Being a football supporter or a player means being constantly surrounded by betting. Shirt sponsors, Cup names, pre-game adverts – it’s everywhere. So imagining trying to overcome a gambling problem, or in the case of someone professionally involved in football, dealing with a ban – all while the footballing authorities profit from the bookies.
In 2017 a report by the gambling commission stated more than 2 million people in the UK were either problem gamblers or at risk of an addiction. Recent years have seen bans for the likes of then Cowdenbeath player Dean Brett and former Rangers midfielder Joey Barton – both later coming out to admit their struggles to contain their habit. They certainly aren’t alone.
Far more recently Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths has taken time out of football to deal with undisclosed issues – although it has been highly speculated that this is at least in part down to a gambling issue. Griffiths has strongly denied this, but regardless it has once again shed light on the situation with betting and football in Scotland.
Should gambling be an issue for Griffiths or not, there are bound to be more players, coaches, board members and supporters with either established or growing problems in the world of betting involved in Scottish football. Not ideal when all four of the top leagues in the country – as well as the two premier cup competitions are sponsored by bookies.
The Premiership in Scotland began being sponsored by bookmakers Ladbrokes in 2015 and has since been extended twice, with the current sponsorship due to run out in 2020. This deal also includes sponsorship for the Championship, League One and League Two.
The first major hurdle for anyone struggling with gambling is the amount of reminders of betting they are faced with. League tables are branded with the Ladbrokes logo, as are all of the stadiums, the match ball has the logo too – not to mention teams such as Celtic also being sponsored by a betting company.
It’s the equivalent of having a recovering alcoholic come into work only to see reminders of several different types of drink around them all day long – except the recovering alcoholic wouldn’t face a severe punishment for falling off the wagon and having a drink again, or even for it just being discovered they’d ever had a drink in the first place.
For many people in Scottish football, the very fact that authorities are willing to accept money from companies such as Ladbrokes and William Hill, while handing out bans such as the 18 month suspension given out to Joey Barton for essentially funding their sponsors.
Of course, it’s a murky area. Betting is always going to be something within football that is very complicated – especially if betting on games involving your own side. That would of course bring up suggestions of match fixing, however, most bans never normally involve players betting on anything involving their own club – in fact, often they aren’t even betting on games in Scotland or even the UK.
The bans are debatable, but even the fact that having an issue such as a gambling addiction results in a ban, rather than support and help is seen by many as detestable.
Just last year, Marc Etches, the Chief Executive of GambleAware warned Scottish Football they simply weren’t doing enough to support its stars.
“Footballers are three times as likely to have a gambling problem so it’s vital clubs and players all have access to advice about the risks of gambling.”
“Problem gambling is a mental health condition.”
“Clubs have a responsibility to make sure players are given the training to help them, should they need support, by knowing where to find BeGambleAware.Org”
Former Manchester United and Newcastle player Keith Gillespie has been very honest and open about his own struggles with gambling as a football player.
Showing just how things can spiral out of control, especially on a footballer’s wages, Gillespie admitted to having spent about seven million pounds on betting throughout his career.
Gillespie told the telegraph:
“I know that a lot of players suffered around the same time as me. I know the [huge] amount of money players get paid now, but players do get involved in gambling, which is a big problem when you’ve got so much free time on your hands.”
“When you’re that little bit older, you’re usually married, but when I first went to Newcastle, I lived in a hotel for five months. I didn’t know anybody so my way of curbing boredom was going to the bookies.”
This problem stretches further than Scotland. BBC Three revealed in a study how almost 60% of clubs in England’s top two divisions have the names of gambling companies on their shirts.
They also spoke about the problem with the amount of advertising for betting companies:
“During the world cup this summer, viewers were exposed to almost 90 minutes of betting adverts”
That was one and a half times as much screen time as alcohol firms, and almost four times that of fast food outlets.
There have been attempts, although minimal, from some stakeholders in Scottish football to reduce the impact of betting ads. In November Sky decided to reduce the amount of commercials it was running for betting apps in the UK.
According to FT.com:
“The broadcaster, which was recently acquired by Comcast, plans to limit gambling adverts for betting operators to one per commercial break.”
This will also include during games, where these types of ads are obviously most lucrative for the selling side such as Sky.
So we will be seeing less of the half time and pre-match “Kane to score and Spurs to win 2-1” etc for now on, but with the opportunity to still have one per each break, does this really make much of a change or is it a faint to make Sky look caring and concerned.
With every debate there are always two sides. While the majority of the opinions seem to swing towards the influence that betting companies hold being too much and that there is a clear hypocrisy from the SFA, there are always others looking through a different lens.
The objecting argument may be that you must be over 18 to bet and therefore anyone making the decision to do so, be it as a supporter, player or anyone else is an informed adult. While those holding this opinion may believe the advertising for gambling sites might be overdone, those companies have paid to advertise and within their right to do so.
Everything will all come back to a similar argument that is had among many topics. Should those in a position of power and strength help those “weaker” than themselves – in this situation, problem gamblers. Do the betting companies, and more importantly in this situation, the SFA and football clubs owe it to the supporters and players that they profit from to protect and help them? We believe they do.
What do you think about the way gambling advertising the sponsorship is utilised in football and specifically Scottish Football? Is it hypocritical for the SFA to hand out such large bans when they themselves are profiting from betting? Should more help be offered for those with gambling addictions? Let us on by tweeting us @NE98FT
If you or anyone you know are struggling with an addiction to gambling, or believe you might be, please reach out for help. There are many resources to help you, for example, BeGambleaware.org
You can also call the national gambling helpline on – 0808 8020 133 – the helpline is open 7 days a week, 8am – Midnight.