The chips were actually okay.

I’m a Villa supporter so I like to think I know a thing or two about broken hearts, abject misery and dodgy canteen food. As it looks like we’re finally going to be swallowed up by the hungry, angry baby that is the Championship, I thought it might be useful to take a trip to a game there to see what it’s like. I’m a child of the 90s, so I’ve only ever known the Premier League, the comforting voices of Richard Keys and Andy Gray, enforced seating and always being able to play as my team in FIFA. The Match of the Day theme doesn’t quite give me the same nostalgic chills Ready to Go by Republica does.

One day, last Saturday in fact, I get a text from my mate, Ben, who has a spare ticket in the away end at St Andrews. He’s a Sheffield Wednesday fan and I don’t particularly care for the Blues, so I think it would be quite funny to go and watch them lose to some Northern sissies, plus it’s free and I’m unemployed and have nothing else to do. After quickly getting the wife’s express permission, I text Ben back saying I’d love to and we arrange a meet up.

I don’t do many away games. The last non-friendly away game I went to was a 4-0 loss to Chelsea almost ten years ago and that was only because the travel was free. I’d take a 4-0 loss nowadays to have some of the players we had that day – Gareth Barry, Martin Laursen, Isaiah Osbourne (the Brummie Vieria, or Brummie Zidane, I can’t remember which it was at the time). We were so poor in that game that even Andriy Shevchenko managed to score.

Something I didn’t do before setting off on my Wednesday adventure was check the weather. Ben arrived decked in blue and white (he hands me an unbranded blue and white scarf which we will use to slide through the Blues fans like snakes – sneaky little snakes) and soaking wet. I suddenly decide I would rather stay at home with the wife and dog, in the warm, playing some Bloodborne. Alas, like the nameless hunter who has to fight and slash his way through the disease-ridden, monster-plagued streets of Yharnam trying to make it in one piece, so too do I have to go through a similar torture, but worse – Small Heath. In the rain.

We plan to meet at the Dragon in Chinatown, probably the worst Wetherspoons in the city centre. It’s a twisting, labyrinthine den of crap, with too many chairs, too many people, too many children (children aren’t people, not yet). Ben asks if it’s okay if we meet his mates from The Internet and then walk to the ground, in the rain. I am too socially awkward to say no, to say that I’d rather get a bus. I’m too socially awkward to ask why we haven’t just driven to the ground. Instead I just nod, try and find a place to stealthily dry my sodden jeans and wring out my soaked hat. We walk around and around, dodging people carrying very reasonably priced beers and people tucking into fresh out of the microwave curries. We don’t find his friends from The Internet, which sends a brief jolt of glee down my spine (I’m sure they’re lovely, but there’s only so much Yorkshire I can take in one sitting). We head off and I’m pretty sure it’s raining even harder now, like Mother Nature herself is daring me to quit my spirit quest.

“This is what it’s going to be like for the rest of your life with the Villa” the rain taunts as it comes lashing down on my poor, soggy hat.

“Fuck off, rain.”

“What?” Ben says, looking a bit confused.

I shrug and ask if it’s this way, pointing in the vague direction of Digbeth.

“Well, as long as you can get me to the Rainbow, I’ll be able to guide us to the ground from there.”

Ben said he’d been a few times. He’s made the appalling mistake of assuming I have any knowledge of this part of town. I know roughly where I want to go, but I was hoping he’d be leading the way. Bloody northerners. I break into a panicked walk that I try to disguise as a confident, knowing stroll. We end up taking a wrong turn, get drenched by a passing car who thought it would be hilarious to drive through a massive puddle (to be fair, it is hilarious), and then I realise we’ve taken a long cut to Digbeth. We finally spot the coach station, Ben makes a little Northern yelp of recognition, and it’s off to St Andrew’s we go.

We talk about how this is what life is like when you’re a travelling fan in the lower leagues. Ben seems happy enough, apparently happy to trudge along in the rain, which is getting worse and worse. The ground as we approach Mordor becomes craggy and misshapen, much like the faces of the people wearing blue and heading towards the match. My shoes are starting to leak now, my jeans are soaked up to about my shins. We don’t seem to be making any progress as the areas we’re walking in become less and less familiar. Have I gorged myself at 2am at that McDonald’s before? Is that the Dunelm Mill I feign illness for so I don’t have to be with the wife when she’s looking at pillows for the seventh time that month? Then I see it. A blue and white tin shed, like something handmade in a retrofuturistic Brummie favela. Like the default, generic stadium in an N64 football game. I expect some trouble between us and the Blues fans, just because of their reputation, but it’s fine. A few of them are shouting incoherent ramblings, mostly about imagined glories and empty threats, but it’s nothing worse you hear walking down Trinity Road.

We pass through the away gates after a brief groping from security and head through the concrete, practically subterranean path to the stand – like we’re kegs of moonshine being smuggled into a prohibition saloon. There’s a lone canteen open and it’s a bit cheaper than the Villa, so that’s nice. I’m starting to hear lots of northern patois now and Ben, who I’ve known for a good year or so, has suddenly transformed into the most northern man in the world. He’s even walking like a Yorkshireman. We find our seats and Ben greets a few people. I don’t know if he knows them from the away games or if it’s just a weird, friendly thing Orcs like him from the north do. The ground looks about 2/3rds full with huge patches of blue seats staring out at the soggy fans and the soggier players warming up.

The police are approaching now and look pissed. They’re telling some of the Wednesday fans to move and I can’t tell why. They’re sitting too close to a massive flag that’s splitting the stand we’re in and it’s then that I realise we’re sitting right next to some Blues fans. I wonder if they can smell the Villa in me, but they just sit and chew their burgers, waiting for the match to begin. The police are demanding the fans move, who don’t understand why. I don’t know what the Wednesday fans are saying and they sound no miserable than usual. I wrap up, thankful that we’re just under the stand’s roof and wait for the match.

Wednesday are reassuringly shit. They have some promising build-up but can’t do anything with it, which is just like the Villa, but without the promising build-up. The goalie is stretched off, which takes about 10 minutes, and it looks like it’s going to be nightfall before we see a goal, and then in the 51st minute (probably) of the first half Clayton Donaldson scores and the Wednesday fans… grumble a bit. Then they start getting behind the team. Something had seemed weird about this crowd and I couldn’t put my finger on it at first but now I know what it is – no one is suicidal. No one is flinging their balti pie to ground and screaming Paul McGrath’s name just because there’s a wayward pass or a scuffed shot. The atmosphere at Villa Park, rightly or wrongly, has been toxic for years now, and that’s fair enough, you pay your money, you do what you want. I still don’t see how being a dire misery arse, cursing the players every second will elicit a performance, but whatever, this is why I’m only loved by the fans on Football Manager.

Second half is over, we join the queue of exhausted, starving Wednesday fans at the canteen. I order a coffee, Ben gets some chips. We drink coffee and eat chips and discuss being in the Championship. He seems happy enough with their lot. I think the problem with being a Villa fan is that we’ve fallen for our own bullshit. We believe we’re this amazing team with a grand history, which is true to a point, but no one really cares about that. We talk about being a sleeping giant, but we’re practically comatose, a sleeping giant forever rolling over and hitting the snooze button.

Wednesday are a team transformed in the second half and the crowd get behind them. The Blues fans, the 30 seconds after their goal aside, are pretty quiet, but Wednesday’s lot never give up and will them on. Sure, Wednesday fuck up occasionally, some of the players falling over on the sodden pitch, others like former Villa hobbit Barry Bannan runs a lot and passes a lot but doesn’t seem to achieve a lot, but they appreciate him trying. A few changes later, including ‘Big Dave’ Atdhe Nuhiu, and Wednesday suddenly looking like the Premier League team their chants promise they’ll be next season. They score twice, including one absolutely phenomenal goal, and Blues are done. Game over, 2-1.

We head back, more walking (which I hate), more rain (which I hate), but I’m not leaving a football ground thinking I’d wasted my money (I didn’t pay for the ticket, but if I had…) and I want to go again. We pass a child decked out in a full Blues kit crying which is the only thing which manages to warm my heart in the freezing rain.

I’m a bit annoyed about missing the Villa actually win a game, but not as much as I expected. If this is what the Championship is going to be like next season I’ll happily snap up a season ticket. Wednesday win their next match 4-0 and I start thinking about arranging trips up to Sheffield. It feels weird, though, like cheating on your wife, but worse.

Are we going down? Definitely, but I’m not really bothered about being in the Championship any more. I mostly don’t mind the idea of the walking and the rain (I’m hoping someone will just drive me next time). I want to go to Villa Park and not have it feel like a chore. I’m bored of having every game feel like a waste of time and money. Life’s too short, the bank account’s barren. I just want to have fun again. Fuck doing a Leicester, I want to do a Wednesday.

******

I gave up on this article a few days after the game, not being able to face thinking or writing about football. Then we got relegated. The Villa game, which I had a ticket for and skipped to see the Wednesday game, is the last game Villa win this season and they go on a (as of Monday 18 April) 10 game losing streak. All hope is gone, but the memories of the Wednesday game and the idea that maybe, just maybe, we might have a new owner/team next season fills me with a horrible, sick feeling – hope.

Thanks to Ben for the ticket and for the Wednesday fans being proper nice lads.

******

The rare double edit – This has been made hilariously out of date thanks to Bernstein and King resigning. So now I’m just back to being miserable. Unless this is the prelude to a Cameron/Prince William/Kennedy/Ray Ranson takeover.

******

The even rarer triple edit – Well, we were relegated. I don’t know about you, but my eerie, Nostradamus-esque prediction about us going down was downright eerie. Should’ve put a tenner on it. Turns out we got Wednesday at Hillsborough on the first day of the season, for just £45, or 35 trays of St Andrews chips. Here’s another prediction that i’ll edit in September – we’ll win 4-2, a Gabby hat trick sealing the deal.

Shitstarter.

I always feel a bit sorry for genuine video game Kickstarters. The amounts devs ask for is usually in the low six figures, which is nowhere near the amount you need to make most games pitched on the crowdfunding site. Asking for more tends to draw claims of dev ‘greed’ from people who have no idea how games are made. Indeed, when a game raises several million dollars, it’s assumed that that’s WAY more than needed and the game should never be delayed and should be the best thing since sliced I Am Bread.

On the other side, games asking for a tiny amount of money tend to set off alarm bells, and so I introduce to you Indy Scene Wrestling.

Posted on a wrestling subreddit by “a friend”, Indy Scene Wrestling is the work of Shannon Williams of Grind City Gaming Studio. Ignoring the awful title and the lack of any gameplay footage or demo (a Kickstarter of this kind must have a ‘prototype’, which is completely lacking here), the general tone of this just seems off. The dev, who has no prior experience in the industry, is asking for $7,000 to make a fighting game with multiple arenas, a unique ‘living system that interacts with the wrestlers’ and an absurd 11 game modes. $7,000 would pay for maybe a few programmers for one month going by the current average salary, but miraculously, this will all be paid for with $7,000. I asked the developer to break down the costs and how he was going to accomplish all this with such a low amount.

20 weeks worth of work from the current team: $500 Arenas/UI/Shader and Lighting $1200 Gameplay Programming Phase 1 $1500 Creation Suite/Crowd System $1800 Project Management $2000 Networking integration $2000 Animations retouch after Mocap $2000 Misc(Audio and Particles) $11,000

We started building this game from an engine that was a fighting engine already so the damage system and core elements are already there. What the programmers are doing is adding additional grappling option, more controls and interaction with the surrounding environment. Most games spend majority of the finances on animation. I was lucky enough to purchase 2 motion capture suits from another Kickstarter that uses inertial motion capture. More information about this project will be going up soon as well as a video breaking everything down. Also, with me creating the characters, animations, and arenas, we cut down on alot of costs from jump but those prices I gave you are worst case scenarios to make sure the project gets covered.

Now, I’m not pretending to be an expert in video game budgets, but I know for a fact that “arenas/UI/shader and lighting” costs slightly more than $500. UI development alone is a specialised job which would cost more than $500. Nothing has been properly budgeted for; debugging, music (“audio” is way too vague, is that the music, the mixing, the voice acting, the sound effects, all for $2,000? Also, what are particles in this context?), advertising, post-release support, nothing is explained, just a vague mention of animation being the biggest expense.

The game, which is being developed in Unity, is due to launch on three different platforms (being able to deploy a game over various platforms is one of the key features of Unity), which on its own, when you’re looking at support costs, is going to cost more than $7,000.

The developer, who claims to be hiring people from Unity’s forums, is also said to be putting “80% of his salary” into the game, which if true is just sad. This game is not going to be finished. If a playable demo is released it’ll be a miracle and he should really stop before he goes broke. Not that I think he’s actually doing this.

The game is said to use an existing fight game engine, but it’s not said which engine, or how they’ve paid for it (licensing an engine isn’t cheap, that’s going to take a whopper of a chunk out of his $7,000 budget). It’s not explained how a “living crowd system” is going to be added to an existing engine. Video games aren’t like Lego, you can’t just copy and paste stuff. There’s not a Crowd line of code that you attach to your Fighting Game code that magically makes a playable game.

His last game, which failed miserably on Kickstarter, was Detroit On Fire — a thinly veiled rip off of Def Jam Vendetta — which asked for the interestingly specific fund of $10,030, promising appearances from rappers such as Doughboyz Cashout, Icewear Vezzo and fucking Eminem. The extraordinary lack of knowledge about licensing fees further illustrates how insane this guy is. That, or it’s a massive con.

There are only two outcomes with this, I’m afraid. A game that is barely playable, after having $7,000 of fans’ cash sank into it; a game that will almost certainly launch unfinished, riddled with bugs, and looking like something made in 2002. Or it’s a con and you won’t see anything in return for your $7,000. Either way, it’s bad. There’s also the matter of the Paypal-begging, Kickstarter-disguised page here, which is the final bitter cherry on top of this turd of a cake. This is the Shockmaster of Kickstarters, please don’t back it.

Webmaesters.

I’ve been doing some research for a thing I wanna write. It’s about GeoCities, how it was canned, and the people involved who have been archiving what they can since Yahoo killed it. I decided it would be fun to find some old ASOIAF fansites, if any still existed, and boy, do they. Here be spoilers for the books, so avoid if you’ve not read them.

We’ll start with some fan art from The Gallery at Greywater Watch. This is a relatively new website, at a sprightly 12 years old. It’s interesting to see some portraits with zero influence from the show. Here’s Robb, looking broody, here’s Jamie looking… chirpy, along with a tired lion; Hear Me Yawn. There’s Dany and a bad ass dragon, there’s even Mag Mar Tun Doh Weg.

Next we’ve got Riverrun, a site which was last updated in 2001. There’s a nice sketch of Jon, Robb and Bran. A lot of the website is, of course, under construction (“MAJOR CONSTRUCTION” in this site’s case), although there is some badly formatted 2002 fan fiction. Make sure you follow the rules, though…

The bio of GRRM is coming soon, presumably around the same time as TWoW.

The forum is partially archived, and there’s some 2001 tinfoil about the identity of Azor Azhai. Stannis is suggested, but the details of the discussion are lost in the e-aether. There’s a theory about Jon eventually marrying Sansa, R+L=J is old news, and a few people suggest Loras/Renly might MAYBE have had feelings for each other. 42 carat tinfoil. I like the theory that Tyrion and LSH will team up, because why not?

There’s lots to read, it’s just pot luck if they’re archived or not.

The Isle of Faces, which was last updated in 2001, features  a sadly under construction section on theories. R+J=L is backed up, but other suggestions are put forth. Benjen as daddy, anyone?

A Song of Ice and Fire is next. Come for the animated fire gifs, stay for the fan casting of a SOIAF film. This summer, Kevin Spacey or Gary Oldman is Petry Baelish. John Rhys-Davis is Robert Baratheon. Mandy Patinkin is Syrio Forel. Arnold Schwarzenegger is Hodor. Madonna is Cersei. Macaulay Culkin is Joffrey. It goes on and go, but the best casting, one which HBO are, quite frankly, fucking stupid not to have listened to – Cuba Gooding Jr IS…. Khal Drogo.

There’s news on the forthcoming publication of A Storm of Swords, even some fan mail with GRRM. When asked about the wacky fan theories posted on the site, he replies “Well, some of the theorists are hot and some are very cold indeed, but I prefer not to give anything away until the proper time.” CLEGANEBOWL CONFIRMED. Here’s an archived version of an interview transcript mentioned on the site.

My favourite bit is probably the request not to harass GRRM with pointless questions. “If you feel you cant help it, remember, the TWO year gap between A GAME OF THRONES and A CLASH OF KINGS!” Sweet summer child.

There’s an old message board that has some interesting chat. In 1999, SK (Stephen King, obviously) suggests Robb’s time on this Planetos is coming to an end. There’s a worry that disk space could lead to a change of format in the message board. O, the 90s. Most of the topics are sadly lost, but titles like ‘Just making sure the bulletin board is Y2k compliant’ and ‘Who are Jon’s parents’ suggest greatness.

There’s probably more kicking around, but I thought it’d be fun to check out. Hope you enjoyed some of the art and ancient, partially archived discussions.

Some things what I wrote recently.

Last month I pretended to be a farmer, a trucker, a woodcutter and a surgeon. You can read all about it in the first of two Contributoria articles I’ve got published this month.

The second article is about my experience trying to make a video game. It didn’t go well, but it’s the journey, not the destination, he said, weeping into his tea.

I wrote a thing about House of Cards and its groundbreaking portrayal of video games. You can read it at Medium, because why not?

Finally, there’s a new episode of Shit Bullseye Prizes. This month Jim Bowen gives away a computer and some games, but all is not what it seems.

Space dementia

I am in a nitenite hotel. It’s a bit like a Bloc hotel, but the rooms are smaller. It’s not quite a capsule hotel, more like a prison cell on a space ship. The air conditioning gently throbs and hums in the background, while the live feed on the wall-mounted Telescreen TV — from a camera on the roof — gives you a low resolution view of the city, all grey and depressing. You soon get used to the lack of windows and stare at the city. Forever.

The corridors in this place are the longest I’ve ever seen. They seem to go on forever, like an optical illusion, but one that eventually ends with a snack machine selling overpriced KitKats and wine gums.

If Lovecraft were alive today, I think one of his protagonists would end up here, alone, going insane, writhing in their own filth, complimenting the lobby, with its Wetherspoons-esque chairs and book shelves, discussing the endless spiral stairs that take you to the infinity corridors.

All in all, it’s quite nice, as long as you don’t mind feeling like you’re going a bit peculiar. The bed’s comfy, there’s a wet room, a writing desk, and a control panel next to the bed that only adds to the effect that you might actually be floating through the heavens on a spacecraft, the memories of your suburban life a cruel trick the brain is playing on you as it suffers the effects of space dementia.

Free Wi-Fi, too.

8/10, would sleep here again.

SHERWOOD WATCH #2 – WATCH HARDER

It’s time for another exciting episode of Sherwood Watch! The pilot was a resounding success, with literally dozens of views, and some very positive feedback from fans. “This is pointless” said Villafan1974. “Why are you doing this?” cried Paulmcgrathmlord. “You got some change, boss?” said a vagrant at the bus stop.

Luckily for those fine people, Tim Sherwood has been doing what he does best — flapping those fine, flawless gums of his.

I don’t think anyone’s managed to better my win record, even this guy Pochettino, and everyone’s talking about how well he’s done.

NOPE. Tim Sherwood’s win record at Spurs, after just 28 games, was 14-4-10, making it 50%. Mauricio Pochettino, with 43 games, is currently at 23-10-10, making it 53.49%. Is it entirely fair to compare these records given the small amount of games? No, but Tim keeps bringing it up. Andre Villas-Boas is at 55%, David Pleat at 50.42% and Harry Redknapp trails Timbo at 49.49% (with 170 more games managed).

Tim could, of course, be referring specifically to his Premier League win record (he doesn’t specify, though), but without a full season in charge, it seems slightly sad to be clinging onto something like that. The last time a Villa manager wanked on about his former team like this was Gerrard Houllier, but at least he’d won a few trophies before joining. It’d be interesting to compare Sherwood’s PL loss record to his peers.

The only win record that matters at the moment is his record at Villa, which stands at 0%.

Experience is overrated. Pep Guardiola didn’t have to go out and work in the lower leagues, did he? It helps when you have the best players in the world.”

NOPE. Pep Guardiola wasn’t some random chump who just lucked into a team with players like Messi and Xavi. Guardiola is a student of the game, who worked under Johan Cruyff  and Carlo Mazzone amongst others. He’s famous for being a football nerd, analysing games, breaking his opponents down and exploiting weaknesses. His big, beautiful brain notched him a treble in his first season at Barcelona.

Sherwood is a proponent of man-management, which has led to him publicly criticizing players, distancing himself when things go wrong. Tim, you can’t stick a win record in a trophy cabinet.

SHERWOOD WATCH #1

A new feature here now where I’ll be stalking everything Tim Sherwood says to the media (or as much as I can bother to read via F365 and Twitter) and fact-checking the handsome, gilet-wearing beast’s comments. Here’s the first installment.

I remember playing against Christian Benteke as a manager and I know what a handful he can be

Nope. He managed one game against Aston Villa, his last Spurs game as manager, a 3-0 victory, with Paulinho, Baker (OG) and Adebayor scoring for the home side on 11 May 2014. Christian Benteke didn’t play and was not a handful anywhere. The game is notable for featuring Jordan Bowery attempting to play Premier League football.

When I came here [Villa Park] as a player, I found it a difficult place to get a result.

He lost three games at Villa Park as a player, drawing two and winning one. He also scored a goal. Yeah, we’ll give him this.

I’m the headmaster now

Nope. Tim Sherwood is a football manager, currently training for his UEFA Pro License. He has no training as a teacher or headteacher, nor is he currently employed by any schools.

Sports entertainment.

From the very fact that at some point during our lives we say that we want to be professional wrestlers …there is obviously something mentally wrong with us. – Chris Candido, 1972-2005

I want to write a thing about the wonderful, mental, seedy, sleazy, beautiful world of professional wrestling. Here is the proposal, but I want to go into a bit more detail about it.

I’ve been watching wrestling on and off since I was about 6 years old. I started with the cartoon-style WWF, with Hulk Hogan going on about prayers and vitamins, Ultimate Warrior generally just ranting, Bret Hart being the excellence of execution, and goddamnit, I even liked Koko B Ware. I would enjoy it as wrestling really should be enjoyed — by completely buying into it. When I was about 13-14, after years of suspicion, I finally found out that pro wrestling wasn’t entirely on the level. It might actually be the dreaded f-word – fake.

A subscription to Power Slam magazine would confirm my suspicions and pro wrestling went from a colourful, camp tale of super heroes battling each other each week, to a horrible saga involving backstage politics, drug and alcohol abuse, finally ending in the ultimate tragedy – the double-murder and suicide of Chris Benoit.

I stopped watching after the Benoit incident because I couldn’t help but feel like I was partially responsible. Chris Benoit’s brain was so damaged it “resembled the brain of an 85-year-old Alzheimer’s patient” according to a neurosurgeon. He had damage to all four lobes of the brain and brain stem. And why was his brain like this? Because he’d done it to himself in order to entertain me and millions of others.

I’d loved wrestling up until that event, but I found it hard to reveal to people that I loved it. During the boom in 1998-2001, it wasn’t so bad, because wrestling was absolutely everywhere. In 2015, it’s kind of hard to come out of the wrestling closet. Why, though?

Pro wrestling, as I hope to explain in the article, is basically ballet, it’s a dance, at its best it’s two men telling a story with their bodies. The themes don’t generally get more complicated than good vs evil, and the storylines themselves are almost always moronic, badly written and badly executed, but my god, when they get it right, it’s mesmerising. For every Katie Vick moment, there’s a match like Shawn Michaels vs Ric Flair at Wrestlemania 21. I won’t spoil it, but the end of the match genuinely had me in tears.

I’m going to see if I can get people who have no interest in it to watch and enjoy a match. Is it even possible? I’m going to try and sell it to you, the majority who couldn’t care less. If you could, please take 60 seconds and sign up to Contributoria (for free) and back my article (for free) so I can pay my rent and talk about this beautiful, terrible sport.

The death of the Grand National

My two favourite days of working at Ladbrokes were the 2013 and 2014 Grand Nationals. It was the one time of the year where we could take a break from the machines and concentrate on promoting an actual horse race. For a week or so before the race you’d see new people — civilians, we’d call them — coming into the shop. You can spot a civilian a mile away — they’d tend to come in groups, they’d dress like a grown up, they’d be polite, and they’d all ask the same adorably inane questions.

The day of the National itself is a mix of dealing with hundreds of slips at a time — capturing, scanning, re-scanning, showing how quick slips work — and a dash of explaining to the civilians how bets work, how the National works. Get ready to explain to 1,000 different people what an each-way bet is and to tell them to go for an each-way bet.

It’s incredibly fast-paced, it’s exhausting, but it’s a rush. You need to coordinate your floor runner to watch for underage gamblers and to hand out quick slips to the newbies. You need to make sure the civilian has marked the right boxes. Make sure they know how to stake the bet. Make sure they don’t give you a plain slip with only the name of a jockey (I loved that guy).

2013 was a great National for me. It was my first and it was lots of fun. It felt like we were actually in a decent job, actually doing something. People were having fun. During and after the race they were screaming, singing, shouting, hugging, jumping, kissing. People who lost didn’t go into a rage and start spitting at me, or smashing a machine up. People who won took the money with a smile and a thank you and left, never to be seen again. It felt like a proper job.

Then 2014 rolls around. A few days before the National, we’re told to take down all the marketing. We’re going to be promoting a machine tournament on the day instead. I ask my manager if this is a joke, he shakes his head, and we spend the next 20 minutes furiously tutting. Down comes the marketing, up goes the posters for the latest and greatest slots tournament for Inca Hoots, or some other stupid slots game.

The day comes and goes. It’s okay. It’s not as busy as the year before. The rush isn’t the same. I ask a manager who worked in shops before the machines and he said the atmosphere just isn’t comparable. After the race the shop is dead. In a rare case of the company making a sensible decision, I’m asked to stay so the manager doesn’t have to single-man until close. With the greatest of respect to my manager, they’re probably the four longest hours of my life. No one puts any bets on over the counter. The shop is dead. The odd machine customer comes in, silently plays, loses, walks out.

I imagine what a shop without FOBTs would be like. I look at the figures and the massive pile of money we made today and wonder why it can’t be like that every day. The next day is like any other. Shitty virtual races, shitty real races, shitty machines. Same old customers, same old complaints, same old abuse.

But for one day in 2013, it was grand.