Paul Merson on playing dependancy: ‘I would not want this on anyone’

Merson talks about dependancy to playing in a brand new movie on BBC One
Watch ‘Paul Merson: Soccer, Playing and Me’ on BBC One and BBC iPlayer on Monday, 11 October at 21:00 BST

Paul Merson received two league titles, the FA Cup, League Cup and European Cup Winners’ Cup with Arsenal. He performed for England on the World Cup and European Championship.

He has additionally misplaced greater than £7m to playing in a life dogged by dependancy.

In a brand new movie Paul Merson: Soccer, Playing & Me on BBC One on Monday, 11 October (21:00 BST), the 53-year-old units out on a journey to attempt to perceive the place his compulsion comes from, explores why footballers could also be extra liable to threat than others, and what could should be executed by corporations and the federal government.

Earlier than its launch, BBC Sport had a candid dialogue with Merson concerning the movie and the problems raised.

‘I have been hooked on alcohol and cocaine, however probably the most harmful and just one I am nonetheless combating is playing’

Throughout a 21-year profession in skilled soccer, Merson moved for switch charges that topped £12m. When he performed for Middlesbrough within the late Nineties, he earned about £20,000 per week.

He now lives in rented lodging along with his third spouse Kate and their three younger youngsters. Merson explains within the movie that he has handed over management of his funds to Kate.

He spoke to us about his regrets.

“Wanting again now, it is not the cash misplaced that you simply remorse,” he says. “I have been a millionaire and needed to kill myself.

“It is the time you have misplaced. I’ve bought eight children that I like very dearly.”

Merson explains within the movie how he’s nonetheless within the grip of dependancy.

“I have been hooked on alcohol and cocaine, however by far probably the most harmful and the one one I am nonetheless combating at the moment is playing,” he says.

“If I need to get drunk or excessive, I’ve to place one thing up my nostril or down me. Playing’s already in you, simply ready continuously, speaking to you.”

Merson relapsed throughout lockdown, dropping the deposit for a home he and Kate have been hoping to maneuver into with their three youngsters.

“I might be sitting on the couch and I might look over on the children,” he says. “The hate I had for myself, fascinated with how I might allow them to down.

“The scary factor is there’s just one end result, however you possibly can’t cease.”

Paul Merson playing for Arsenal
Merson spent 12 years along with his first membership Arsenal but in addition performed for Middlesbrough, Aston Villa, Portsmouth and Walsall

‘I’ve by no means had that off change’

Through the movie, Merson catches up along with his pal Wes Reid, who performed alongside him in his early days at Arsenal.

Reid exhibits him photographs from membership lodging, the place the younger males have been playing when enjoying playing cards, and recollects Merson wouldn’t be capable to cease as soon as he had began betting.

Via tears, Merson realises how lengthy he is been caught in dependancy.

“All by means of my life, I’ve by no means had that off change,” he says.

“There is not any larger buzz in the entire broad world than scoring a objective. However after I got here off the pitch, the distinction between me and different individuals was I wanted that buzz to proceed.”

Are footballers extra in danger?

A research performed for the Skilled Gamers’ Federation in 2014 confirmed 6.1% of sportsmen can be classed as drawback gamblers, in contrast with 1.9% within the basic inhabitants of younger males.

The movie investigates why footballers could possibly be extra in danger than different sections of society.

Merson believes the character of a footballer’s way of life makes them extra prone to having an issue with playing.

“I feel you have bought bundles of cash and bundles of time,” he says.

In compelling scenes, Merson performs golf with three different former footballers recovering from playing dependancy – Keith Gillespie (Newcastle and Northern Eire), John Hartson (Arsenal and Wales) and Scott Davies (Studying).

Between them, the lads have misplaced greater than £15m to playing.

Gillespie says: “In my first six months at Newcastle, I lived alone at 19 years of age.

“You end coaching day-after-day at 12. The remainder of the gamers have gotten households to go house to. I used to be simply going again to a resort room. For me, it was simply the bookies day-after-day.”

Merson says he used to dread night matches, as a result of he knew he would spend the entire day playing in his resort room.

“By the point the 7:45 kick-off got here round, I might be half asleep,” he says.

‘Playing has actually rewired my mind’

Paul Merson, side-profile.
Merson says he has struggled to search out pleasure in different issues

Through the movie, Merson visits totally different docs in an try to research why his mind works because it does.

Dr David Erritzoe, a marketing consultant psychiatrist at Imperial School London, is working with a analysis crew to map the mind and pinpoint the neurobiological foundation of playing dependancy.

They carry out an experiment that exhibits proof Merson’s mind responds far more actively to pictures of playing than it does to pictures of issues equivalent to nature, meals and household.

Merson instructed us he discovered the outcomes “scary”.

Within the movie, he says: “This illness has actually rewired my mind.”

‘Betting corporations are preying on ailing individuals’

Merson instructed us the experiment with Dr Erritzoe made him take into consideration how his mind responds to playing adverts.

“I feel the adverts are triggers,” he says. “Now that I do know extra about the way it can have an effect on me, when the adverts come on, I flip them off.”

The federal government is at the moment reviewing the 2005 Playing Act, which relaxed regulation round playing adverts.

In response to the movie, the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) mentioned: “Since being arrange because the requirements physique representing the regulated business fewer than two years in the past, the BGC has launched a variety of measures geared toward selling safer playing.

“These embody decreasing the variety of VIP schemes by 70%, a whistle-to-whistle ban in TV betting commercials throughout dwell sport, whereas our members now make sure that a minimum of 20% of their TV and radio adverts are safer playing messages.”

William Hill additionally responded, saying: “We take the protection of our clients extraordinarily severely, and all of our adverts function safer playing messaging and directions. We’ve got additionally dedicated over 20% of our promoting on TV and radio to advertise necessary safer playing initiatives like deposit limits and timeouts.”

However Merson says safer playing messages don’t at all times work and that the onus must be on corporations to set limits.

As a part of its response, the BGC mentioned “in accordance with the federal government, the speed of drawback playing is 0.5%, whereas current surveys from the Playing Fee point out that drawback playing charges are decreasing”.

Analysis suggests the small variety of drawback gamblers could also be at elevated threat. Final 12 months, the Home of Lords discovered 60% of playing corporations’ income got here from the 5% of their customers who’re already drawback gamblers, or are liable to changing into so.

Through the movie, Merson meets Matt Zarb-Cousin, a recovered playing addict who based Clear Up Playing, an organisation which lobbies for reforms to playing legal guidelines.

He exhibits Merson proof of how a playing firm harvests information as soon as customers have signed up.

Merson believes playing corporations have the instruments to identify drawback gamblers, and that they need to be utilizing these responsibly.

“The businesses know who the issue gamblers are,” he says. “That is what does my head in most. I can provide you accounts the place I used to be placing on 90 bets a day. Please do not inform me that is not a set off.”

Merson says within the movie that he’s not advocating a ban on playing as a result of “there are individuals who can wager usually” however he does consider “betting corporations are preying on ailing individuals”.

The Playing Fee mentioned: “All playing merchandise should be marketed in a socially accountable method and no free bets must be offered to anybody displaying indicators of hurt.

“A failure to market playing responsibly can result in robust motion from us.”

‘One individual may watch this movie then go on to have a significantly better life’

The method of creating the movie has been useful to Merson, he says.

“It has been necessary for me to have the ability to see myself as a sick individual attempting to get nicely, quite than a horrible individual attempting to get good,” he says.

However he doesn’t anticipate common sympathy.

“In fact, some individuals are going to look at the present and suppose: ‘Neglect him, he misplaced £7m, good job’.

“If one individual watches it and says ‘I need assistance’ that might be a serious success story for me. I would not want this on anyone.”

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