Learn from the pros: Nick Goff, professional sports bettor

19 min

Nick Goff is a gamekeeper turned poacher. He spent more than a decade working as a trader for some of the biggest firms in gambling, including his last role as head of football trading at Coral. He’s long had a lucrative sideline as a punter, however, and since the summer of 2016 he took the plunge and went full-time betting on football, snooker and anything else where he can find an edge.

Goff is one of the more entertaining voices in professional betting and you can follow him online where he writes a weekly column for the Racing Post and tweets frequently at @nickgoff79. His witty and sarcastic online persona can sometimes mask his deeply insightful approach to gambling. He’s led by data but not afraid of backing his own judgement and trust us when we say you will learn a lot from this interview. Read on to find out more.

What was your route into professional gambling? How did you get started as a pro gambler?

I spent 12 years on the other side of the fence, as Head Football Trader for a couple of big betting firms.

In the main I loved it, but became more and more frustrated by the way certain things were moving in the industry. For the last three or four years in employment I’d reached the point where what I was winning or losing each week made my salary irrelevant, so effectively I was a professional gambler with a job on the side.

There’s only so long that can ever continue, so it became if, rather than when, the move to the dark side happened. At the moment I’m loving finally being my own boss and the only regret I have is not having done it sooner.

Talk me through your very first bet?

It would have been earlier than my first memory.

My Dad took me racing a lot when I was very young and even when as young as five or six he would give me £20 betting money to last the six or seven races. I got to keep anything above the £20 I came home with. I remember feeling gutted and like I’d let him down any time I can home skint.

Those were great days. I was obsessed with the busy, buzzing betting rings of the late 80’s and early 90’s. Those older than me will no doubt say I came along too late for the truly golden age, but I was in awe of the ring back then. When other kids were telling Careers Advisors at schools they wanted to be doctors, footballers and astronauts, I was the only one saying I wanted to be a bookmaker.

One of Goffs earliest punting memories was that of the insatiable buzz of the on course betting ring.

What advice would you give your younger self about how to win from gambling?

A lot! But then it’s far more than just a cliché to say learning from your mistakes is the best way to learn.

The one thing I’d probably say is if you know you have an edge somewhere, on a certain market or whatever, be well aware it won’t last forever. So make sure you give yourself the best chance to earn what you deserve to from the work you’ve done or the edge you’ve found.

Betting successfully is about taking calculated risks. Not being reckless, but being aggressive when the time is right to be aggressive.

Too many times when younger I think I was so obsessed with the notion that good gamblers are very well-disciplined and therefore must always guard against doing anything silly that I was a bit too cautious when a massive opportunity presented itself.

What sports do you focus on and why?

Football is my main sport, and takes up around two thirds of my time. I also bet seriously on the NFL and snooker.

I still enjoy and bet on horse racing at the major meetings but rarely get involved in low grade, midweek action. I wouldn’t have a view of my own on anything other than those sports, but I have friends who specialise in cricket and rugby, whose judgment I trust enough that if they tell me to have a bet I’ll have it without needing to ask why.

How do you approach finding a value bet in a market – what’s your basic approach?

It really varies. With football I do my own ratings, so early in a week create my own 100% tissue for matches in all the leagues I follow. I then update them as game day approaches as injury news or any other news develops. In football you’re playing with fine margins.

I’ll happily back a team at 6/5 that I made 11/10 in a major division.

But in snooker, where the market is very different to football, I would almost always leave a marginal edge such as that.

What personal qualities do you have that make you a good (and bad) gambler?

I think my passion and commitment to all things betting are a huge help. I meet lots of people who have become disillusioned or see battles like being able to get on as hassle.

For me, every element of being a professional bettor is a battle of wits where if you’re doing the right things and have the talent, hard work and discipline will pay off.

I have no desire to cut any corners and genuinely enjoy the daily grind. When you lose that desire to work hard you’re in trouble. I hope I never do.

Along with football and NFL, Goff also specialises in snooker betting.

How good are you with money?

This is a really interesting question for any serious gambler. We’re a very strange breed aren’t we?

We all become obsessed about getting 13/8 not 6/4 and throw our toys if we can’t get on at best price, yet if we’re buying a TV for £1000 and it’s £950 across the road, sod it, crossing the road just to save £50 isn’t worth the bother! And we’ll always be the first to the bar to buy a round.

With a few very notable exceptions, most gamblers are pretty generous with their money and would rather have someone owe them a drink than the other way around. So I’d say that in terms of staking sensibly, saving and investing for the future, I’m quite good with money. But at the same time I quite enjoy spending it and if I am out with friends and happen to spend more than they do I couldn’t care less.

What’s a typical week in your life like?

In the football season Sunday afternoons are when I update my ratings from weekend games then watch and bet NFL from September to January. Mondays are mostly prep and bet placement days unless there are some big games on, either for midweek action or, if I can get on, some early lines for the weekend I like the look of.

Tuesdays and Wednesdays are taken up with midweek football, and I try to give myself Thursdays off. I never, ever bet on the Europa League for that reason. Thursdays are complete rest days. You need to be disciplined with that because you can’t take many weekends off, so if you don’t allocate some midweek time off betting can be 24/7.

Saturdays are madness, obviously. I sit down at my desk at 8am, then it’ll be 8pm before I’ve looked at a clock or thought about eating or drinking anything. I wouldn’t have Saturdays any other way.

What one thing would you change about the betting world?

The increase in big firms being run by non-“betting people” and over time either not understanding the value of excellent odds-compilers, or just believing they’ve of little importance, has seen so many talented people leave the industry.

I’d love to see one or two smaller firms crack the big time doing it the old-fashioned way.

That will be tough to make a success of up against the huge marketing budgets of the big boys, but for the right people – and there are some of them out there – it’s still doable.

How much influence has luck had on your life?

Being in the right place at the right time counts for so much, so we all rely on a bit of luck along the way. That said, you can have a lot of breaks go your way but if you don’t have any talent you’ll never take advantage of them.

Back in 2004, I was 24, living in Malta and working as a junior trader for a Scandinavian firm when a senior role came up back in the UK. I knew the guy who had been offered it. At the last minute he had a change of heart and turned it down. He recommended me instead.

Is that luck? To an extent of course it is. I often wonder how life would have turned out but for that. Who knows?

Goff advises that specialist traders on limited overs cricket such as the T20 Blast should concentrate here rather than on Test Cricket.

How do you cope with variance?

Much, much better than I used to. After a fantastic March, I had 12 consecutive losing days in mid-April – and not small ones either. It’s comfortably the most I’ve ever lost over a two-week spell.

The thing I’m most happy about is how little I let it affect my mood and life. You can’t help but go to bed every night in the middle of that type of run and be a little bit down and pray to Gods you don’t even believe in for it to turn soon, because no matter how much you tell yourself you’ve not changed anything and runs of variance like this are normal, losing sucks and it always will. None of us will ever think otherwise.

But I like to think friends and family can’t tell when I’m flying or having a shocker. The Mrs knows me far too well and can spot it a mile off, but other than her I don’t do a bad job of it!

What one thing can I do today that will make me a better gambler?

Specialise. Realise there are too many sports, too many events and too many markets to be an expert in everything or win on them all.

If you’re a racing bettor then in the summer where there are so many meetings, concentrate on what you’re best at. Perhaps that means being an expert on handicaps from 5f to 1m but letting everything else go.

Trying to follow everything is likely to mean things you’ll miss which you wouldn’t if spent more time on a specialist area.

If you’re a cricket trader and have your biggest edge on limited overs cricket there’s enough of it on that you need to ask yourself is your time really best spent trading a five-day test match? Don’t spread yourself too thin.

To read more of Nick’s betting wisdom, as well as his uncensored thoughts on how Wolves are faring this season, you can find him on Twitter at @nickgoff79 where he also posts links to his Racing Post columns. While if you want to hear more from other professional bettors you can find more interviews here as well as a host of other betting advice in the Matchbook Insights archive here. Check back each week for new articles to help you stay ahead of the game.