Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Proud to be my fathers son, Con Minoli & Son's, Blackwood

Four who were there at the beginning and are still going strong today; Chris Pitt talks to a quartet of bookmakers who started out on that historic day in 1961 - and whose shops survive to this day.


Con Minoli & Sons Ltd The northern Italian town of Bardi lies about 50 kilometres southwest of Parma in the upper Ceno valley. Back in the late 19th century its inhabitants were living in poverty, there was no work and they were barely able to scrape a living.

In search of a better quality of life, many of them chose to swap the Ceno valley for the valleys of Rhondda and Cynon and emigrated to south Wales, where they became known for setting up cafes.

Constantino (Con) Minoli came over in 1912, aged six, with his two brothers and their mother and father. The family settled in Rhymney and opened a cafe there. Then they opened another one in the village of Pontlottyn.

It was in those south Wales valleys that Con met Clementina Gambarini, whose family had also arrived from Bardi, and the pair were married in 1936. Two years later they moved to Blackwood and opened a cafe which they called Everybody's Cafe.

Con's son Enrico, known to all as Rico, recalls: "Every village and hamlet in the valleys used to have an 'Italian shop'. They were mostly farmers in Italy and when they came over they were prepared to work all hours. Girls wouldn't go into a pub on their own but they'd go to the Italian cafes for a cup of coffee. A lot of my friends met their future wives there.

"My father started taking bets illegally when he was about 20 but he got raided by the police and never did it again until he got married and his sons were born. He and his brothers were very interested in dog racing - there were lots of flapping tracks in the area at the time.

"In 1955, when I was 18, my father's brother Lazzaro was making a book at a flapping track in New Tradegar. I used to go there twice a week and clerk for him. In those days there was a maximum of eight races.

"My father had a cafe in the high street in Blackwood [where the betting shop is now] and he paid me pounds 5 a week, but when I was clerking with my uncle for a couple of hours twice a week he'd pay me pounds 5 a night. I was on 15 quid a week with my board and lodgings paid for, which was more than a top collier around here was earning. I felt like a film star!

"Then I went in the Air Force for my National Service in 1956 and did my two years. When I came out in 1958 the pub opposite the cafe had lost its bookie's runner. Every pub had a bookie's runner in those days but this one had just finished."

Rico's father suggested he and his brother Gino should try taking bets there. The landlord wanted a bookmaker to help his trade so they began to take bets in the bar of the pub. The firm of Con Minoli & Sons was established in 1958 and they quickly built up a round that saw them collect betting slips from various cafes, shops and houses.

Rico continues: "We had an advantage because I was only 20, Gino was 19 and all the other bookmakers were middle-aged or old so we appealed to the younger element.

"At first we weren't even taking a tenner a week but the family were well-known and had a good name throughout the town for the cafe. After a few weeks we'd built up a profit of pounds 13, but then a fella had a pounds 1 bet and won pounds 12 so we had pounds 1 left and had to start again!

"We never got raided because by the time we started there was talk of betting shops being made legal. When they did become legal in 1961 I went to apply for the licence in Tradegar Magistrates Court and we were the first to open in Blackwood. We set up in a shed at the side of the Butcher's Arms.

"There were ten betting offices in Blackwood - we had three - but none of them were taking any money. I never thought that we'd make a living out of it. I just thought that maybe we'd have a few quid at Christmas.

"In those days we had only one Exchange Telegraph blower, which was in our office in the shed next to the pub. Our other offices had no information at all and they had to phone up for the results.

"The other firms in the valleys had an Exchange Telegraph but it was located in their head offices, to which the public didn't have access but, as we didn't have a head office, we had it in the shop and the public could hear it.

"It was a big novelty and people would come from the surrounding villages to our shop to listen to the shows and the commentaries.

"We had a shop in the Red Lion in Blackwood, one in the Valleys Club and a shop in Cefn Fforest, so I got a fella to wire it up to give commentaries to those shops. It was illegal as I was supposed to pay for a blower at each shop, so I used to give the commentary. I'd get the commentary off the blower and relay it. I used to try to make it sound like a tight finish!" Until 1987 Con Minoli & Sons continued to operate from a shed at the side of the Butcher's Arms. Then they converted their cafeon the opposite side of the high street to a betting shop. Although the name appears on the high street frontage, the betting shop itself is now located downstairs.

Rico's son Nino began working for the family business in 1980 and now runs the operation, although his father is still very much involved. They continue to trade as Con Minoli & Sons Ltd and now have three shops, one in Blackwood, one in Cefn Fforest and one in Pontlottyn.