The Pools and the Post


A "football pool" in general is any betting pool based on predicting the results of football matches, with the top prize going to the most accurate entry, and subsidiary prizes for less accurate ones. However, for many years "the Pools" in common parlance meant the big commercial operations.

The first significant pools company was Littlewoods, founded in 1923, and when the idea proved successful followed by many others large and small, notably Vernons in 1925 and Zetters in 1933. Entries were relatively cheap and potential winnings high. Several different games were offered, but the "Treble Chance" introduced in 1946 (pick drawn matches) had the biggest jackpots, and soon became the most popular. As large-scale lotteries were then illegal, the functional equivalent of "winning the pools" was the only realistic path to wealth for many people — even Premium Bonds (introduced 1957) never had as high a jackpot. In principle pools were games of skill, not chance, but given the difficulty of predicting results for multiple matches this was a polite fiction.

The Post Office's relationship with the pools companies was significant — by 1939, pools business had grown to contribute over 3% of gross postal revenue (postage on an enormous number of coupons sent and returned, and poundage on postal orders, either paying for stakes or sent out as prizes). This display aims for some highlights of the story based on postal material and ephemera.

References: This subject does not appear to have received much prior collector attention. The main sources relevant to this display are as below: however, the exhibitor wrote articles for the Philatelic Bulletin (August/September 2020) that gave more background detail from the archives.

POST 33/4317: Liverpool: Littlewoods' football pools postings, extra staff, diversion of mails (1931-37)
POST 122/5984: Meeting with Pool Promoters Association (1957)
POST 122/6415: Meeting with Pool Promoters Association, ways for them to avoid using stamps (1960)
POST 122-7067: Pool Promoters Association request for rebate on postage, meeting (1960)
Football Pools Competition Postings (CP), Cyril Parsons, British Postmark Society Journal Oct. 2019
Notes from the Postal Order Society and Hansard, various dates


Frame 1

  1. Introduction and Plan
  2. Bulk Mail Processing of "Competition Postings"
  3. Mail Processing Operations at Vernons Pools
  4. Use of Postage Paid Impressions for Competition Postings
  5. Request for Coupons - Business Reply Card
  6. Pools Company Use of "Household Delivery Service"
  7. Souvenir First Day Cover from Vernons Pools, 1972
  8. Postal Orders for Paying Stakes
  9. Address Labels Used by Pools Companies After WW2
  10. Stamped to Order Envelopes for Returning Coupons
  11. Facilities for Overseas Entrants
  12. Coupons Sent By Aerogramrne to Overseas Entrants
  13. Special Form for Coupon Submission by Radio Telegram
  14. Postal Orders for Paying Winnings
  15. Greetings Telegram Announcing a Win
  16. Winners' Cheques Sent by Registered Post