A recent swathe of tabloid stories have emerged about how former England captain Wayne Rooney struggled with gambling addiction during his days at Manchester United.
Rooney had accumulated a debt of £700,000 ($1.3 million) by the age of 20, admitting he was sucked in by early betting successes and blamed boredom and unlimited telephone gambling for the habit. However, he has since managed to quit gambling altogether.
I was a young lad who’d just come into a lot of money. For an away game with Manchester United you stay in a hotel – and with England you’re in a hotel for seven to ten days. You get bored and do things to fill the time. At that time gambling was one of them. It was easy to place bets by phone. It didn’t feel like real money. It wasn't like I had to go into a bookies and put bets where there are limits,” Rooney said about his problems,
These comments came after the 34-year-old came under fire for wearing the number 32 shirt at Derby as part of an association with the club’s gambling sponsor.
This is clearly not the first case of a football player who developed a gambling problem. Gambling is widespread in the world of football. Huge sums of money at a young age and boredom mean footballers are vulnerable to gambling addiction. It has even been suggested that bookmakers target footballers, knowing that they're flush with cash.
Here are a few footballers who got addicted to the habit of gambling, which cost them big time.
#1 Michael Chopra
The former Newcastle United, Cardiff City and Sunderland striker shed light on the high stakes gambling culture in top-flight football and revealed he started gambling when he first played for Newcastle.
Players would gamble on the bus and I got involved. We would take thousands of pounds onto the bus, anything up to £30,000 ($53.900). It might change hands playing cards on the bus. It was part of team bonding. We were playing for real cash, if you were playing for £30,000 you would have it with you at the time. I have probably lost about £2 million ($3.59 million),” said Michael Chopra
Chopra’s problem was so acute that he would borrow money to feed his gambling addiction. The damage done to Chopra's family has been devastating. His father had to sell their house to pay of his son’s debts.
The 35-year-old now works for Only4Stars Players & Match Agency based in Amsterdam as a sports agent and broker.
#2 Eidur Gudjohnsen
Chelsea’s Icelandic striker got into trouble due to his gambling habits. After suffering an injury that made him feel “bored” and “lonely” Eidur would find solace in the casinos, where he lost £400,000 in a five-month period.
When I had that huge win I had a feeling of elation, which I can only compare to the adrenaline rush of scoring a goal. It put me on a high and it was magical. But it was a false feeling. I was looking for a quick fix but it just made things worse than they already were.It got to the point where I was just chasing the money that I had won initially and was getting dragged deeper and deeper.” said Eidur Gudjohnsen
His addiction followed him to Barcelona and continued to spiral out of control. The striker ultimately ended up owing more than £6 million to banks around Europe.
In 2009, he vowed never to gamble again after revealing his addiction. Recently, Gudjohnsen has taken to coaching after he was hired as the assistant coach for the Icelandic under-21 football team.
#3 Matthew Etherington
The former West Ham, Tottenham and Stoke winger was addicted to poker and placing bets on horse races. This led to him accumulating debts of over £1.5 million before seeking help for his addiction.
Matthew Etherington and his mother worked with the Professional Footballers' Association to bring his gambling under control. He also spent time at at the renowned Sporting Chance clinic for his gambling addiction.
Etherington retired from playing in December 2014 due to a persistent back injury.
Now he's hoping to forge a career in management, still regularly attends Gamblers Anonymous (GA) meetings in order to avoid a relapse.
#4 Paul Merson
The former Arsenal man has failed to conquer his gambling demons losing as much as £7 million due to gambling debts. He even had to give up his £300,000 home after failing to make payments on his mortgage.
Merson is now a pundit on Sky Sports Soccer Saturday recently admitted in a new ITV documentary that his his well-publicised addiction has once again relapsed.
I’ve just completely lost control, I’ve completely, again. I’m digging a hole - I can’t get out of it. It’s the worst addiction in the world.” said Merson.
#5 Keith Gillespie
Former Manchester United, Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers winger is another who’s taken to gambling. Gillespie made millions of pounds during his playing career but ended up losing most of his estimated £7.2 million fortune. In 2010 he was declared bankrupt.
Recently, he decided to carve out a new future by becoming a football agent. In 2017, he launched the OneTwo agency alongside former Irish League player Brian Adair.