Football pools 2023 screenshotFor many among the younger generations, the name ‘football pools’ might not mean very much, but back in its heyday it was a gigantic part of English football culture. Created by a man named John Moores in 1923, by the 1930s over 10 million people were playing the pools on a weekly basis. It retained a high level of interest over the following decades too, making it one of the major forms of gambling in the United Kingdom.

Around the time of the new millennium though, interest in the pools began to decline considerably, in part due to the competition of the National Lottery (which was established in 1994). The pools boasted around 10m players in 1994 but, by 2007, this figure had dropped to just 700,000. Despite this decline, the football pools are still very much alive today and there are still some large prizes on offer.

It may be more of a niche interest now, with most punters preferring to place their football bets with a bookmaker, whether online or in betting shops. But the football pools still attracts a healthy amount of interest. Current player figures are hard to find but, back in 2016, it was claimed that 300,000 people regularly play the pools. Many that still take part are huge fans of the concept so let us take a look at why this is, and how the modern-day football pools system works.

How Do the Football Pools Work?

1923 football pools
The first football pools office in Liverpool in 1923

Originally how the pools operated is that paper coupons would be physically handed out to football fans who expressed an interest in taking part. These fans would then be asked to fill in the coupon and mail it, along with a postal order (payment), to the return address. Once the footballing results were in, the postal orders were cashed and the winners were paid their proportional share of the pot.

The coupon itself would feature a list of fixtures and the most traditional form of playing required punters to pick out matches they believed would end as a score draw. The Treble Chance game, established in 1946, followed this principle, awarding three points for a score draw, two for a goalless draw and one point for a home/away win (in previous formats away wins were given 1.5 points). Participants would pick eight games each time, meaning there was a maximum of 24 points and the player(s) with the highest score took away the top dividend.

The Move Online

Present-day football pools game follows the same core principle in that prizes are paid from a cumulative pool of prize money, rather than being fixed odds. Additionally, the entire game still revolves around predicting the match result of pre-selected football games. There are, however, many differences between the football pools today and the one that existed in the mid-20th century.

Firstly, the football pools now only exist online rather than having stores you can pop into to collect the coupon. The overwhelming majority of players now top up their account online and make their selections directly on the website, meaning no need for any paper or for anything to be sent in the post. Pools traditionalists have not been completely abandoned though as it is possible to download paper coupons from the website, which then can be sent in the post.

The move to go online was key to the survival of the pools because it is simply more convenient for customers, and it means receiving any winnings much quicker too. Most games pay out the morning after the last game has been played, although a couple of games can take up to two days. Being online also has the added benefit of players can bet after seeing the team sheet for many of the fixtures, because the deadline is usually just six minutes before the kick-off of the first match. Finally, there is the advantage that changes can be quickly made in the event of a late fixture rescheduling, something that used to be much more problematic in the paper-and-post era.

Speaking of fixtures, not only is there a much wider range of games for players to select from now, but there is a broader range of fixtures too. Traditionally the football pools only provided fixtures from English and Scottish football. Today though, you can find fixtures from all across European football including domestic matches and continental cup affairs such as the Champions League.

Who Runs the Football Pools?

The Football Pools logoThe Pools logoDuring its glory years, several different companies were running their own pools, with Littlewoods, Vernons and Zetters being the big three. None of these has any involvement in the pools now though as they were brought together in 2007 by Sportstech and rebranded ‘The New Football Pools’. More recently the pools were purchased by a private equity company OpCapita in 2017, for an £83m sum. OpCapita remain in charge of the pools, now known simply as ‘The Football Pools’, and its two websites and, both of which offer the same products.

Facing no genuine competition, this is the only place to take part in the pools, certainly if you want a chance of winning a lucrative prize. Football Pools Limited is the trading name and they are fully licensed by the Gambling Commission.

Types of Football Pools

In addition to betting on the Irish Lotto, the Football Pools have five different games you can spend your money on. Games cost between £0.50 and £2 per line, and the minimum bet is £1/£2, so taking part does not need to cost much. A low minimum was key to the success of the pools in its earlier decades as it encouraged even relatively casual gamblers to take part. For players that want to bet more, they can simply purchase more lines or play multiple games.

Of the five different pools available, the three smaller ones (Premier) tend to focus on fixtures on a single day, with most days having at least one round of fixtures. For the two bigger games, Classic and Goal Rush, the fixture list is larger and often spans two or even three days. There are fewer around as a result but typically there are still two or three each week, sometimes with a little overlap.

Classic Pools

Classic pools football pools screenshot

This is the main attraction and it largely follows the traditional format of the game. The objective here is to pick score draws. From the list of 49 pre-selected fixtures players must choose 10 matches they think will end as a score draw. Each correct prediction is worth three points, selecting a goalless draw is worth two points while a win for each team is worth one point.

The game offers a top prize of £3m but, in reality, the odds of someone scooping this prize for themselves are extremely low. Firstly, it is only payable if there is a round where there are exactly nine score draws and a player will need to get all nine correct. Additionally, the £3m bonus would be shared in the event of multiple winners. Given that most rounds do not see exactly nine score draws, let alone someone getting them all correct, prizes tend to be much smaller than this advertised figure.

The points threshold for getting one of the two top prizes varies with each round, sometimes it might be 22 and 21 but with weeks with a lot of score draws it might be 24 and 23. For the top score, looking at data from previous weeks, you can usually expect the payout to be between £1,000 and £15,000 while secondary prizes usually range from £50 to £1,000. So, there is still decent money to be won, even though it is not a seven-figure sum.

How the points are calculated is that your eight ‘best’ selections are chosen, so if you predicted six score draws, two goalless draws and two away wins, you would end up with (6 x 3) + (2 x 2) = 20 points. This means the maximum possible score is 24. Any player who ends up with a score of 20 or more, is entered into a near-miss prize draw which sees thousands of players awarded a small consolation prize.

The last thing to mention is that players can boost their odds of success by paying extra to feature more selections in their line. The standard pick of 10 selections per line costs just £1 but players have the option to pay £2.75 for 11 lines or £7.50 for 12 lines. The price jump up to 12 looks quite hefty but some players prefer it as it does make it easier to get to 20+ points.

Goal Rush

Goals rush football pools screenshot

For anyone that has played the popular ‘Goals Galore’ game before, this follows a similar concept. The game is all about picking fixtures, from a list of 35 pre-selected ones, in which both teams score. It is as simple as that. If both teams score, this is a correct pick, if one or both teams are unable to score, it will be marked as incorrect. Goals in extra time, should a cup game go past 90 minutes, are not included, though injury time at the end of the normal 90 minutes is included.

Like with the Classic Pools, there is a big headline sum up for grabs, in this case £1m, but getting your hands on this is difficult. Why? Because in order to qualify your selections must be the eight matches that see both teams score in the quickest time. If the home team scores their first goal in the eighth minute and the away team in the 12th minute, this match would have a both teams to score outcome of 12 minutes. All games are then ordered in this way.

The average prize in Goal Rush for eight correct predictions was £524 between January and December 2022 while the average for seven correct predictions was £35. Seven correct is always a guaranteed cash prize, regardless of how many other winners there are. Taking part costs £2 per go but unlike with the Classic pool, you can not pay extra in order to unlock additional selections.

Premier 6/10/12

Premier 6 football pools screenshot

Although these are three separate games (Premier 6, Premier 10 and Premier 12) they all follow a similar premise, which is why they have been grouped together. Across the Premier games, the objective is to correctly predict the match result from the pre-selected six, 10 or 12 fixtures. By result we mean either a home win, draw or away win. Often there is quite of overlap with the fixtures, between the Premier games, with matches featuring across all lists. This is not always the case though, partly because Premier 6 and 10 often have different daily pools to choose from, allowing players to avoid certain matches if they wish.

One relatively unique element of the Premier games is that players can pick more than one result, for each match, if they are unsure how it will play out. If they have absolutely no idea how one unpredictable match may turn out, they can even decide to choose all three results, guaranteeing a win from that fixture. Multiple selections do come at an additional cost though as it means placing additional lines.

Each game has its own prize pot and as with all Football Pools games, winners take away their share, once the company has taken their cut from it. In the Premier 6 game, prizes can vary substantially based on how unpredictable the results are. Looking at early 2023 figures, one round paid out as much as £15,000 to winners while another paid a mere £51 as there were six fairly unsurprising home wins.

You can see similarly big swings in the other games. Premier 10 for example has seen top prizes (10 selections correct) worth around £50,000 with others less than £1,000. Due to this, it is perhaps better to look at the total prize pots both games typically attract as these are more stable. This figure is shown at the top right-hand corner of the page for each specific game and round. Premier 10 and 12 tend to attract the biggest prizes, with the total available prize pool regularly over £100,000.

With the Premier 6 game, you cannot afford to get any selection wrong, as only getting six correct predictions qualifies you for a cash prize. This is also true of Premier 12, which means in most weeks the prize fund remains unclaimed because no player has successfully managed to get 12 results correct – it is a tall order after all. For Premier 10 though there is a smaller consolation prize for anyone with nine correct predictions. Depending on the week this could be under £50 or as high as £2,000+.

How Hard Are the Pools to Win?

Like with most forms of gambling, there are always more losers than winners, and certainly when it comes to pools betting. There can only be a small percentage of winning players each round as this is the only way of creating decent prizes. If the bar for winning was set too low, it would just mean giving a large percentage of players a few quid back, which would not be very exciting. Looking at it this way, the pools, no matter which game you pick, are quite challenging.

So, you are very unlikely to be a regular winner with the football pools but there are some perks. For one, you are competing against other players rather than a bookmaker. This means if you can predict results few others can, you can end up very well rewarded. In weeks where there are relatively few winners, payouts are very likely to surpass what you would get at any bookmaker. On the flip side though, when there are a higher proportion of winners, fixed-odds winnings tend to be superior.

Overall, given the large commission the Football Pools take for themselves, it is probably not something best suited to the serious gambler. For someone who simply wants to bet a couple of quid once or twice a week though, the pools can be a fun and easy-to-use alternative to a traditional bookmaker.