Footballers have lots of spare time and lots of spare cash – it can be a recipe for disaster.
Many players have succumbed to gambling addiction over the years, losing vast amounts of money and jeopardising the future of their families as a result.
Research from former footballers charity XPRO suggests as many as two out of every five ex-players face bankruptcy within five years of hanging up their boots and retiring from the game. Another report found more than six per cent of sportsmen are classed as “problem gamblers”.
The rise of the internet and betting websites have made betting easier than ever before. Long away trips with team-mates also offer players plenty of temptation to get involved.
While there is nothing wrong with having a bet or two, it can be tough for some people to stay in control. Here are five high-profile footballers who have struggled with their gambling problems.
Premier League player Joey Barton opened up about his gambling addiction after receiving an 18-month ban from all football activity after being found to have placed over a thousand bets.
Barton was even caught putting bets on his own team to lose and while there was no suspicion of match-fixing as he was not involved in those fixtures, the affair has effectively forced him into taking an early retirement from the sport.
“I have fought addiction to gambling and provided the FA with a medical report about my problem,” said Barton in response to his charge.
Barton – whose club Burnley are sponsored by a betting firm – says he has been able to stop betting on football since being caught but it is clear he is still struggling to control his addiction.
England and Manchester United captain Wayne Rooney has often been pictured having a gamble at casinos and newspaper stories recently claimed he lost a whopping £500,000 in one night.
While Rooney can afford those losses – he makes a reported £300,000 per week – it is still a phenomenal amount of money, more than most people will make in many, many years of work.
It was also previously claimed Rooney ran up a gambling debt of some £700,000 via a betting ring that involved some of his England team-mates – including Rio Ferdinand, John Terry, Michael Owen and Frank Lampard – in the build-up to the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
Did he really lose 2 weeks wages?
Matthew Etherington is among the footballers to have come clean about their addiction, with the ex-West Ham United and Stoke City winger claiming to have lost £1.5 million from betting.
Etherington bet on greyhounds, horses and poker, with the former player explaining how he managed to spend his week’s wages playing poker against his fellow pros on the team coach.
“There were card schools at West Ham and it did get a little bit out of hand,” Etherington revealed in a newspaper interview. “People were taking three, four, five grand on the bus with them.”
Etherington said the gambling was good for team morale but accepted it acted as a distraction for his playing career, as he would be checking the results of horse races in the dressing room.
He would also be pursued by people he owed money, who turned up at his club’s training ground, and he used loan sharks before being helped on to the road to recovery by manager Tony Pulis.
Former Newcastle United star Keith Gillespie had a gambling problem that grew to be so serious that it led to him being declared bankrupt.
Gillespie claims to have lost as much as £7 million on gambling during his career, losing as much as £100,000 a day at the height of his addition.
“You’re always chasing the next winner.” said Gillespie. “I would have bets on every race going.”
The former Northern Ireland international even wrote an autobiography – titled How Not To Be A Football Millionaire – that went into detail about how gambling contributed to his financial woes.
One of the footballers best known for having a gambling problem was Paul Merson, who was one of the best players in English football at the top of his career.
Now a pundit for Sky Sports, Merson’s addictions to drugs, drink and betting ruined his life, with the former Arsenal and Aston Villa star estimating he lost around £7 million due to gambling.
At one point Merson’s problem was so great he lost his house and was forced to move back in with his parents, while he even tried to break his own fingers so he could not call his bookie.
Like many ex-pros, Merson had support from the Sporting Chance clinic, established by his former Arsenal colleague Tony Adams.
“I’ve stayed away from drink and drugs but gambling has beat me, spanked me all over the place,” Merson once said. “Every day it would go through my head about committing suicide.”
Similar to Gillespie, Merson opened up about his problems in an autobiography, How Not To Be A Professional Footballer, and fortunately he has since been able to turn his life around.