Littlewoods Pools, Liverpool, August 2011
John, Colin Askham and Bill Hughes were friends who had worked together as Post Office messenger boys in Manchester. It was whilst looking for a new money-making idea that Moores came across John Jervis Barnard, a Birmingham man who had latched onto the public's growing passion for two things: football and betting. Moores had always been an avid football fan from when he was very young. Sports of all kinds had always interested him, He played amateur football himself until retiring at the age of 40.
Barnard had devised a 'football pool', where punters would bet on the outcome of football matches. The payouts to winners came from the 'pool' of money that was bet, less 10 per cent to cover "management costs". It had not been particularly successful. Clearly, Barnard was struggling to make a profit, Moores got hold of a Barnard pools coupon and the three Manchester friends decided they could – and would – do it better.
They could not let their employers, the Commercial Cable Company know what they were doing or they would be fired, No outside employment was allowed. That ruled out calling it the John Moores Football Pool or anything like it. Moores recalled years later: "Calling it the John Smith's football pool sounded a bit dodgy", the solution to that particular problem came from Colin Askham, He had been orphaned as a baby and been brought up by an aunt whose surname was Askham, but he had been born Colin Henry Littlewood And so, in 1923, the Littlewood Football Pool – as it was called originally – was started.
Each of the three partners invested Â£50 of their own money into the venture and with the help of a small discreet and cheap printer they got to work. In 1923, Â£50 was a huge sum to invest in what – based on Barnard's experience – was a precarious venture and as Moores himself remembered: "As I signed my own cheque at the bank, my hands were damp, it seemed such a lot of money to be risking". A small office in Church Street, Liverpool, was rented and the first 4,000 coupons were distributed outside Manchester United's Old Trafford ground before one Saturday match that winter, Moores handed the coupons out himself, helped by some young boys eager to earn a few pennies.
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It was not an instant success & only 35 coupons came back & Bets totalled Â£4 7s 6d and the 10 per cent deducted did not even cover the three men’s expenses, they needed to take the idea to another level and quickly. So they decided to print 10,000 coupons and took them to Hull, where they were handed out before a big game, this time, only one coupon was returned. Their venture was about to collapse almost as soon as it had begun. In the canteen of the Commercial Cable Company the three partners had a hushed conversation, It was a crisis meeting. They had kept pumping money into the fledgling business but midway through the 1924-25 football season it was still losing money. The three young men were each Â£200 lighter in the pocket with no prospect of things improving. Bill Hughes suggested they cut their losses and forget the whole thing, Colin Askham agreed. They could see why John Jervis Barnard's idea of a football pool had failed in Birmingham, they expected Moores to concur but instead he said: "I'll pay each of you the Â£200 you've invested, if you'll sell me your shares", Moores admitted that he considered giving up on the business himself but was encouraged by his wife who told him "I would rather be married to a man who is haunted by failure rather than one haunted by regret". Moores kept faith and he paid Askham and Hughes Â£200 each. In 1928 Moores' younger brother Cecil devised a security system to prevent cheating, eventually the pools took off & become one of the best-known names in Britain.
In January 1932, Moores by now a millionaire & was able to disengage himself sufficiently from the pools to start up Littlewoods Mail Order Store. This was followed on 6 July 1937 by the opening of the first Littlewoods department store in Blackpool. By the time World War II started there were 25 Littlewoods stores across the UK and over 50 by 1952.
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Moores retired as chairman in October 1977 of Littlewoods and was succeeded by his son Peter, however, as profits fell (Moores remained on the board) he resumed the chairmanship in October 1980. He gave up this role again in May 1982 and was made life president of the organisation even though Moores remained involved until 1986.
His family carried on running Littlewoods but John Clement succeeded Moores as chairman, Moore had two operations straight after each other on his achilles tendon and then for an enlarged prostate during the summer of 1986 but he never was quite the same again. At the 1987 League Cup final sponsored by Littlewoods, Moores was the guest of honour. In early 1988, by now mainly in a wheelchair, he was still visiting Littlewoods stores across the UK but he began to lose his speech shortly afterwards and gave that role up., Moores attended Everton football matches up to a few years before his death.
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On 25 September 1993, Sir John died at his home "Fairways" at Shireburn Road, Freshfield, Formby, where he had lived since 1930. He was cremated six days later at Southport.
Two months after his death his estate was valued as being worth more than 10 million pounds. The Littlewoods businesses were sold to the Barclay Brothers nine years later in October 2002.
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