ADAM VIRGO

Our guest colum­nist on bet­ting in foot­ball and his Brighton fears

The Football League Paper - - INSIDE -

WILL play­ers have a bet this week­end? Of course they will. The 18-month ban handed out to Joey Bar­ton won’t make a blind bit of dif­fer­ence.

They might think ‘Right, I’ll have to be bloody care­ful now’. But I guar­an­tee they won’t say ‘I need to pack it in’. Gam­bling among play­ers is too widespread and too en­trenched.

For the vast ma­jor­ity, it’s a bit of fun – a £10 ac­cu­mu­la­tor that will pay for a night out or knock a chunk out of the mort­gage.

It’s not ma­li­cious. They’re just in a unique po­si­tion. On a Fri­day af­ter­noon, a player knows if the gaffer is mak­ing nine changes. He’s look­ing at it think­ing ‘He’s not play­ing, he’s in­jured, we’re go­ing to strug­gle’.

Ex­ploit

Then he speaks to his mate at the op­po­si­tion club, who says ‘Our gaffer’s un­der pres­sure here mate. We can’t af­ford to make changes. We’re go­ing for it’.

Sud­denly, he’s ahead of the book­ies with a chance to put £200 in his bank ac­count. Do I agree with that? No. But it’s hu­man nature to ex­ploit that ad­van­tage and it would never af­fect how you per­form on the field.

For oth­ers, like Joey, the prob­lem is more se­ri­ous. There are 92 League clubs in Eng­land. More than 2,000 play­ers. Sta­tis­ti­cally, sev­eral of them must have a gam­bling ad­dic­tion.

And, while the FA push their mes­sage of ‘Don’t bet on foot­ball’, ad­verts and mar­ket­ing cam­paigns are say­ing pre­cisely the op­po­site.

You watch a game on TV. Ray Win­stone pops up be­fore the game, then at half-time. And it’s so easy now to just pull up an app on your phone. Book­ies are ab­so­lutely ev­ery­where and, if you’ve got a prob­lem, that must be very dif­fi­cult to re­sist.

In that sense, the FA have dug them­selves a bit of a hole with their treat­ment of Bar­ton.

Faced with an 18-month ban, ad­dicts may try to cover up their prob­lems in­stead of seek­ing help.

If you’re an al­co­holic and con­fess that to the FA, you wouldn’t get banned. You’d get help from the PFA, a stint at the Pri­ory or the Tony Adams Clinic.

If you go to the FA and say ‘I’ve got a gam­bling prob­lem, I’ve lost ev­ery­thing, my wife’s left me, I’ve been bet­ting on th­ese teams’, they’ll kick you out of the game. Is that fair?

Of course, I un­der­stand you have to set a prece­dent. If you let one per­son get away with it, you have to let the next per­son get away with it.

An al­co­holic caught drink driv­ing isn’t given any ex­tra le­niency just be­cause that per­son is an al­co­holic.

I also know why the rules ex­ist: to counter match­fix­ing. It’s some­thing that hap­pened a few years ago at my lo­cal team, White­hawk.

Play­ers were tak­ing bungs to throw games. One of them, Michael Boateng, was a young­ster com­ing through when I was at Bris­tol Rovers. He was one of the nicest guys you’d ever meet. When I found out he was in­volved, I was ab­so­lutely stunned. In that sense, you can see why the FA took such a hard line. They wanted to make an ex­am­ple of Joey, just as they did when Rio Fer­di­nand missed his drugs test. From their point of view, there’s noth­ing bet­ter than a high-pro­file pun­ish­ment to get the mes­sage across.

But the sim­ple fact is you’ll never stop play­ers gam­bling. You could mon­i­tor all their phones and com­put­ers, all their emails and mes­sages.

But that still wouldn’t stop them go­ing round to their mate’s and say­ing ‘Here’s £200, can you put a bet on for me?’

Ad­dicts al­ways find a way, and pun­ish­ment is no de­ter­rent.

In­stead of dol­ing out lengthy bans, the FA need some kind of amnesty al­low­ing peo­ple to come for­ward and get help.

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

OUT: Burn­ley’s Joey Bar­ton, in ac­tion against Sun­der­land, has been hit with an 18-month ban

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