Every Saturday around 4pm silence would descend on our noisy living room in East Manchester as Dad took up his Littlewoods Pools coupon and checked it against the football results read out on Grandstand. Every family we knew did the Pools. It was the only acceptable form of gambling that went on in our family. (We never won.)
In this new book Joan Boyce reveals the story behind the Pools, the story of an organisation that was not just a national institution but also changed the lives of women in Liverpool as well as making an important and longstanding impact on the city.
Joan began working at Littlewoods in 1950 when she was 15. She followed in the footsteps of her sisters and many other local women as Littlewoods offered better pay and conditions for women. “Their steady, regular work was essential to the family income in a city cursed with casual work and unemployment.”
The work suited the lives of working class women, offering good conditions and pay and, most importantly, a summer break after the end of the football season so that parents (or rather mothers) could look after the kids during the six week summer holiday.
Young women, like Joan, were able to progress in the firm: she was trained up as a correspondence clerk. The firm promoted from within and also sponsored employees on further and higher education courses.
The owners also provided a variety of welfare support with on-site nurses and access to a doctor which before the NHS was founded in 1948 was an important reason for joining the company. There was also a company convalescent home and a pension scheme.
Over the 50 years of Littlewoods thousands of people worked for the firm. Joan has interviewed thirty three women and their comments are scattered throughout this short book; only one woman said that she did not enjoy working there due to the pressure of the work.
It was a rags to riches story as John Moores came from a poor family of eight children. He left school at 14 and continued his education at night school so he could progress in the cable communications industry. It was his idea to set up a football pools company which he did in 1926. At the age of 35 John was a millionaire.
It is a very positive book about Littlewoods as an organisation. There are some wonderful photographs of the women workers at work, doing war work, and going on company days out. What sticks out for me, though, is the lack of black women/men in these images. Littlewoods were a major employer in Liverpool – did they refuse prospective employees if they were black? Joan does not refer to this in the book and I think the question needs answering.
Today we have low expectations of big corporations who make massive profits and treat their employees unfairly. The Moores family, who created and ran Littlewoods Pools, became millionaires but also contributed to their employees in terms of pay and conditions but also to the city in many ways. Their interests included contributing to charities for handicapped children and even in funding and building boys and youth clubs in the city in the 1960s. The question I would ask: why weren’t the Council providing these services? Why should the community have to rely on the patronage of a private company?
Joan has written a fascinating account of the history of the Littlewoods Pools Company and given a voice to some of the women who worked there and an insight into their lives at work. I understand her respect for the Moores family and their committment to Liverpool. But I would have liked her to be a bit more questioning about recruitment policies and also the role that the unions played in the organisation.
Buy it – only £7.99 – from my favourite bookshop here