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In the early 1920s, a young man from Eccles enjoyed dreaming up schemes to make money. When he did come into cash, most of it was sent to his widowed mother, Louisa. John, Colin Askham and Bill Hughes were friends who had worked together as Post Office messenger boys in Manchester.
It was whilst looking for a new money-making idea that John Moores came across John Jervis Barnard, a Birmingham man who had latched onto the public’s growing passion for two things: football and betting. Barnard had devised a ‘football pool’, where punters would bet on the outcome of football matches. The payouts to winners came from the ‘pool’ of money that was bet, less 10 per cent to cover “management costs”. It had not been particularly successful. Clearly, Barnard was struggling to make a profit. Moores got hold of a Barnard pools coupon, and the three Manchester friends decided they could – and would – do it better.
They could not let their employers, the Commercial Cable Company, know what they were doing, or they would be sacked. No outside employment was allowed. That ruled out calling it the John Moores Football Pool, or anything like it. The solution to that particular problem came from Colin Askham. He had been orphaned as a baby and been brought up by an aunt whose surname was Askham, but he had been born Colin Henry Littlewood. And so, in 1923, the Littlewood Football Pool – as it was called originally – was started.
Each of the three partners invested £50 of their own money into the venture, and with the help of a small, discreet and cheap printer they got to work. In 1923, £50 was a huge sum to invest in what – based on Barnard’s experience – was a precarious venture, and as John Moores himself recalled: “As I signed my own cheque at the bank, my hands were damp. It seemed such a lot of money to be risking.” A small office in Church Street, Liverpool, was rented and the first 4,000 coupons were distributed outside Manchester United’s Old Trafford ground before one Saturday match that winter. John Moores handed the coupons out himself, helped by some young boys eager to earn a few pennies.
With his brother, Cecil, John Moores founded the Littlewoods football pools business, and subsequently used their network of pools agents to establish a mail-order catalogue business. This was followed in 1937 by the opening of the first Littlewoods department store in Blackpool.
The Littlewoods business passed to his daughter Lady Grantchester (née Betty Moores), widow of Kenneth Bent Suenson-Taylor, 2nd Baron Grantchester (1921–1995) and to his son Sir Peter Moores. The Littlewoods businesses were subsequently sold to the Barclay Brothers.