.Paul Merson says footballers that gamble need help rather than punishment

In a week where two more players face the prospect of lengthy bans for breaches of gambling rules, Arsenal legend Paul Merson yet again as been one of the sport’s most high-profile speakers regarding the issue.

The Gunner lifted 2 League titles, an FA Cup, League Cup and Cup Winners Cup, yet his career is just as famous for the vices he battled with.

Or more specifically, fighting his demons and coming out the other side.

The 55-year-old called his betting addiction worse than his obsession with drugs and alcohol.

They say you shouldn’t judge someone unless you walked in their shoes and, due to his journey, who better qualified to highlight the subject.

An illness that he estimates that over a 35-year period cost him 7 million, it’s no wonder that he thinks support is needed as much as punishment.

He couldn’t rationale he was spending house deposits at the bookies, so can empathize that the mind is not thinking.

To avoid phoning his bookmaker he would try and break his own fingers, so he can relate that no one deliberately intends to break any rules.

He would be so consumed he attempted suicide three times, so this is more serious than the football pitch.

The Sky Sports pundits now chooses for his wife to be in charge of his money as a strategy to cope. Yet those in power don’t seem interested in solutions.

He refers himself an ‘addict’. Where some people can bet a lot and be okay, he accepts even one tiny bet makes him Ill. So, when he says it’s dangerous to take away the outlet/distraction of football, those in power should listen.

The FA and FIFA judge young millionaires with lots of spare time for being tempted, yet plaster their product with adverts and sponsors from bookmakers.

That’s not to say it’s okay for grown men to break regulations they knew existed.

Yet Merson is asking for common sense. It’s believed that Tonali only betted on AC Milan to win, the team he played for. So, in theory not impacting on the integrity of the game.

Merson feels the bigger issue is the sums/regularities/times of bets which highlight the Italian might have a problem.

By taking away his escapism, how does that make him feel mentally better?

Isolating him from training leads to an increase in boredom, more free time to feel that void.

Punishing him in public, more self-worth and a desire to find validation.

Newcastle will be without their 55 million signing for the summer, it could yet cost Italy a place at the Euros, all for the sake of finding a deterrent to stop others.

Yet it’s not a deterrent if that individual is poorly. That’s Merson’s point.

This may be a 23-year-old who needs help, and yet you hear little chat about support on offer to him.

Would there be the lack of empathy if the addiction was drugs or alcohol?

That is the great point Merson has made for years. Mostly you can see if a man or woman is drunk, while there are side effects to what drugs you take.

Gambling you can’t see. There are signs that if your mate was up all-night partying. How would you know if they had just lost a fortune?

For the sake of ticking a box, I’m not sure how players are supported by this ban, but worse how this encourages their peers to ask for help.

Law of averages there will be other footballers fighting daily with this illness who need to ask for help. Why would they now if they realise it will impact their one piece of escapism?

Free support for anyone affected by gambling harms across Great Britain. Speak to the National Gambling Helpline 24/7.

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  1. A good peice by the Arsenal legend in his quest to help find a solution, it is said if a fish come up from the bottom of the sea and warned a shark is down there, you should take it seriously.

    Fresh from his very accurate prediction of the 2 : 2 London derby, the legend maybe the most high profile speaker to speak on this issue.

  2. Merson’s wrong. Yes gamblers need treatment, but footballers betting on games, even ones that they are not involved in, is a form of insider dealing. They have friends all over the football world who they could contact in a few minutes to manipulate a result.
    They know the rules, hit them hard.

  3. Such a difficult topic of discussion and one well written by Dan

    Having been a smoker I know just how hard it was to stop. I failed a couple of times but managed to quit 30 years ago. It was so difficult to do.

    Drink, drugs and gambling can be so addictive to some and whereas drink and drugs involve taking something for a’hit’, gambling is somewhat different. Some other impulse takes over in the body. Is it an adrenaline rush? Hope which can then be followed by despair if the bet fails?

    I have great sympathy for addicts but there are agencies out there that can help – as long as you recognise that you have a problem. It has to come from within.

    It doesn’t help that footballers fall foul of gambling problems due to excess time on their hands and salaries that maybe the going rate, but are nonetheless extremely high. Most people can have an occasional flutter and stop because they can’t afford to spend more. There is so much money swilling around at the top in football that the flutter can spiral out of control.

    That said, there are rules surrounding gambling in football and punishment must follow for those who transgress.

  4. Excellent article, Dan. I am disgusted by the hypocrisy of many professional sports, which get into bed with gambling interests for sponsorships.
    So many teams have shirts emblazoned with gambling company logos and venues and broadcasts of games inundated with gambling advertisements.
    The EPL and other leagues/sports are quite happy to take money from the gambling industry, yet are taking punative action against footballers, who fall under the gambling spell, as Paul Merson did. How much guidance or councilling does the EPL provide, to avoid problem gambling.
    It has been shown time and time again in a multitude of sports around the world that sports gambling leads to corruption within those sports.
    The tragic thing is that I can’t watch football, rugby league or cricket with my young grand children, without gambling advertisements setting out how to bet, betting options, odds etc. I suppose the only good point is that it gives me the opportunity to council them on the destructive impact of a gambling addiction, on the person themselves and the relationships around them.

      1. Thanks, SueP. I have seen people, families, marriages and other personal relationships destroyed by gambling addiction. Sports gambling finance is a pox on the game!

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