A change is gonna come… tipster and writer Kevin Pullein shares parting advice

Kevin Pullein is moving on after spending nearly a quarter of a century as the Racing Post’s leading football tipster; nicknamed the ‘Soccer Boffin’, Kevin was highly commended three times at the SJA British Sports Journalism Awards; here, he offers career reflections and how to get an edge in the industry…

By Jon Holmes

The ‘Soccer Boffin’ is hanging up his lab coat.

Kevin Pullein has been meticulously researching football statistics to produce expert analysis and commentary for the Racing Post since 1999.

Before that, he was with the Sporting Life and the Racing & Football Outlook. His consistency and attention to detail have helped to deliver a staggering 27 consecutive seasons of profit.

During that time, Kevin has also witnessed significant shifts and trends in sports journalism with regards to coverage of betting.

He previously wrote a column titled ‘Trendspotting’ for The Guardian, around the time that the SJA included the category of Sports Betting Writer at the British Sports Journalism Awards.

Kevin was shortlisted in each of the six years of that category, and was highly commended on three occasions.

During that spell, he also authored ‘The Definitive Guide to Betting on Football’, packed with in-depth insights.

As Kevin parts ways with the Post, we invited him to take part in an SJA Q&A…

Hi Kevin, thank you for joining us for a chat. How has betting journalism changed over the years, in football and wider sport?

There is a lot more of it now. When I started writing for the Sporting Life, there was one page a day of sports betting – that was for everything other than horse and greyhound racing.

When I joined the Racing Post, the sports desk was five people, and we all did everything: drew pages, placed adverts, sourced pictures, composed headlines – and somewhere along the way, researched and wrote copy.

Now there are 35 people in specialised roles producing content not only for our newspaper and website but also for other websites around the world, plus some audio and visuals as well.

What would be your advice for those keen to get into this part of the industry?

Try to find something you can do that readers or listeners might like and others are not doing.

Otherwise you will have to do what they are doing, and to get in you will have to do it better than them. Most of us cannot. I could not, so I did something different.

For me, it was statistical analysis of football. When I started, the only editors interested in that were on betting publications. Now there is a lot of statistical analysis everywhere.

What I tried to do was add the bit that – with respect – I feel is still missing from nearly all other statistical analysis. The bit that says what stats can or cannot tell us about what will happen next.

To be a profitable tipster, you have to be able to recognise in one way or another that things change. The future is not a duplication of the past. We might know what has happened before. We bet on what will happen next. It will be different, at least in some details.

Betting profits and losses accrue in the gap between what the past has led us to expect and what the future delivers.

The government recently released a gambling white paper proposing more regulation of the sector. What could this shake-up mean for the media?

I do not think there are specific concerns for the media. The white paper sounds reasonable to me.

It is only a basis for discussion, though. It tells us what the government wants to do in words that would still allow them to do something else. That is to say, it is a typical government document.

We will not know what changes are going to be made at least until the next round of consultations is over.

Profit in each of 27 seasons is quite an achievement. Which tips and predictions stand out in your memory and why?

I can honestly say that I do not think of tips individually but collectively, and that consistently having more winners than losers is what has given me pleasure.

Your only reasonable hope of tipping profitably over time is to find developments that are more likely to occur than the odds suggest. You need an edge.

A good bet can lose and a bad bet can win. The test of whether you have got an edge is whether your tips show a profit in the long run. Spectacular one-off wins or losses tend to be flukes.

I remember many years ago tipping a maximum-stake buy on the spreads of Manchester United supremacy at home to Arsenal.

The more goals they won by, the more money you would win.

They won 6-1. The next day, there was a ragout on the back page and the editor came to my desk and congratulated me in front of everyone.

I was having too much fun to admit that I had benefited from a freak occurrence. I did not think United would win by five goals, only that in this sort of game they would beat the line more often than not.

On that occasion, they won by five goals; on another occasion, they could lose by five goals. I just thought that for every five-goal loss, there would be more five-goal wins, and so on for all other margins.

The SJA Awards’ Sports Betting Writer category ran from 2008 to 2013 – you were highly commended for three of those, and shortlisted for the rest. How is talent best recognised now, noting that it might not be just writing but other channels like YouTube, social media, podcasts etc, where tipsters can find and build an audience?

When I was about to start writing for the Sporting Life, I got a call from the editor, Tom Clarke. He said: “Your job, Kevin, is to help our readers make winning bets.”

The feedback I appreciated most was from readers.

When I was on the Racing & Football Outlook, I had one season when almost everything that could go right did go right. My tips made more than 1,000 points of profit.

A woman wrote saying she wanted to leave her boyfriend and run away with me! That was flattering. I replied gallantly, explaining that my tips would not always turn out so well.

On the Racing Post, I heard from a reader who said he had named the top table at his wedding ‘Kevin Pullein’ because backing my tips had paid for the nuptials.

That was heart-warming. It made me feel that I was doing something worthwhile.

Even if you are a profitable tipster, though, there will be times when things do not go well – and alas, the time someone most needs recognition is when in many roles, they are least likely to get it.

I managed to tip profitably for 27 consecutive seasons, but in many seasons there was a period when if I had been a football manager, I would have got the sack. My bosses, though, stuck by me.

My editor for many years on the Racing Post was Bruce Millington. When most of my tips were winning, he would write and say well done – he knew most of the tips were winning because he backed them all.

When most of my tips were losing, he would write and say ‘don’t worry, things will turn round’. That meant a lot to me.

Our thanks to Kevin for the Q&A – you can get in touch with him via email.

The SJA is interested in your sports media industry news and views. Keen to reach an engaged audience, including over 70,000 followers across social media? We welcome your enquiries – contact us here. We also offer advertising and sponsorship opportunities.

For information on how to apply as a Full or Associate Member of the SJA, plus details of our free-to-enter SJA Academy, click here.