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SPORTS STORY

How to bet on... Non-League Football

There aren’t many sports where under-informed bookmakers constantly set generous odds across a range of matches, but non-league football ticks all the right betting boxes. Gareth Bracken has been finding out more about this hidden gem

While many football punters toil away attempting to eke out what value they can from the upper echelons of the British game, those in the know are setting their sights somewhat lower down the sport’s structure. Non-league football may not boast the glamour or quality of its more popular counterparts but that doesn’t matter very much to those cashing in on the Blue Square and below.

One of the great appeals of non-league betting is that it’s relatively easy to be more knowledgeable than the average bookmaker, thus creating an immediate advantage.” Despite the advances made by the bookmakers in the sphere over the last 10 years, they are still fairly ragged in their coverage with it being such a vast area,” explains non-league expert Gary Boswell, of tipping service The BOZmail. “The pyramid tiers you can regularly bet on with mainstream bookmakers increase each year. The great advantage therefore lies in covering the lower down leagues where bookmakers have greatest trouble finding out knowledge to inform accurate odds compilation.”

Patrick Dickinson, aka head tipster Firefoxx on website nonleaguefootballtips.co.uk, also sees the appeal, describing non-league betting as “an opportunity to bet on games with bigger prices and a higher chance of landing decent odds.” He also notes that there are “more away wins in non-league football, making the coupon more appealing than betting on the higher leagues where away wins are hit or miss”. There is also “the chance to unearth some winners through your own research”.

A vital skill to develop, Boswell says, is the ability to separate rumour from reality. ”The most common mistake made in non-league betting is listening to and believing the hype,” he says. “You can guarantee that it will be factored into the markets the bookmakers make. What gives you a chance of securing an edge over them is being able to compare your own markets based on what you have seen with your own eyes and uninfluenced by the hype against their hype-filled ones.”

Boswell believes the best way to stay one step ahead is to go and watch matches live. “I am a believer in seeing games on a regular basis to keep the info base fresh,” he says. “I don’t trust too much to stats compilers, TV watching or second-hand punditry. Nothing beats what you see with your own eyes in real life – preferably looking in the opposite direction to that which the crowd is looking.” He says it’s wise to focus on a particular geographical area, perhaps a local one, and get to know its clubs really well. “Specialise in a few teams,” he advises. “You then get to know the subtlest changes that are easy for bookmakers – looking wider afield – to miss.” That’s not to say that the bookies won’t sort themselves eventually though. “Move on if you consider they have caught up with your knowledge,” Boswell says. “It’s tougher for them because they have the whole country to cover.”

While opinions on players and performances are clearly best formed by attending live games, general news and clues can often be picked up on the internet. Dickinson recalls how one of the biggest and most famous non-league gambles of all time started from online whispers regarding a Weymouth vs Rushden & Diamonds match. “It all started hush-hush as Weymouth FC were slowly going bankrupt,” he explains. “Rushden were originally priced at 15/8 but as news spread on internet forums that Weymouth were being forced to put their youth team out as their first team players refused to play, a nationwide gamble progressed. The price soon crashed into 1/4, however it was too late for bookmakers as most of the damage was done without their notice, via internet forums.” Weymouth lost 9-0 and bookmakers lost £1 million on the match. “It is always important to look at the stability of a club when betting, as with Weymouth who were falling apart financially,” says Dickinson. “What you have to remember is that non-league clubs are not run like professional clubs and are therefore more vulnerable to a faster collapse.”

Dickinson recommends betting against teams who are in a poor league position as “these clubs tend to be struggling on and off the pitch quite badly”. He feels that the most profitable way of doing this is to stick to single bets. “I would always advise singles,” he says. “Because if you’re serious about making money then this is the only way you will be able to do it.” He does add though that accumulators “can be quite fun in non-league as prices are quite good and there is a higher chance of away teams winning, so you don't have to be stuck betting on home teams at low prices.” Boswell is particularly positive about such bets, stating that “the weekly multiple is a value, fun and challenging bet. Rewards for small stakes can be huge”.

Picking winners doesn’t have to be difficult either, if you know what you’re looking for. Dickinson says it’s vital to keep an eye on the make-up of a team. “Squads are ever changing and players are in and out on a weekly basis,” he says. “Non-league clubs are always wheeling and dealing and it is not rare for a new player to arrive in the squad each week, which should always be taken into account.” He adds that sometimes punters can be fooled into thinking that a side which begin the season well will continue to enjoy success, forgetting that line-up changes could be just around the corner. “Just because a team has had a great opening six games it doesn't mean you can build the rest of the season on that short form,” he says. He also highlights the size of a club’s attendances as another factor worthy of consideration. “Clubs like Histon get a very minimal turnout of fans, whereas Luton Town get around 7,000, which can have a big factor on mentality,” he explains.

Bad weather is not usually considered to be a sports bettor’s friend but in this instance it can actually prove rather helpful. While the elements can cause havoc during a match, Boswell says that punters can still use them to their advantage, if they are prepared to be patient. Rather than attempting to predict how the weather will affect the outcome of a particular game, he recommends waiting until the worst of it has passed before reaping the benefits of the mess it has left. “Last winter was a bit of a nightmare in the UK with form lines upset all through November, December, January and right through to February,” he explains. “But as the weather settled so did the form lines and predictions became much easier and odds were generally favourable because of the confused lines of the months before.”

Any sporting discipline in which it’s relatively easy for punters to build up a knowledge base that’s at least equal to if not greater than that of the layers is not something to be ignored. Non-league football offers the opportunity for such an edge, with the added bonus that it’s a big enough area to allow movement across different regions and leagues if the bookies do catch up. There’s always the chance of cashing in on another Weymouth as well.

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