Football Betting Guide: How to Score the Best Returns

If you had any doubts as to whether or not football was the biggest sport in the world, take a few moments to scan the top betting sites. If we take 888Sport at random, you’ll see that it has more than 35,800 active football markets.

Unsurprisingly, with that many active bets available on just one site, it’s easy to see why football betting is the biggest player in the gambling industry. Regardless of how, when and where you want to bet on football, there’s something out there for you. With this in mind, we’ve put together the perfect punter’s guide to football betting in the UK.

Ranking the Best Football Betting Sites: How We Score the Big Hitters

Football betting is a competitive market and the best betting sites are all trying to stand out from the crowd with their unique offers, which is great news for you as a punter. Fortunately for you, we’ve been up, down and around the pitch enough times to know what constitutes a top football betting site.

In our opinion, finding the best place to bet on football in the UK comes down to five factors:

  • Status of the Site: If we discount age, an important marker of quality we look for is an official gaming licence. For UK football betting sites, a seal of approval from the UK Gambling Commission is what we want to see.
  • What Are the Odds: Finding the best odds isn’t easy. Margins and pricing are fine so if an operator has a “best odds guarantee” or regular “enhanced odds” offers, we rate it highly. Similarly, if an operator works hard to cover a variety of markets, it also gets a gold star from us.
  • In-Play Betting: Good football betting sites should offer a robust live betting platform – offering in-play on many markets, cash out and ideally bet editing 
  • Live Streaming: A football betting operator should ideally offer live streaming, the ability to watch a match in real time from the betting site on your phone or PC.
  • Promotions: A  general welcome free bet or matched bonus offer is a given, but we’re looking for operators that offer football specific promotions in the form of price boosts, accas and enhanced odds on upcoming matches.

Below we drill into which of our recommended football bookmakers really shine in each of these areas.

Best Sites for Odds

So where’s best, in terms of odds, when you fancy a flutter on football? As the most popular sport for betting in the UK, there’s plenty of competition between bookmakers. But at a glance, it’s often hard to feel confident you’re definitely getting the best deal, and no one likes to find out they could’ve got better odds on that ACCA of a lifetime.

For clarity, let’s compare the actual odds available across our top recommended bookmakers, and see if it’s possible to draw out patterns about where the best odds can be found.

Example 1: Barcelona vs. Malaga, Outright – 21/10/2017

This La Liga clash pits perennial top-of-the-leaguers and European football giants Barca against bottom of the league minnows Malaga, and the expectation amongst football fans, pundits and bookies will be universally for a home win. This is a good starting point for examining how the odds stack up between different providers for the outright, on what is expected to be a straightforward win for a heavy favourite.

Bookmaker Barcelona To Win Draw Malaga To Win
888 Sport Review1/2031/122/1
Betfair Sports Book Review1/1814/150/1
Sky Bet Review21/1410/125/1
Grosvenor Sport Review1/1813/122/1
Bet Bright Review - Playright1/2021/222/1
Paddy Power Sport Review1/2013/145/1

The bookies are unanimous. As anyone who follows La Liga at all will know, this has got no-contest written all over it. Yet the gulf in odds available on a home win varies considerably. SkyBet come in as the most generous here, with 1/14, which is by some margin better than what’s on offer elsewhere. Most tend to be coalescing around the same 1/20 odds, but by betting with Sky in this case, your bet would bring you back a roughly 50% greater return, simply by shopping around for your odds.

The divergence is almost as wide on the flip side. At its tightest, you’ve got 888 and others coming in at 22/1, and interestingly, Sky are also pretty tight on the Malaga win, at just 25/1. Compare that to 45/1 at Paddy Power Sport and 50/1 at Betfair – odds that are twice as generous on the Malaga win than the bottom of the pack.

Example 2: Tottenham v Liverpool Specials – 22/10/2017

On paper, this is a much tighter affair, with both Tottenham and Liverpool out to find maximum points. For the sake of this example, we’ve eschewed the outrights in favour of looking at some more specific markets – First Scorer, Correct Score and Both Teams To Score.

Bookmaker Harry Kane 1st Scorer Score 2-2 Both Teams To Score
888 Sport Review14/52/21/2
Betfair Sports Book Review3/111/13/5
Sky Bet Review11/411/13/5
Grosvenor Sport Review14/519/21/2
Bet Bright Review - Playright14/510/18/15
Paddy Power Sport Review3/110/18/15
Betway Sports Review - Playright13/109/111/20

The Verdict:
Harry Kane First Scorer Betfair/Paddy Power
Correct Score 2-2 Sky/Betfair
Both Teams To Score Betfair

In this example, we can see just how tight the spread between different bookmakers can be. All of the bookmakers have priced these specials up similarly, with the outliers only just edging the competition to offer better value.

For Harry Kane First Scorer, Betfair and Paddy Power share the join accolades at 3/1 – £30 win for a £10 bet. This compares to £28 for a £10 bet at BetBright, 888, and Grosvenor Sport, and £27.50 for the same bet at Sky. Interestingly, Betway feels way off the money here, at just 13/10 – £13 for your £10. So in this case, it clearly makes sense to be heading to Betfair or Paddy Power if you expect Harry Kane to work his magic and find the net first.

Correct Score is similarly tight, with 11/1 the best odds available at Sky and Betfair. Betway is again clocking in as the tightest here, offering just 9/1 on a 2-2 draw correct score.

For Both Teams To Score, Betfair Sport is again the champion, at 3/5, paying more than 20% more on the same result than 888/Grosvenor. Overall in this case, Betfair comes out on top as offering the best odds, and that’s a good general rule of thumb for more specialist markets. In the first example, Betfair were also offering the best odds on a Malaga win, and weren’t too far off the frontrunners for other results. On that basis, it’s reasonable to assume Betfair are usually there or thereabouts, in terms of offering the best odds.

Winner – SkyBet

Best Site for In-Play Betting

In-play has been one of the most attractive innovations for sports betting in recent years, giving you the chance to react to changing developments in matches that are already underway. This can be used in a number of ways to good effect, like backing the next goalscorer when you feel the pressure mounting, or picking correct score in the second half. Obviously the odds are dynamic, and respond in real time to changing events on the field, but the in-play dimension makes for even more excitement when you’re watching matches unfold.

All the top sports betting sites we recommend offer in-play (sometimes called ‘live betting’), and these tend to be the fixtures that are presented front and centre when you login to your account.

Hand in hand with in-play betting is cash-out, where you can liquidate your bets ahead of time, either to take your winnings early or cut your losses before they materialise. In terms of in-play with cash-out, 888 and Grosvenor only offer this option on limited markets, and that makes them much more restrictive for general play.

Betfair, Sky and Paddy Power run ahead of the field, with much better selections on both in-play events, and cash-out potential. Most operators now elevate in-play betting to the forefront, so whenever you land at these sportsbooks, you’ll see the full lineup of fixtures eligible for in-play bets. This is the easiest way to get a feel for what events are coming up, and the odds available for in-play bets.

Winner – Skybet / Betfair / PaddyPower

Best Sites for Live Streaming

With the rise in in-play betting, sports betting operators have become increasingly keen to offer live streaming, where logged in accounts have the ability to live stream events through their account. Not all bookmakers are in a position to offer this, by virtue of licensing agreements and the costs involved, but it is a great added feature so you can follow your bets right to the last.

Betfair offers live streaming on a huge range of events, but you need to be logged in and have funded your account in order to view the action. In some cases, you might even need to have placed a bet on the match before you’ll be able to view it, but when you consider you’re probably going to bet on it anyway, it’s a nice perk to be able to watch the live stream within your account. Curiously, Betfair doesn’t tend to brag about their live streaming as much as some other operators, but it probably should – there are often a handful of events eligible for live streaming at any one time from the ‘What’s On TV’ menu, complete with analysis and commentary as you watch.

Paddy Power has a similar offering here, if not across a more limited lineup of events. The same is true at SkyBet, where there are many fewer events covered in the live streaming section, which is perhaps a little surprising for a sportsbook carrying the brand of the UK’s leading private sports broadcaster. In all these cases, streaming is not quite live, and there is anything up to a 30 second delay in the stream, but it’s still good for watching your bets play out in near-real time.

The others also offer live streaming with the exception of Grosvenor, which has no streaming available. Give them their dues, they’re still quite a new bookmaker, having only opened their sports betting section in 2017. But this is a definite weakness of Grosvenor versus the others, which all, to a greater or lesser extent, have some live streaming events available.

Winner – Betfair Sport / PaddyPower Sport

Best Sites for Promotions

Bookmaker Free Bets Price Boosts Ongoing Promotions
888 Sport Review£30 free bets plus £10 casino bonussometimesgood
Betfair Sports Reviewup to £100 free betsregularvery good
Sky Bet Review£10 free bet plus ongoing weekly free bets in Sky Clubregularvery good
Betway Sports Review - Playrightup to £30 free betregular- daily specialsgood
Grosvenor Sport Review - Playright£20 free when you bet £5sometimesaverage
Bet Bright Review - Playrightup to £50 free betsometimesgood
Paddy Power Sport Reviewbet £10, get £30 free betregularvery good

All of the sites listed in our betting reviews offer promotions and incentives to keep you betting, although some are clearly better than others. The main types of promotions you can expect are free bets, often tied to setting up and depositing to your account for the first time, in addition to price boosts, enhanced odds and other ongoing specials and promos that crop up throughout the year.

SkyBet does a very strong line in promotions, and their £5 weekly free bet for Sky Club members, in addition to their opening free bet welcome offer makes them one of the strongest performers as far as promotions are concerned. Betfair gets an honourable mention here too, for their up to £100 free bets to start with, plus a raft of regular ongoing promos and bonuses. Paddy Power is also strong, with regular specials and price boosts cropping up throughout the sporting calendar.

Grosvenor is again probably the weakest here, just in terms of the range of promotions and free bets available. This will hopefully improve over time as their sports betting arm becomes all the more established, but for the time being, there are better options out there. The strongest free bet by amount is, unsurprisingly, from Betfair, though BetBright and 888sports offer the best of the rest.

Winner – SkyBet

Football Bets: Multiple Ways to Win

Football betting online offer plenty of options. From the general to the specific, every top operator will cover dozens of potential outcomes and occurrences.

Bet Type Description
Outrights Picking the correct team to win
Over/Under Betting whether a certain outcome will be over or under a set line
Half-time/Full-time Choosing which team will be ahead at half-time and then full-time
Scorecast Predicting the winner (or draw) and the correct score
Player markets Bets on individual feats, such as goals scored and fouls committed
Both teams to score Will both teams score: yes or no?
Double Chance A team to win or draw
Totals Betting on how many times a certain action, like corner kicks, will occur

ACCAs What’s The Deal?

ACCAs are one of the most popular types of sports bet, with football fans up and down the country crossing their fingers every week in the hope their results come in. For the uninitiated, ACCAs, or accumulators as they’re also known, are a type of bet where you pick multiple events on the same line, for exponential odds.

Take the Premier League as an example – you can back Man Utd, Arsenal, Tottenham, Liverpool and Man City as individual fixtures for a return (call it ‘R’) – so five winning bets would be 5xR – the return on each bet, times five bets. But if you combine these into one ACCA, you get a significantly higher return if all your results come in. So instead of looking at 5xR, you might be looking at 10xR, because the results are combined on a single accumulator bet.

The most obvious benefit to accumulators is that you get better odds, and the more fixtures you add to the line, the more your odds increase. Of course, the downside is that you’re much less likely to call all of the matches correctly, and hence you’re less likely to be in the black on an ACCA than you would be if you bet on each of the matches individually. Playing an ACCA is kind of like the football lottery, except instead of random numbers, you’re weighing up how you think different match results or events will pan out. And your odds are way better than any lottery, and you decide the stake – so it’s like a lottery, only much better.

There are two main strategies for playing ACCAs. The first is to keep it tight, and use the ACCA to build up better odds on a limited number of fixtures. You don’t have to get greedy to make ACCAs pay – for a line up of 4, 5, 6 or 7 results, you can still seriously boost your odds, without stretching probability too thinly in your favour. The other main strategy, which is arguably a lot more fun, is building the biggest possible odds you can muster, and going for a lower stake bet than you might in the first case. It’s possible to build up odds in the hundreds, even thousands and more the longer your ACCA goes on, and there have been some notable wins from players who have adopted this type of strategy.

When you combine ACCAs with cash-out bets, this can also work well. So say you’ve concluded 3 out of 7 results on your ACCA – at this stage, you can cash out, usually for a better price than on the events individually, and take your higher winnings early. And of course, the longer you keep winning, the stronger your cash out offer gets.

Betfair is strong for ACCAs, as are Paddy Power and SkyBet, and it’s here you’re likely to get the best odds on your lineup.

What is Asian Handicap Betting?

Asian handicap bets are interesting markets and a nice alternative to outrights and ACCA bets. Originating from Asia (obviously), an Asian handicap bet is one where teams are given a handicap, like in Golf to take out the draw. The handicap is a number such as +0.5, +1.0 or +1.5, or -0.5, -1.0 or -1.5, representing the goals head-start or  deficit awarded to the teams before kick-off.

In an Asian handicap bet, two teams will be given a positive or negative handicap, depending upon their likely outright odds of winning or losing. Taking Man City vs Southampton for ’18, ’19, Man City will be given a short price on winning and vica versa for Southampton. Adding a handicap of -2.5, means that Man City must score by a clear 3 goals or more to overcome its handicap, giving a longer odd and more attractive price to football punters. There are different handicaps, with the bigger the handicap e.g +3.5 or -3.5 giving you a longer price than a shorter handicap which is closer to the plain outright.

Football Betting – How To Win

There’s no sure fire why to win at football betting as the odds one way or another are against you. Staying on the right side of the win/loss column requires a combination of skill and timing. Unfortunately, we can’t help you with the timing, but we can give you these football betting tips that should help improve your chances.

Study the Form: In football, form is everything. Using a combination of match reports, recent results, player stats and analysis from football tipsters, you should be able to identify the teams that are in form.  Of course what’s available to you online is available to the bookies and their pricing but at least you’ll make some sensible bets by knowing what’s going on.

Use your Head: As the nation’s No 1 sport a lot of punters come to football betting from an overly emotional perspective. Don’t back a team because you have a soft spot for them, or have a ‘gut’ feeling they can turn around a bad run of results. Study the form and use your head not your heart.

Be Wary of Accumulators: Despite the advent of insurance and early cash outs, accumulators are still tough to make a profit from. If you are going to place this type of bet, limit yourself to no more than three fixtures.

Parlays Over Accas: As an alternative to accumulators, we suggest making parlay bets. Although you’re still betting on multiple games, you’re in control of the action. For example, you start by betting £10 on Arsenal to beat Spurs (@2:1). Arsenal win and you use your returns (in this case £30) to bet on Man United beating Chelsea at 2:1. You win again and now you have £90 (£60 profit + your £30 stake). To continue the parlay system, you take your £90 and put it on another match and continue until you lose or decide to stop. Either way, your initial risk (£10) will stay the same.

Become the Bookie: Each week, pick out five fixtures and try to set odds for each. Use your own knowledge in conjunction with recent form and team news to be as accurate as possible. Once you’ve done this, compare your odds to the actual odds offered online and see how close you were. Over time, this process will help you understand the markets better and, importantly, spot a bet that looks like good value.

Stick to Your Limits: Successful football bettors know how to manage their money. As a general rule, you should never stake more than 2% of your bankroll on a single match. So, if your bankroll was £1,000, the most you should be betting on a game is £20.

Main Football Betting Strategies

If the above tips are not enough and you want to take a more technical approach to football betting, there are a number of strategies that have proven consistently popular and that you might want to think about when you’re betting on football.

Back and Lay: This strategy goes beyond how you think a match will pan out. It’s more about playing the numbers, and stacking the odds in your favour, ideally to create a risk-free bet, but in most cases, to reduce the scope of potential losses if things don’t go your way. The strategy revolves around backing and laying the same outcome, to take advantage of changing odds.

Say you spot an opportunity where one outcome has been priced beyond where you think it should. You bet on Team A to win. When the odds move, you then bet on Team A to lose at another bookmaker, effectively hedging your bets.

This requires a keen working knowledge of odds, and probably a calculator handy unless you’re a gifted mathematician, but once you’ve got the hang of it, this can be a strong strategy for maximising the differentials between competing odds on the same event.

Value Bet: Value bets identify opportunities for betting where the odds on offer are more generous than the team’s chances of winning, for example. This often feels counterintuitive, but is actually a good way to play maths and probability in your favour over the medium to long term.

With value bets, you’re not looking to find a winner every time. But as we know, upsets very much happen all the time in football, and when a bet offers you a better return than you feel it should, that’s said to represent good value.

Take the first example we discussed at the top of the page – while some felt Malaga to beat Barcelona was worth 25/1, other bookmakers had it at 50/1. At 50/1 this feels like a solid value bet – the chances of a Malaga upset are surely greater than 2%, and other bookmakers are pricing the chances at around 4%. The difference here is the value, and a strategy that hunts out these bets can be used to good effect, over time. They won’t all win, but by getting the best value for your bets, you could still finish well ahead of the casual bettor who backs instinctively.

In-Play Strategies: There are loads of in-play strategies that can be deployed in football betting, giving you a wide range of options. For newbies, perhaps the simplest to explain is laying the draw. Essentially, you wait until a game starts, and at 0-0, you want to lay the draw, in anticipation of the first goal. When the goal comes, you can then choose to back the winning team, or cover all outcomes at a profit where the odds allow, for a guaranteed win.

You can also deploy similar strategies with the correct score. These in-play strategies allow you to leverage the changing nature of the odds, in response to developing match conditions, opening up opportunities for a profit that won’t be available to the casual football betting punter.

Over/Under Goals: Rather than backing the outright result, or even the correct score, Over/Under Goals can be a good bet type from a strategic point of view, giving you a good combination of better odds and a range of outcomes. 2.5 goals is the usual threshold, and you can bet over or under this amount, based on the total goals in a game.

Under 2.5, means 0, 1 or 2 goals pays a winner, while three or more pays for Over 2.5. These types of strategies can be deployed when you see fixtures with 0-0 written all over them, or when the top teams face off against their much smaller league rivals. Rather than backing the outrights in either of these cases, Over/Under Goals bets often provide better value, and can be used successfully as part of your long-term betting strategy to make your betting pay.

Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League Betting

For football fans, at least in the UK, the bulk of betting activity focuses around the Premier League, FA Cup and the Champions League. The main markets here are the outright, as well as correct score, first scorer, and combinations of the above.

With combinations like Lukaku to score and Man Utd to win, you get better odds than you would on either of these outcomes individually by combining the two. Likewise, plumping for correct score over the outright is generally the best way to secure much higher odds, although it’s obviously much more difficult to call the score.

Paddy Power, Betfair and SkyBet are the main players in these markets, with honourable mentions to BetBright – these operators tend to offer the best odds, the best price promotions, and the best combination of in-play, cash-out and live streaming to making betting on leading football fixtures as attractive as possible.

Football Betting in the UK: A Historical Love Affair

As you can see, football betting in the UK is an active market full of odds, options and offers. One of the main reasons the leading bookmakers are so heavily invested in the game is because of the UK’s historical love of the industry.

For example, the Football Pools first took place in 1923 and that helped to make football betting a national pastime. Following that, the Gambling Act (1968) allowed bookmakers to legally offer football bets.

With millions of people now able to bet on football in two different ways, the industry became something of a national pastime, and that’s continued onto the internet. Today, punters across the UK can bet on football matches from around the world.

In fact, when you join one of our top football betting sites, you’ll get instant access to the following markets and more:

If you’re a fan of football and fancy a flutter via your desktop or mobile, you now have more odds, more information and more places to ante-up than ever before! Our ranking table is updated automatically so with PlayRight you’ll always get an up-to-the-minute picture of the very best places to bet on the beautiful game.