-Denver line in Super Bowl XXII, record books show that the Broncos were 11-point underdogs against the Packers, but they were actually available +13.5 in the UK and I was on it. The game itself is a vastly underrated Super Bowl and memorable on so many levels. It also broke the NFC’s 13-year dominance in Super Bowls.

The NFC representative can happily go right ahead and win it all again this year with no complaints from me.

Rob Davies lives in the United Kingdom and writes for Seattle Seahawks blog Field Gulls. You can follow them on Facebook and Twitter @FieldGulls.

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