Gambling has overtaken the demon drink as the main risk for cash-rich footballers, according to former England captain Tony Adams who battled alcoholism before becoming a saviour for players fighting addiction.

Adams, who founded the Sporting Chance clinic having come through his own drink hell, told how old professionals led him to the pub after training but modern-day stars fall for huge bets and the internet.

More than 70 percent of footballers, rugby players and stars from other sports who go through Sporting Chance are in the grip of gambling, according to the Arsenal legend who has found solace as football director for Azerbaijan side Gabala.

Two footballers, a rugby league player and a boxer are currently at the clinic founded in 2000 by Adams in Hampshire, south-west of London, he said at the Soccerex convention in Manchester.

Three football managers and several coaching staff members have also joined players seeking refuge there over the past 18 months, according Sporting Chance chief executive Colin Bland. 

Sporting Chance is recognised a world leader in helping athletes overcome their destructive behaviour.

But Bland said too many football coaches still do not take account of mental illness when deciding if a player is fit to compete.

– Walking wounded –

“Coaches will quite accept that I can’t play because I have torn something or my knee is bad.

“But if you are up and walking you might be suffering from an acute depressive disorder or a mental illness, you are well enough to play and you get your treatment at the end of the season.”

Adams said he had twice turned out for Arsenal when “pissed”. His own trail of alcoholic chaos wrecked “six or seven” marriages of teammates and friends.  

“I dragged them around the world,” recounted the winner of two English league titles.

“When I joined the club the ex-pros took me down the pub. That was where we went on a Tuesday after training — bang. But they don’t tend to do that now,” said Adams.

In his own case a long injury layoff sucked him into alcohol dependance.

“I got shit-faced, absolutely out of my tree, drunk alcoholically, wet the bed, into fights, put crutches over people’s heads.”

He had a 12-year battle where booze dominated his summer breaks and increasingly “the career that I loved.”  Adams went to prison for dangerous driving but even that did not stop the drink.

“The illness of addiction has gone in different directions. I describe it like milkshakes, chocolate milkshake is alcohol. But you have got the internet now and gambling is a massive one.

“I think 70 percent of our clients who come through as patients are gambling addicts. There has been a big shift away from booze to gambling.”

– Huge bets –

Former West Ham United and Stoke winger Matthew Etherington reckons he lost 1.5 million pounds ($2.3 million) on greyhounds, horses and cards.  

Adams’s former teammate Paul Merson has said he spent up to 30,000 pounds ($46,000) betting on a single football match in the 1990s.

Former Newcastle United and Sunderland striker Michael Chopra has also been among the Sporting Chance clients. He has told how he spent a similar amount gambling with other players on the team bus.

Now the players union, the Professional Footballers Association, is the main financial backer of Sporting Chance. 

Bland said about 85 percent of Sport Chance’s customers are still from football with its huge riches. But there have been boxers and darts players afflicted. 

Rugby league is also a source of trouble and the charity is looking to set up a branch in Australia, a league bastion.

“There are many guys in top-flight football and top-flight rugby that actually look after themselves and stay clean of substances, gambling and alcohol with the tools they have been given by Sporting Chance,” said Bland.

Sometimes clubs approach the charity because they have a problem player “and they don’t know how to have the conversation,” said Bland.

Sporting Chance talks every season to young players at all 92 clubs in the English professional leagues. But it believes there will always be players with problems.

“We have a lot of young players that are trying to make their way in the game and other games as well who are worried, they are worried about appearing weak in the team or not being selected,” said Bland. – Agence France-Presse

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