Scottish Daily Mail

One player was begging to pay a debt: ‘I owe you £50,000, will you take £30,000 for it?’



There was a sizeable band of the England squad addicted I thought there was a huge danger it was destabilis­ing us and potentiall­y affecting results

Iloved it when one lad in particular was in the england squad. He was either the unluckiest card player I’ve ever seen or the worst. I think he was the worst. I was just happy to take his money.

He hadn’t been involved with england much under Sven Goran eriksson and it was a real bonus when Steve McClaren started picking him.

every time we met up with england, I smashed him all week. It got to the point where he owed me so much money that he asked if he could pay me back in instalment­s and set up a standing order to deal with the payments.

Poor bloke, he must have kept thinking his luck would change, but it never did. For a while, I got standing orders or bank transfers from him every month.

We didn’t qualify for euro 2008 with McClaren, which was probably a blessing in disguise for him — he would have been bankrupt by the end of it. NoT long after we got back from the 2002 World Cup, a story broke that Michael owen had run up debts of £30,000 in the tournament in card schools at the team hotel and that I was the man to whom he had to pay the money.

I felt sorry for Michael. He had offered to be the bookmaker in Japan and had taken the players’ bets.

I’d done pretty well and had a couple of spectacula­r wins. I put £500 on South Korea to beat Italy in the knockout stages. Michael gave me odds of 16–1. The bet came in, so he owed me £8,500 straight away.

But Michael made money from other people and probably came out around even in the end. In fact, he was probably a few quid up.

The amounts of money that we gambled in my time with england grew more extreme as the years went by, until it got to the point where I thought there was a huge danger it was destabilis­ing individual­s and potentiall­y affecting our results.

People think it began in the Kevin Keegan era, but in my experience the levels of gambling under Keegan were fairly tame.

everything seemed relatively sedate. Alan Shearer and Gareth Southgate were part of a card school, but I don’t think they played for money.

Some of the other players were in other games and the sums were relatively small, a couple of hundred quid here and there.

When Keegan was replaced by Sven in 2001, things stepped up a notch. It was still manageable, it never got over the top. Generally, it was me, Michael, Teddy Sheringham, david James and Wayne Bridge and sometimes Robbie Fowler.

We’re talking about a maximum of a couple of grand in a hand. That sounds pretty excessive but, given the wages we were on, that was not out of control and nothing was going to make us panic.

But the levels that we reached at euro 2004 and some of the euro 2008 qualifiers were just ridiculous, eye-wateringly huge.

We were gambling such large sums that we knew we couldn’t possibly do it in public. So we gambled in each other’s rooms, behind locked doors.

We were like clandestin­e drinkers, hiding ourselves to get wasted. except the drug was gambling and there was a sizeable band of us that were addicted.

There were four or five of us who played, but the sums were so large that I’m not going to name names. There were no limits on what we’d gamble or what we’d chase to win our money back if we lost.

The only restrictio­n that we imposed upon ourselves was that we stopped playing 72 hours before a game. It was an unconsciou­s admission that playing cards for obscene amounts of money could be just as damaging to you mentally and physically than going out for a few drinks. It was an acceptance that it was very hard to get your mind back on an important game if you had lost hundreds of thousands of pounds to a team-mate a couple of nights before. And that is the kind of money I’m talking about.

Gambling that kind of money was routine at euro 2004.

We didn’t gamble with cash by then, either. That simply wasn’t practical. The table would have been groaning with notes if we’d done that. We gambled with IoUs and kept a record of how much each player owed the pot. That was another reason why the sums became so absurd. Sometimes, it didn’t seem real.

After a week or so in Portugal, I was £46k down. Then one night I went from £46k down to more than £50k up.

I was earning £60k or £70k a week at Newcastle by that stage, but when I was £46k down, it was a horrible feeling. I hated it. It was in my head. It was out of control.

By the end of euro 2004, one player was so massively down that he was begging players to do deals. ‘Would you take 30 grand for the 50 grand I owe you?’ he was saying.

Most of the time, people helped him out. I don’t know how much he was down but it would have been a few hundred grand.

The amounts of money we were playing for were such that, if someone had a string of bad days, they could easily have been half a million down. That’s just at one tournament.

I can’t talk about how it affected other players, because I don’t know. I don’t think it affected relationsh­ips within the squad. But we were at a major tournament. How can you go into an important game and not have that playing on your mind? I don’t see how you can go out against France, say, in one of the biggest games of your life and play your best football.

To be owing half a million pounds in gambling debts off the back of one tournament is an awful lot of cash for anybody.

You’re supposed to be in the shape of your life at a tournament, but if you’re in that kind of debt, your head is going to be a mess.

I was a couple of grand up or down by the time we got knocked out by Portugal. The player who lost the most was down by more than £100k.

Gambling is an issue in football. Players get bored. Players have too much disposable income. We are problem gamblers waiting to happen.

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