Multi million pound Liverpool business founded by a brickie’s son

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Before the Lottery the only way you could become a millionaire overnight in the UK was by winning the Pools.

Launched in 1923 as the world's first football betting platform, a bright young football fan called John Moores and his two business partners printed and distributed 4,000 coupons outside Manchester United's Old Trafford stadium by hand.

Players had to predict which matches would be drawn – and winners would share out "the pool".

Just 35 coupons were bought that day.

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But Moores kept faith in the venture and bought out his disgruntled business partners, advised by wife Ruby, who said: "I would rather be married to a man who is haunted by failure rather than one haunted by regret."

It was visionary advice.

The former business partners, Colin Askham and Bill Hughes, were the men left haunted as The Pools became a roaring success.

Raised in a working class family, John Moores was the second of eight children born to bricklayer John William Moores and Louisa Moores.

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Sir John Moores CBE (25th January 1896- 25th September 1993). Businessman and philanthropist who founded Littlewoods retail company located in Liverpool, England. Pictured with wife Ruby on board RMS Rangitiki, bound for New Zealand, 11th January 1935.

He got his first job at 12 years of age and left school when he was 13 to start work – but he had an eye for a money-making idea.

From his humble beginnings, John Moores would go on to found a multi-million pound mega business that captivated the entire country.

In little more than a decade more than 10,000 staff were employed to run the pools operation, first at the company site in Whitechapel, then Hood Street.

And in 1938, the impressive Art Deco Littlewoods Building was opened in Edge Lane.

How the Littlewoods Pools building in Edge Lane, Liverpool, used to look. Image from the National Football Museum

The Pools continued to grow, even when football wasn't played.

The infamous winter of 1962/3, when hundreds of matches were postponed because of freezing weather, led to the formation of the Pools Panel, who met behind closed doors to decide the theoretical results of matches.

The Pools Panel still sits today, predicting the results of matches to provide Pools winners during football's coronavirus lockdown.

Envelopes being alphabetically sorted at the Unity Football Pools headquarters in Liverpool, in 1940. Unity Pools operated throughout the Second World War. It was formed, at the Government's behest, from the three major pools companies: Littlewoods, Zetters and Vernons. Coupons were printed in national newspapers in order to save paper. 28th December 1939
Mail bags being received and checked in at the headquarters of Unity Football Pools in Liverpool, in 1939. Unity Pools operated throughout the Second World War. It was formed, at the Government's behest, from the three major pools companies: Littlewoods, Zetters and Vernons. Coupons were printed in national newspapers in order to save paper. 28th December 1939

Spot the Ball started in 1973 and the competition, which had an intricate and highly-precise judging procedure, also generated some big winners.

But it was The Pools which still made people millionaires overnight.

For three-quarters of a century The Pools generated hundreds of fortune winners, until a new manner of winning a fortune was launched, the National Lottery.

In 1994, Littlewoods closed its landmark Edge Lane base, moving operations to its current site on Walton Hall Avenue.

Despite the odds of winning being much higher, the Lottery had a seismic effect on the Pools.

From 10 million players in 1994 Pools players shrunk to just 700,000 in 2007. It was rebranded as the New Football Pools in the summer of 2008 and added other online games as well as the classic football pools.

An artists preparing pools coupons for the following week at the Unity Pools headquarters in Liverpool, in 1939. Unity Pools operated throughout the Second World War. It was formed, at the Government's behest, from the three major pools companies: Littlewoods, Zetters and Vernons. Coupons were printed in national newspapers in order to save paper. 28th December 1939

Then, in October 2018 the vast publishing empire Reach PLC joined forces with the football pools to launch a joint venture, thepools.com

A comprehensive betting website thepools.com now offers odds on everything from Belrusian football to the winner of Strictly Come Dancing.

It also hosts Footie5, a free-to-play football prediction game where players are challenged to pick the scores in five fixtures for a chance to win £25,000, and last year launched a game with the biggest football predicting prize pot ever offered, a staggering £10 million.

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Promoted by brand ambassadors Jermaine Jenas and Sam Quek, since its October relaunch thepools.com has seen 2.5 million users enjoy more than 4.5 million sessions.

More than 110,000 new accounts have been opened and more than £25m has been staked on the site.

The Pools is approaching its centenary in three years time in a very different guise to how it launched 97 years ago – but it's still making people rich!

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