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26/01/2007 No. 1
Kevin Pullein
Friday January 26, 2007
  First Goal Scorer
It is such a good offer that you think there must be a catch. And there is - but it is a catch that it might sometimes be possible to escape.

One of the most popular football bets is first goalscorer. In recent years, some bookmakers have tried to gain a bigger share of this lucrative market by offering each-way terms. And the most generous terms of all are now being offered by Ladbrokes (in their shops only) and William Hill, who pay half the odds for a place, which they define as being any one of the first three goals.

If your selection scores the first goal, both your win bet and your place bet are successful. If he scores the second or third goal, but not the first, your place bet will pay out.

The true odds of a player scoring at least one of the first three goals in a match will vary with the true odds of him scoring the first goal, but the former will always be less than half of the latter. In other words, Ladbrokes and William Hill are offering terms that are more generous than they should be.

The catch is that those bookmakers' place odds will represent a good bet only if their win odds represent a fair bet, or something reasonably close to it. And, like all other bookmakers, they nearly always quote first goalscorer odds that are much, much worse than they should be. It is why they love this type of betting so much.

But even the best of bookmakers will sometimes make mistakes. And if we are to find them, we need a guide. In the Premiership games last season in which at least one goal was scored, 52% of goals were scored by forwards, 35% by midfielders and 10% by defenders, while 3% were own-goals. In some games, of course, no goals were scored. In a typical match between typical teams, fair odds for the first goalscorer would be, on average, around 8-1 for a forward, 25-1 for a midfielder and more than 50-1 for a defender. Obviously, these will vary enormously with individual players and individual teams.

Watch out, too, for positional changes. Wayne Bridge was quoted at 40-1 to score the first goal in Chelsea's Carling Cup semi-final first leg at Wycombe Wanderers. The odds presupposed that he would be playing in his usual position of left-back. As he played on the left wing, they represented value for money, because even a bad forward is always more likely to score than a good defender. On that occasion, it was the bookmakers who were caught out.

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