The English disease: Betting is prevalent in the Premier League, as one boss admits ‘half his players’ would be in trouble if the authorities looked into their habits
As Jose Mourinho noted during his first spell in charge of Chelsea, betting is in the Premier League’s DNA.
To the Portuguese coach, the prospect of risking his family’s well-being for a bet on a random event seemed preposterous. But this is English football and Mourinho admitted it is impossible to stop rich footballers spending time at the roulette wheel or at the races.
He said: ‘My players tell me they do it to pass the time and to enjoy it like thousands of people enjoy it in England. If it happened in another country our mouths would be wide open. In England and with English players, it doesn’t surprise me.
Charged: Andros Townsend has been charged with allegedly breaching gambling regulations
FA Rule E8 (b)
(i) the result, progress or conduct of a match or competition:
(A) in which the Participant is participating, or has participated in that season; or
(B) in which the Participant has any influence, either direct or indirect; or
(ii) any other matter concerning or related to any Club participating in any league Competition, as defined in Rule A2, that the Participant is participating in or has participated in during that season, including, for example and without limitation, the transfer of players, employment of managers, team selection or disciplinary matters.
For these purposes, without limitation to the application of this Rule to other circumstances, all Employees of a Club are deemed to participate in every match played by that Club while they are so employed; all Players registered with a Club are deemed to participate in every match played by that Club while they are so registered.
‘It is their private life and it is their money. They have to have control, but they tell me it’s how they want to do it.’
Placing big bets is one of the perils of the big Premier League pay-day, as £20,000-a-week winger Andros Townsend has discovered.
As one Barclays Premier League manager put it: ‘Half the players would be in a spot of bother if the authorities took a closer look at their gambling habits.’
At every turn there is a gaming house, a casino or a bookie ready to take bets on anything from last night’s friendly between Vardar Skopje and Schalke to tonight’s Champions League final. Last season five clubs in the Barclays Premier League — Aston Villa (Genting), Stoke (Bet365), Swansea (32Red), West Ham (SBOBet) and Wigan (12Bet) — were sponsored by gambling houses.
Townsend went to great lengths to keep his habit a secret. QPR chief executive Phil Beard told Sportsmail he was ‘stunned’ to learn that the player, who spent five months on loan at Loftus Road, had been charged by the FA yesterday.
It is understood Tottenham officials were also in the dark until they received notification from the FA this week of some extraordinary betting patterns. They were traced to Townsend, a young player who had the potential to be fast-tracked through the England Under 21 squad to play for the senior team.
That is on hold now as the players and his club change their priorities for this foolish young man.The empty afternoons at home, the lazy days after training, provide a window of opportunity for the thrill-seekers in the modern game.
Withdrawal: Townsend has had to pull out of the England Under 21 squad
Before the digital revolution it was all done in High Street bookies, betting on Catford dogs or the next race at Punchestown. Chelsea skipper John Terry and his former friend Wayne Bridge were photographed placing bets in a Surrey bookmaker after training sessions in 2004.
For some it’s all about boredom, passing the time on the team bus by playing cards for a few hundred quid on the way to an away game.
Others, such as Dietmar Hamann, Keith Gillespie, Matthew Etherington and Michael Chopra became compulsive gamblers. Hamann, who won the European Cup with Liverpool in 2005, once dropped £288,400 in a single sitting by spread betting on the number of runs scored in a cricket match.
Loan success; On loan from Tottenham, Townsend has performed well at QPR
Chopra, a decent Championship-standard player at Cardiff and Ipswich, claims to have lost £2million through gambling. At one stage, bookies were sending heavies to Ipswich’s training ground to recover the debts.
Two years ago Etherington admitted he lost £1.5m on greyhounds, horse racing and poker during his stunted career at West Ham.
And it goes on at the highest level, as the infamous card schools that marked Kevin Keegan’s reign as England manager attest.
Even the owners of football clubs admit betting against the regulations.
In 2003 the former Crystal Palace owner Simon Jordan breached FA regulations by asking his chauffeur to place £2,000 on his club to get promoted at odds of 33/1. He was successful, but the bookies were unaware of his scalp until he revealed it in his autobiography Be Careful What You Wish For.
Other footballers whose losses spiralled out of control
The Ipswich striker lost £2m, betting as much as £20,000 a day. ‘Your first bet’s your worst bet,’ he said. ‘I was playing through injury to cover a debt.’
The former Newcastle and Manchester United winger suffered from gambling problems and was declared bankrupt in 2010. He said: ‘I got involved in gambling and that’s my problem. Most players can control it and stay away from it, but I wasn’t one of those.’
The former Germany international gambled after his marriage broke down. He once spent £288,400 in a single night spread betting on a cricket match. ‘By the end of the night I felt like I’d been scalped,’ he said. ‘When you wake up the next morning you look in the mirror and don’t like what you see.’
The Stoke man lost £1.5m while at West Ham. He would sometimes bet a week’s wages in the time it took the team coach to get home. ‘My wages were gone every month and I was on good money,’ he said. ‘You can be betting telephone numbers.’
The former Liverpool man blew £1m on horse racing while at Blackburn, including £100,000 in one bet. ‘The problem is gambling is so easy these days,’ he said. ‘This is a big issue among footballers, it’s an epidemic.’