Euro 2004 Gambling: Propaholics and Rooney-Mania
Visiting England at this time of year, it is impossible not to feel the
excitement surrounding Euro 2004.
Predictably, the English public think their team can go all the way.
England has not won a major soccer tournament since 1966, when they won
the World Cup on home soil. At every Euro or World Cup since then,
England fans have had a stubborn, steely belief that their team would
win it all -- regardless of how glaringly weak and unskilled a squad
they fielded. (There are remarkable parallels here with Toronto Maple
Leafs fans, many of whom have a near-arrogant conviction their team will
always win the Stanley Cup, irrespective of the facts on the ground.
Coincidentally, the Leafs last lifted the cup in 1967 -- one year after
England’s World Cup triumph). But this year the English are serious
contenders. Initial worries about their defence have proven overblown,
and their midfield is arguably better than any at Euro 2004. Crucially,
in Wayne Rooney, England has an in-form striker who can put the ball in
the net. And what if England actually wins Euro 2004? We can only
speculate, but when England won the Rugby World Cup earlier this year,
over 100,000 people crowded central London for the victory parade.
That celebration will look like a tea party in comparison if England become
Naturally, ridiculous props abound: How many penalties will be missed?
Will a hat trick be scored? How many shots will go wide of the net? Will
the total goal yardage be greater than 900? For the Germany-Czech
Republic game, one bookmaker offered to refund all losing bets if a
Liverpool player touched the ball last (a tempting offer
with Milan Baros and Dietmar Hamann on the field). Among the most bizarre props was
one offered by an online spread betting company: How many England
players will be singing the national anthem before the game? One German
retailer has even offered free televisions if the Germans win Euro 2004.
Not surprisingly, betting lines have become skewed over here in response
to the huge amount of support for England. Much better odds are
available online at European and other international sportsbooks. For
example, at the big British bookies England is priced at +160 to beat
Portugal. Prices online and offshore average +175, with some books going
as high as +200. Both Ladbrokes and William Hill have shortened their
odds on England winning Euro 2004 to +450 (the average elsewhere is
+500). They offer +175 on Wayne Rooney being the tournament’s leading
scorer, when most sportsbooks price him at least +225.
Rooney-Mania is upon us. Since 18-year-old England striker Wayne Rooney
scored four goals in three games, the English media have spoken of
little else. Grand declarations like ‘the next Pele’ or monikers such as
‘Roonaldo’ have filled the air this week. The Everton forward picked up
more yellow cards than goals this season in the Premiership, yet pundits
have been gushing about the ‘Man-calf’ or ‘Baby Elephant’ nonetheless.
Smelling an opportunity, Everton have offered to unload Rooney for a
record $90 million transfer fee. No prizes for guessing which club is
most interested. Yes, the bottomless pockets of Roman Abramovich are at
work again. Odds on Rooney going to Chelsea have been cut from +200 to
+150. Bookies are sweating a potentially disastrous Euro 2004 for their
bottom line. According to Ladbrokes, ‘The consequences of England
winning Euro 2004 will be an astronomical multimillion pound payout and
result in the worst summer for bookmakers in history.’ British books
breathed a heavy sigh of relief when Rooney failed to score first
against Croatia. They are still worried about the big-priced, but
ever-popular, David Beckham scoring against Portugal.
Despite famously missing a penalty against France, Beckham remains the
darling of England supporters. Several pundits have criticized the
England captain’s lack of goal-scoring form. Others have questioned his
leadership abilities. But the criticism is largely groundless because
Beckham has had a fine tournament. As a natural playmaker, he’s created
plenty of chances for England’s strikers and he’s moving the ball
purposefully through midfield. Many seem to forget that Beckham isn’t
much of goal scorer -- except in set pieces, of course. As you might
expect, Beckham props are thick on the ground over here: Will Beckham
score a free kick? Will Beckham miss another penalty? Will Beckham
remain on the pitch for a full 90 minutes? One bookie will refund all
losing bets on the England-Portugal game if Beckham is caught offside
more than once.
Are such wagers worthwhile for the professional bettor? Sometimes. But
most props exist simply to tempt the casual player.