A number of changes have occurred in recent times with regards to gambling rules in the United Kingdom. There is also a set of upcoming changes to the industry, thanks to the release of the reform white paper.
One of the changes agreed upon is that Premier League football clubs cannot advertise gambling companies on the front of their shirts. Yet perhaps the football clubs should be looking at their own players where problem gambling is concerned?
According to reports, problem gambling is one of the most common behavioural disorders in the country faced by footballers. It comes before both alcohol and drugs. Last season saw a record number of professional football players entering into rehabilitation for compulsive gambling behaviour. Yet even with the government’s white paper on gambling reform now viewable by the public, some have noted that the changes proposed may be insufficient to cover certain areas.
The Players’ Foundation, formerly known as The Professional Footballers’ Association Charity, revealed that 35 footballers sought treatment for various addictions last season. Gambling was included amongst those problems. Several of the footballers who entered rehab for gambling addictions were also high-profile stars in the sport. Yet all chose to remain anonymous when checking in for their stints in rehabilitation centres.
The Social Stigma Often Works Against Athletes
There have been instances of professional footballers seeking out help with their gambling addictions in the past. Former Arsenal, Blackburn Rovers and Tottenham midfielder David Bentley admitted to having a gambling addiction back in the early years of his career. There were times when he placed 100 bets per day. Bentley managed to overcome his gambling problems in 2005 with assistance.
Michael Chopra, who currently plays as striker for West Allotment Celtic, also saw himself battling a severe gambling addiction. His story came out in 2008 following a split and reconciliation with his fiancé at the time Heather Swan. She vowed to stand by him as he entered into rehab for his gambling addiction, and that included his stint at the Sporting Chance clinic. A variety of other issues came up, including a domestic abuse situation, before Chopra re-entered the same clinic in 2011. In December of that year, Ipswich Town gave him a £250,000 loan to help him with paying off his gambling debts.
The story is exactly the same for Dominic Matteo, the Scottish former professional football player. He had a 17-year career, making a total of 366 league and cup appearances. Throughout that, he played for Liverpool, Sunderland, Leeds United, Blackburn Rovers and Stoke City. Matteo retired in 2009 due to various injuries, and he struggled with gambling addiction thereafter. In his autobiography, he admitted to at one point owing £1,000,000 in gambling debts. On one occasion, he wagered £200,000 on a single horse race. Matteo ended up bankrupt in 2015.
While some professionals may have sought out help in the past, it’s not always easy to do so. There is a social stigma that comes with suffering from addiction. It is due to this that many of them choose not to seek help from experts in the field. That only leads to additional deterioration for most.
A recent survey by GambleAware – the largest gambling charity in the UK – explained that 62% of residents in Britain would negatively judge someone if they knew they were a gambling addict. That sort of mindset can, of course, be very unhelpful to professional athletes. If they believe they would disappoint their fans and others by admitting their problems, it could lead them to think it would also negatively impact their careers.
Yet there are many local charities willing to help with these problems. They also offer that assistance in a discrete way, so there is no need for the public to know about it.
EPL Clubs Pledge to Become More Involved
The English Premier League has said that it will become more involved in trying to prevent problem gambling. As we highlighted earlier, a deal was made for clubs to no longer have gambling sponsors’ logos on the front of shirts. Of course, they haven’t entirely ended their deals with these companies. After all, there is big money involved in the sponsorship deals, which benefits both sides.
The Sporting Chance clinic remains open and operational for professional footballers with issues. That medical centre was founded by former football player and manager Tom Adams. He suffered with an addiction to alcohol at one point, and after his recovery, he opened the clinic.
In 2022, the Players’ Foundation said it had spent around £4 million on treatment and counselling for 520 retired and current players. Just under 50% of those people were still active sportspeople. Former players and affected family members of the athletes provided the remainder. Some 78 of the players suffered form substance abuse, and 42 of them admitted to having gambling problems. Around half of the cases were linked with depression.
Retired goalkeeper Peter Shilton spent some time with Sporting Chance as well as receiving NHS treatment. He is another former player who suffered with a gambling addiction. Shilton has been very open about his problems with betting, having suffered with such for more than 40 years. His wife, Steffi, spoke out about the professional and caring efforts of the Sporting Chance clinic, as well as the NHS centres across the country. Steffi also spoke of any affected parties needing to seek out help for their addictions.
Whether the removal of gambling logos on football shirts by 2025 will have any impact on addiction figures remains to be seen. Some people are quite sceptical that it will, considering logos will still be possible on shirt sleeves and around stadiums. Yet it’s clear that gambling is something that can affect professional sportsmen and women, as well as the everyday player.