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SPORTS BETTING: Mean, moody and magnificent; MY LEAGUE CHAMPS YANKEE ..AND HERE THEY ARE Premiership: Liverpool (15-2) Division One: Sheffield United (10-1) Division Two: Bristol City (6-1) Division Three: Oxford United (14-1).

Byline: DEREK McGOVERN

PUNTERS are by nature an optimistic breed but there's a definite air of pessimism hanging over the new football season.

I've never had a good word to say about pessimists - apart from the fact that they are ideal people to borrow from as they never expect to be paid back - but I'm afraid pessimism has begun to cloud my normally sunny nature.

Only last week I was asked how many pessimists it takes to change a light bulb. What a damn fool question that was - the old one was almost certainly screwed in too tight.

This week I can almost feel the clammy hands of bookmakers rifling my pockets, just behind the wife's.

Punting's impossible dream - the winners of the four English divisions in an ante-post Yankee - has always been more rare than a Saddam sighting in Skegness but at least bookies used to entice us into that unholy bet with a string of hard-to-resist come-ons.

Last year for instance one bookie pledged to refund stakes on all pre-season Yankees if Tiger Woods won the US PGA championship (he didn't). A year earlier another firm promised to double the odds on the shortest-priced selection.

This year, though, zilch. Not a come-on, not a concession, not a carrot. We're expected to take on the toughest task in betting without a safety net. Coming hard on the heels of the decision by leading firms to scrap singles on Scottish lower division matches (just because some smart punters were cleaning up) and the closing of a correct-score loophole in international matches that had allowed shrewdies to cash in on 2-0 wins, it's a worrying sign that bookies have grown tired of tickling our tummies and are ready to play hard ball.

Now you can see the reason for my pessimism. In fact I've grown so gloomy I now carry a card in my wallet that reads: "In the event of an accident...I'm not surprised."

I'd like to say I'm so outraged by the bookmakers' tightfistedness that I've a good mind not to bet with them but that would not be a good mind...it would be a crazed mind.

It's a rule of life, alongside the clear understanding that Premiership ref must always come from places like Waterlooville, that no new season can ever kick off without every punter placing an ante-post Yankee.

In case you didn't know, a Yankee comprises 11 bets, 12 of which lose. If you get four winners in a Yankee you are rich beyond belief. You are also a liar. The nearest anyone ever came to a clean sweep was the punter a squillion years ago who had three winners running on to Goliath.

But it is incumbent on me, as this paper's incumbent tipster, to boost your income with an incomparable Yankee.

CAPTION(S):

SHARP BLADES: Back Warnock's boys for the First
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 9, 2003
Words:479
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