Former Wales, Arsenal and Celtic striker John Hartson has spoken out about his struggles with gambling and how he overcame his addiction.
Hartson, speaking to the Daily Mail, explained that his addiction was so bad it nearly cost him his wife and children.
His story follows Northern Ireland forward Kyle Lafferty’s admission earlier this month that he is addicted to gambling.
Hartson said that playing fruit machines as a youth in Swansea while working as a pot-washer in a working men’s club first drew him into betting.
But as a professional footballer, he found gambling firms were more than happy to pander to his every need in order to feed his addiction. He explained how they would provide seats at concerts, invite him to golf events and for ten years laid on a corporate table at Cheltenham races.
He said: “I didn’t have to leave my seat all day. They just sent staff in to take my bets. Those people just couldn’t do enough for me.”
“I was a deeply addicted gambler and they knew it”, he added.
Hartson also detailed how money can be lost very quickly once someone opens an account with a gambling company.
“It’s like Monopoly money then, because it’s all on account. You’re not holding the notes in your hand. You’re not seeing it go.”
Hartson added that it is even possible to bet while appearing to spend time with family.
It was this sort of behaviour that almost drove his wife away. Having been his ‘rock’ throughout his cancer treatment and his major brain surgery, she had had enough when he continued gambling once he left hospital.
‘She’d had enough’
“It was because of Sarah that I stopped in the end”, he said. “She’d had enough of my walking in from trips, ignoring her and the girls, going straight to the TV and turning on a cricket match, golf tournament or horse race I had £5,000 on.
“She made a decision to pack her bags and leave me. ‘I won’t put my girls through this,’ she said. I remember those words like it was yesterday.”
But her actions caused him to stop, and Sarah stayed with him as he sought help from Gamblers Anonymous, which he says saved his marriage.
Six years later, Hartson now helps others with gambling problems and says: “I wake up every day, open my back door, suck in the fresh air and give thanks that the past is over.”