The Grand National and the death of the office sweepstake

Or #Haveyougot£2

You used to find one in every office, they were responsible for cutting up slips of paper from The Sun and asking people for £2.

Discovering their identity and making yourself known to them was a key part of your first year in a job, and it was especially crucial to do this quickly if you started working there in April.

The Sun Grand National sweepstake kit
The Sun and most other UK national newspapers always have a sweepstake kit for the Grand National
If you missed the race you can watch it here

They were the organiser of the office Grand National sweepstake.

They were the ones who set the rules of the game, with big differences depending on the profession you work in.

Reporters in the world of journalism are as competitive in sweepstakes as they are in fighting for exclusives, while being friendly, so the terms were usually winner takes all (with an unwritten rule that this taking all also involves buying cakes for colleagues) with a sometimes second prize of £20.

The charity sector always makes things far more complicated than they need to be and this was also true of the Grand National sweepstake.

Instead of looking forward to an £80 payout if your horse was first past the post winning in a charity meant you were likely to not see much more than £40 because there were a gazillion different ways to win in the sweepstake.

There was a first prize and there was a second prize but there was also a first faller prize, a last place prize and a prize if your horse did not even start.

Red Rum statue at Aintree
Red Rum won the Grand National at Aintree three times so a statue was put up in his honour (“Red Rum Statue Aintree” by Paolo Camera is licensed under CC BY 2.0)
Panto Creatures at Aintree Racecourse - Sept 2013ember 2013
In the days before the pandemic (remember those) people could go to Aintree in real life and even dress up like pantomime horses, like these racegoers did in September 2013 (“Panto Creatures at Aintree Racecourse.” by Radarsmum67 is licensed under CC BY 2.0)

With the prize money watered down so much, anyone with a long odds horse was better off just putting their £2 on at the bookies.

The past tense is important here because the Covid-19 pandemic has largely killed off the office sweepstake.

With office workers now having a short commute to their dining table and no longer having to lie to themselves about Pret a Manger being worth the money, there isn’t the Friday visit to your desk from the organiser asking if you want to take part (of course you do, this is the best part of office life).

There isn’t the Googling of the name of your horse to discover they have lost all their recent races and they might not even start the big one. There isn’t the discussion with colleagues about their horses, with none of you knowing enough about racing to know what to say.

And, there isn’t the one colleague who seems certain enough about their research to put real money (aka more than £2) on the race at a bookies.

Now with the death of the office sweepstake (although one friend told me she had been part of a virtual one) everyone has become the one colleague who puts real money on the race – while still being all of the above.

Farclas betting slip
I’m very grateful to Farclas for ensuring I did not lose all of my money
That’s one way to choose a horse

My bid for glory this year started with seeing a Paddy Power deal where if I bet £10 then I would get £10 in free bets.

For some reason this deal didn’t actually work for me but I still put five times more on a horse than I would have spent on an office sweepstake. This £10 went on Kimberlite Candy and then I treated myself to an each way bet on Farclas, after seeing the horses recommended on Twitter.

The person who ran the Twitter account had changed the username to Grand National Tips for the day so I thought they were definitely legit (similarly to when companies want to build in a town they set up a mini firm called Croydon Regeneration Partners or similar to make the planning officers think good things).

Apart from not choosing the winning horse my downfall was selecting others that had been recommended by a writer at the Daily Telegraph.

Yes, while it isn’t a paper known for its horse racing knowledge I trusted the journalist to think Cloth Cap would come in at least third and Taking Risks would also gallop their way into the top five.

And as quickly as I had spent my money (£45) I had plans for what I was going to do with my winnings.

Kimberlite Candy
I had high hopes for Kimberlite Candy
Cloth Cap was the favourite – but favourites rarely seem to win the Grand National

I was planning a big night out or an upgrade on a plane ticket or even just buying something nice for my home.

But before getting to the big spending first I needed to win enough to get my original stake back.

Out of the five horses (yes, five) I picked I was sure one would win and at least two others would finish in the top five. Just two coming in the top five would have seen me win my money back and I thought it was a foolproof plan.

In years gone by I have watched the race in pubs (including in 2008 when I won the work sweepstake with Comply or Die), in friends homes and in the electrical department at John Lewis in Oxford Street (there wasn’t any alcohol allowed but we had all the TVs on the race and drew a big crowd).

This year I didn’t watch because I was on the way back from Greenwich Park and my phone was dead.

So I didn’t watch as only one of my horses finished in the top five. I didn’t watch as instead of winning hundreds of pounds I finished £18 down on the day (but have since been given a £5 ‘bonus’ so am only £13 down).

I took a risk and sadly it didn’t pay off
The winner of this year’s Grand National made history

This time next week that will just be a round of three drinks in a pub garden.

This time this week it is enough of a loss to make me delete the Paddy Power app, safe in the knowledge that I don’t have the skills or luck to pick winners.

I do have £2 though so I’m definitely up for an office sweepstake in April 2022, if they are reborn if people ever go back to offices.

Stay safe for another week!


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