It is almost five years since Scott Davies last placed a bet. Losing everything on the 6.30 at Goodwood led him to the brink of ending his life and, ultimately, to seek help for a crippling addiction that put paid to his promising career as a professional footballer.
“It was 8 June 2015,” he says, with total recall. “For the first time in my life I got scared and that was when I first reached out to my parents.” In nine years he lost about £250,000, plus £50,000 of his parents’ money, after gambling 80-90% of his wages. These days, he educates players about the dangers of gambling on behalf of Epic risk management, gambling harm-minimisation consultants.
The latest Gambling Commission report found 0.5% of people aged 16 and above are classified as problem gamblers but data collected by Epic from every EFL club across 2018-19 identified 7.2% of first-team players as potentially problem gamblers: people who have an urge to gamble continuously despite harmful consequences.
This month the PFA reported a rise in players accessing mental health support, with its director of player welfare, Michael Bennett, concerned about an increase in players gambling because of coronavirus. The global players’ union, Fifpro, announced the percentage of players reporting symptoms of depression had doubled since the shutdown.
Last week a player confided to Davies his recent struggles. “He said he was missing the changing-room banter and bravado, and that he doesn’t have much to turn to in terms of support because he lives by himself. He had been off gambling for a few months and thought he was in control of it but this [pandemic] has set him off again. The recent figures don’t surprise me, sadly, but the only slight satisfaction is that players are reaching out. Suffering in silence is the worst thing you can do.”
Davies, funded by the PFA, spent 26 days in rehabilitation at a Sporting Chance clinic and understands the temptation facing players. “If I had to go through this now, I would try to make ends meet by gambling. If someone asked me to take a 30% pay cut in the height of my addiction, when I was earning a couple of thousand a week at Crawley, I would think: ‘I’ll try and win that 30% back’. That is a vicious circle because, as a gambling addict, you’re out of control and reckless with your behaviour. It’s a recipe for disaster.”
The absence of routine can also pose problems. “As a professional footballer you get told what time to be at the training ground, what time training is starting, what time to have breakfast, what time you’re going to finish and, basically, you’re mollycoddled … Now when you get up in the morning, you might go for a run or do some exercise but that will only last for an hour or so, so what do you do to get that buzz, that rush of scoring a goal? How do you replicate that?
“Gambling is often the one people turn to. Sportspeople are competitive and want instant gratification … People are scratching around trying to bet on other avenues in online betting systems, and that’s a danger in itself, be it slot machines, blackjack or roulette, which are dangerous because it’s just numbers on a screen – not hard cash. It’s not until you check your bank account that you realise how much you have lost.”
At present Davies is limited to virtual sessions but continues to educate EFL players and staff to ensure they understand potential gambling risks, rules around betting integrity and how to look for signs of potential harm. A common trend is experienced players dropping down the leagues and trying to finance a champagne lifestyle on lemonade money.
After a workshop at a Championship club last year, Davies says a high-profile player revealed he had a gambling problem. “He looked like a picture of health and wealth; he was wearing a gold Rolex and dripping in Gucci, but it just shows you don’t know who is struggling. You can hide it quite well.”
Eight years ago Davies crashed into a car close to home because he was watching horse racing on his phone. “I said: ‘Sorry, I’ve fallen asleep at the wheel, I play football, I’ve had a double session today.’ I looked and there was a kid sat in the car seat in the back and for the first time in my life I felt guilty about what I was doing. I thought: ‘I’m bringing other people’s lives into danger.’
“But I didn’t know how to stop, how to end this pain I was going through. I gave the driver £500 that I had stuffed away in my car – money I had won that day. I drove home and cried myself to sleep. That was a massive wake-up call.”
Davies began betting at 16, while earning £50 a week at Reading, and sometimes walked four miles from his digs to training because he could not afford the £1.20 bus fare. From there, his addiction spiralled from playing poker on the Aldershot team bus to haemorrhaging his £30,000 signing-on fee at Crawley inside three weeks.
“There were times when I used to sleep in my car after training because I couldn’t afford to get home. I would rather put my last £20 in a roulette machine, in the hope of turning it into a few hundred, than towards fuel to make sure I got home safe that night. Once after a game I slept at a service station and woke up in the freezing cold thinking: ‘What has my life become?’”
In 2009 he impressed Brendan Rodgers during pre-season at Reading and was given his Championship debut aged 21. Davies was highly rated, but his addiction consumed him. “I was sneaking out of training when players were doing extra and I got pulled into the manager’s office and told to be more professional. I was always the last into training and the first out because I had a date every day and that was with the bookmakers; it was all I thought about.
“The following day I got caught sneaking out of training again. When I got pulled into his office I told him I had a dentist appointment and that was the reason I had to shoot off. I knew deep down I was lying to him but I didn’t want to show a sign of weakness and say: ‘Listen, I’m struggling with gambling addiction.’ I never played another minute for Reading and that’s one of the things I have to deal with every day now. If I think back to how I was doing, it hurts.”
Davies, who had spells at Oxford and Wycombe, now plays for Slough Town. “For me, it’s not so much about the money I’ve lost,” he says, “but probably about the career I should have had.”