Former professional footballer Paul Merson has spoken candidly about the impact of gambling addiction on his life and family.
In a BBC documentary Merson, who was capped 21 times for England, seeks to understand his gambling compulsion.
In Paul Merson: Football, Gambling and Me, he speaks with former team mates, gambling addiction experts and campaigners seeking to protect people from gambling harms.
Merson said: “I’ve been addicted to alcohol and cocaine, but by far the most destructive and the only one I’m still struggling with today is gambling.”
He asked: “Why is this the one addiction I can’t seem to shake off?”
Despite having lost “well over £7 million” to gambling in 35 years, he said: “Time after time, gambling has almost ruined me, but I always went back.”
Most recently, during lockdown, Merson admitted he’d gambled away his family’s savings set aside for a house.
The former top flight player explored the connection between football and gambling, observing: “Research has shown that professional footballers are three times more likely to have gambling problems than other young men.”
He added: “In the last two years, over 150 current or former professional footballers have undergone treatment for gambling addiction.”
Merson was critical of the prominence of gambling ads in football where, he said, “nearly half of all Premier League teams are now sponsored by gambling companies”.
Citing a recent investigation, Merson said that “gambling logos can appear more than 700 times during televised football matches. That’s once every ten seconds”.
He confessed: “Even though it’s been almost a year since my last bet, gambling is still the only thing that brings me any pleasure.”
Reflecting on his personal experience and his hopes for the film, Merson said: “If one person watches it and says ‘I need help’ that would be a major success story for me. I wouldn’t wish this on anybody.”