Britain’s bookmakers have been making a lot of noise about how much they have to pay out on Leicester City winning the Premier League, but in truth the biggest shock in English football history has been no bad thing for the major firms.
A season which saw defending champions Chelsea become a mid-table irrelevance (and Jose Mourinho sacked after losing to Leicester in December), title favourites Man City struggle to hold on to fourth place from rivals United, Arsenal’s seemingly strong title challenge melt away and Liverpool never in the race, has brought profits for the bookies on a weekly basis with punters’ Saturday afternoon accas undone by surprise after surprise.
The Foxes, of course, began the season as 5000/1 outsiders, leading to multiple big money pay-outs for loyal fans who had a flutter on their team to win the title, as many do year-in year-out without genuinely expecting any kind of reward.
Leicester fans had seen something in their team’s escape from relegation at the back end of the 2014/15 season, when they won 7 of their last 9 games, to convince them that happier times were ahead. The bookies were much slower to catch on to the fact that something special was happening in the East Midlands, something that would eclipse even the feats of Brian Clough at Derby and Forest.
Even after Claudio Ranieri steered his new side to three wins and three draws in their opening six games, Leicester’s title odds shrank only to 2000/1 and they were briefly back out to their original price of 5000/1 after a 5-2 humbling at the hands of Arsenal at the King Power Stadium in late September. It was to be their only home defeat prior to the title being sealed with two games to spare.
1000/1 to Champions
Four wins in their next five games, albeit all against sides that would finish in the bottom half of the table, took them back up to third place in early November and for the first time their odds fell below 1000/1. During the international break that followed, word spread that Leicester should be taken seriously, at least as an each-way option to potentially finish second, and they were backed in from odds of 750/1 to 250/1.
Saturday 21st November was a pivotal day in the Premier League season. Until that point, Man City had been firm favourites for the title, particularly as it was clear that Chelsea would not be mounting a serious defence of their crown.
At lunchtime, Man United scored a late winner at Watford to go top of the table and Leicester were very briefly back out to 750/1. But a 3-0 win at Newcastle at 3pm lifted them back to the top of the table, and then Liverpool thrashed City at the Etihad in the evening kick-off, exposing the title favourites’ flaws and causing a rethink of the betting. The punters threw an avalanche of money at Jurgen Klopp’s side (who were then 8 points behind Leicester).
After their 1-1 draw with United on December 1st, Leicester’s title odds hit double figures for the first time – in to 80/1. But by Christmas they had won three more games to remain top of the table and their odds had crashed to 10/1. The Boxing Day defeat at Anfield – just their second of the season – was followed by goalless draws at home to City and Bournemouth, and Leicester’s odds were back at 33/1.
However, after 3 games without a goal, Ranieri’s men reeled off victories over Stoke, Liverpool and City to push their odds into single figures for the first time and then as short as 6/4, causing many disbelieving backers to cash out. An unfortunate loss at Arsenal where 10 men held out until the 95th minute, bounced their price back out to 3/1, but that strong performance at the Emirates finally convinced many that they were the real deal.
On Saturday 12th March, Man City’s dour 0-0 draw at Norwich saw Leicester go odds-on for the title for the first time and after beating Newcastle the following Monday they were in to 8/11. They would not go odds-against again, becoming the sixth team in seven seasons to win the title having been top at Christmas.
Leicester are now a best price of 33/1 with Paddy Power to retain their title next season, although this time they face the distraction of a first Champions League campaign and the likely departures of several key players, with bargain buys Riyad Mahrez and N’golo Kante certain to attract unwanted attention from Europe’s biggest clubs. Incidentally Bet365 are currently offering the same price of 33/1 for the new 2015/16 champions to be relegated next season!
Perhaps by offering teams at 5000/1 for next season bookmakers haven’t learned their lesson and in the hours after Burnley secured promotion, the layers were fielding countless bets and building massive liabilities on the Clarets to become champions. If they do, it will trigger another huge one-off pay-out, but they would spoil millions of coupons along the way, lining the bookies’ pockets all season.