So that’s it. While everyone else’s mouths are starting to salivate and shiny new, full season tickets are waiting expectantly on the shelf (mine arrived almost by return post, before the cheque had cleared; the fools!), I’m obliged just as it’s got hot in London to don jeans and cowboy boots plus a jacket which I’ll never use and tote a bag full weighed down by Suzanne’s spare shoes (and we are covering every possible angle here, just on the off chance that global warming hits over the next couple of weeks and produces either Saharan heat or Arctic freeze) to struggle across London and onto a train for France, before assuming my full donkey duties on Friday to pack a car full of all those not quite essentials and head off for Italy. With luck we’ll be installed on the terrace (of a different sort) basking in Tuscan sun when the first texts confirming glorious goals and inevitable victory begin on Saturday afternoon. Without it we’ll be stuck on an Alpine pass or struggling round an Italian supermarket as texts confirming the bursting of bubbles begin.
We do have a pressing need to hit the ground running this season. It comes in the form of two bets I’ve struck with an Irish friend (he is not an Addick, so knows nothing about football other than that Dean Kiely and Mark Kinsella were true gods). A sporting bet between friends is normally a mutually respectful way of testing differing opinions (I did win one such with another friend as a result of which I own every shirt he has and will ever have, which gives me the option of taking the shirt off his back if I wish each time we meet, or just requesting him to send them in the post; trouble is he’s crafty and wears shirts you wouldn’t wrap your dog in). A bet with this friend is a usually futile attempt to try to scale things down to something within the realms of reality which ends up being an attempt by both parties to screw as much as possible out of a recalcitrant and belligerent opponent (with balances seldom settled as he refuses to acknowledge how much in debt he is over previous unpaid bets). Well, he does make his living as a day trader. Having been cruelly robbed in a Wimbledon bet, I gained revenge with the Open (two of his three picks didn’t make the cut and he didn’t have the gumption to select another Irishman as the third). And now I’ve well and truly got him. He thinks a new team will take time to gel and doesn’t realise we’ve signed 15 worldbeaters (and counting).
The first bet, £10 at 20/1, requires us to get eight points or more from our first four games. As we’re going to get 12 that’s £200 in my bank. The second, for £10 at 25/1, requires us to get 13 or more points from the first six. As we’ll have 12 in the bag after four, it’s the proverbial candy from a baby. With a prospective £450 coming my way, the season ticket cost is more than covered. This friend’s hedging strategy amounts to perpetually doubling up on ever less likely related bets to try to head off the big pay-outs (I believe Nick Leeson tried something similar and feel I should inform the Irish equivalent of the FSA, although they have other irrational exuberance-related issues to worry about at the moment). With that in mind, I have declined his latest offer – £10 on Charlton to win the league by 10 points or more at 50/1. The prospect of raising his exposure to £950 was tempting, but by the time we’re confirmed as champions by such a margin he will no doubt have deleted the emails and done a runner.
As the first four games will have been completed before I return to Blighty (and the first six will have run their course before I actually get to see one as confirmation of an early September Amsterdam trip has ruled out Sheff Wed for me), I see the money I will be due as a welcome home present. In the interim I hope he’s stocking his piggy bank and the players realise just what is resting on their early performances. (And for those inclined to feel sorry for me over my enforced travels, a birthday card from Suzanne was a photo of a bottle of recently recommended Lirac waiting for me in Lyon.)