Paul Merson Reveals His Relapse into Gambling Addiction

A footballer looking out at the pitch.
Footballer Paul Merson is currently struggling with gambling addiction, having previously had issues while he was still playing.

30-second summary:

  • Paul Merson is a former English footballer who has had trouble with addiction issues in the past
  • He is now struggling with a gambling addiction again
  • Many footballers have similar issues, with football having an unhealthy relationship with gambling

Who is Paul Merson?

Paul Merson is a former English footballer and manager. He is currently a pundit on Sky Sports and had a successful career as a player. Merson played for Arsenal FC for 11 seasons, making 327 appearances and scoring 78 goals.

He then played for a number of other clubs in England. Merson made his England début in 1991 and played for the national team 21 times, scoring three goals in that time.

Previous addiction issues

Merson struggled with addiction for many years during his football career. During a press conference during November 1994, he spoke about his issues with gambling, drugs and alcohol dependence.

Through the English Football Association, Merson undertook a rehab program for a three-month period before returning to play for Arsenal in February 1995. He continued to struggle with his addictions over the next few years.

In 2003 Merson went to the Sporting Chance clinic for help. This clinic was set up by his former teammate at England and Arsenal, Tony Adams, who also had dependency issues with alcohol. Merson was still struggling with gambling addiction at that time and was racking up significant losses.

Merson said he had lost millions of pounds during his time betting. And in 2012, he was banned from driving for 14 months, after he was found to be drink-driving when he was involved in a crash on the motorway.

He has spoken at length through the media and in his an autobiography about his struggles, and he has been an advocate for speaking out about mental health issues.

Latest setback

Merson has now revealed that he has had a relapse and is once more in the grip of a gambling addiction. The 50-year-old took part in an upcoming documentary on ITV called “Harry’s Heroes: The Full English”. In the documentary he talks about how his life has “fallen apart” and that is trying to take it one day at a time.

He also made a public statement on Twitter about his issues. He said: “Thank you for the supportive tweets, means the world to me. Taking one day at a time but it’s getting better for me. Addiction is the most lonely of places and I’ve had three of the worst types over three decades. Never be afraid to talk, you’re never alone.”

During his interview for the new documentary, he said: “I’ve just completely lost control again. I’m digging a hole – I can’t get out of it. It’s the worst addiction in the world.”

Gambling and soccer

There is a significant gambling culture in football, which has led to numerous scandals over the years.

It has never been easier to place bets because of online gambling platforms. And despite numerous systems in place to try and prevent footballers from placing bets, there are easy ways around them.

A recent case was the investigation by the FA into England and Liverpool striker, Daniel Sturridge. The FA alleged that he was betting on football matches. One particular case was in January 2018 during the transfer window.

Sturridge was allegedly behind a number of five-figure bets involving potential transfers. The authorities were of the belief that Sturridge may have gotten insider information on potential transfers and got an acquaintance to place the bets.

Another high-profile case was with outspoken Joey Barton, who was suspended by the FA for 18 months in April 2017. The FA discovered that Barton had made over 1,250 bets on football games over many years.

Something has to be done

After his suspension, Barton spoke about how he was struggling to deal with a gambling addiction. The ban effectively brought an end to his controversial playing career. He did speak out about the problematic relationship football has with gambling. Merson says gambling is “culturally ingrained” in football culture; he estimates that as many as half of all footballers violate the rules of the FA.

He said: “I had to be sanctioned because I stepped out of the boundaries of the rules. So there’s no doubt about it, but the FA thinks I’m the only footballer who has ever bet on football ever. But the reality of it says that that is not the case. I’ve seen [it] with my own eyes.”

Other high profile cases of footballers having gambling addiction issues include former German international Didi Hamann and former Premiership player Matthew Etherington, who estimates he lost more than £1.5m through his career as a result of gambling.