Fred Done, the Salford born founder owner of Betfred, has always been a massive Manchester United fan. He is also a man who enjoys his job from both sides of the counter, as a bookie and as a bettor. In fact, his first ever bookie shop was opened using the winnings from a bet he placed on England winning the world cup in 1966.
The main difference between him and most regular punters is that he is absolutely minted, which explains why he could afford to make some pretty reckless bets on his beloved Red Devils winning the Premier League.
Back in 1998, with United 12 points clear at the top of the table having just walloped Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, Done decided the title was in the bag.
In a historic move, he became the first ever bookie to pay out early on the winner of the Premier League, costing Betfred over £500,000.
There were still 10 games to go, and Arsenal had 3 games in hand, but Fred Done was confident there was no catching Alex Ferguson’s men.
Looking back on his decision, Done said:
“It was not about publicity. It was about saying to the punter that we are doing something different. I never thought about ringing a newspaper or TV or anything like that.”
What happened next, was unbelievable.
Arsenal Close the Gap
After being knocked out of the European Cup by Monaco, United looked tired in their next match against Sheffield Wednesday, losing 2-0; and even though the Gunners were temporarily overtaken in 2nd place by Liverpool and level on points with Blackburn, they were about to light a fire under their title fight.
A disappointing 1-1 draw with West Ham in the same week that Arsenal nabbed 3 points from Wimbledon cut the Red Devil’s lead to 9 points, and the following week they would welcome Arsenal at Old Trafford.
This was the turning point in the title fight, as Marc Overmars scored the only goal in a 1-0 victory for the Gunners, bringing them within 6 points of the top spot and still with 3 games in hand over United.
Man United could only manage a 1-1 draw at home against Liverpool several weeks later, cutting their lead to 5, and repeated that score line against Newcastle, whilst Arsenal went on to win every game they played, taking the top spot on the 18th of April with 2 games still in hand.
They lost their final game against Aston Villa, but by that point it was too late. United were 4 points behind so despite their 2-0 win over Barnsley the title was lost.
And so was Fred Done’s gamble. Not only had he already paid out £500k+ to losing bettors weeks earlier, he now had to pay out a similar amount to those who had correctly back Arsenal.
Perhaps most embarrassingly for Betfred though, John McCririck predicted how things might go after the news of the early payout broke, giving a doomsday scenario in which Manchester United lost the season to Arsenal by a single point. Which is exactly what happened.
The rumour goes that Alex Ferguson actually spoke to Fred Done after this, and told him never to pay out early on Manchester United ever again. He didn’t listen though, and not only repeated the stunt in 2012, but in the 2004/05 season, he bet Victor Chandler (of BetVictor) £1 million that United would finish higher than Chelsea. He lost by a country mile, with Chelsea winning the league 18 points clear of Man Utd, who trailed in 3rd.
Fergie must have been fuming.