I became so anxious after Boris’ Covid alerts that I blew the family’s £160,000 security deposit betting on table tennis, says Paul Merson
Gambling addict Paul Merson became so anxious after Boris Johnson’s daily Covid updates during the lockdown that he visited an online bookmaker – and blew his family’s £160,000 deposit for a new table tennis home bet.
The former Arsenal and England footballer had wasted £7million on gambling, alcohol and drugs during his long years of addiction, but believed he had finally turned the corner and he was recovering.
Then, at the start of 2020, the pandemic hit and, by August 27, Sky Sports Soccer Saturday pundit Paul had spent the entire deposit and felt suicidal.
He has now revealed he has been banned from all betting companies and believes his third wife Kate will leave him if he relapses again.
Speaking from his rented home in south-west London, the father-of-eight told The Sun on Sunday: “I was on leave from Sky Sports and at first enjoyed the lockdown.
“I was in the garden with my youngest children and the sun was out. But then I started getting addicted to the bulletins when Boris Johnson and the guy in the red tie came out.
“My anxiety started and I thought, ‘They won’t have Football Saturdays anymore’.
“I thought, ‘I’m not going to be able to win anything. The mothers of my older children have homes and I want to give my younger children a future.
“Kate and I had saved £160,000 and I blew it with a few bets. Everything was online, but it wasn’t a bookmaker, it was a private bookmaker.
“SALARIES GO TO MY WIFE”
The only sports practiced at the time were table tennis tournaments and golf.
Paul, 54, said: “My last bet was eight thousand dollars on a table tennis player. I didn’t have any special knowledge of table tennis but everything was locked down at the time so there wasn’t much to bet on.
“When I got to this point it was just an all-out chase to try and get my money back, which is a great example of a compulsive gambler.
“It was my last eight thousand dollars, but when I’m under the blow, I lose all sense of logic.”
He added: “I remember sitting in my front room and having suicidal thoughts and my kids were playing and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I just did everything’.
“It ate me up for a week. At that point, I was just thinking, ‘What’s the point of me being here? What’s the point of me being on this earth? I’m just getting in the way and I let fall my children for the umpteenth time”.
“I was looking at my kids and I hadn’t even told their mother yet that I had made the money. And when I told her, she went ballistic.
Paul, whose first two marriages fell apart because of his addictions, was terrified of losing the third. Yet despite her anger, Kate, whose maternal grandfather was also a gamer, forgave Paul, although she immediately took control of the family finances.
Paul, who has 21 England caps, said: “My salary goes to my wife and I have pocket money.
“Now I thank God she’s in charge and I’m blocked from all betting companies so I couldn’t play even if I wanted to.”
Since his relapse, Paul has become an ambassador for addiction support app Recoverlution, which offers addicts the convenience of a 24/7 digital community.
He said: “I know my addiction is waiting and it scares me. I got involved in this because I know you can delay going to an Alcoholics Anonymous or Gamblers Anonymous meeting if it’s raining or you’re tired.
“With Recoverlution, there’s no excuse, you have your laptop or your iPhone or whatever. And it’s there 24/7 and connecting anywhere in the world. I think that’s one thing important – you can get help in the middle of the night.
Paul joined Arsenal in 1985 and won two Football League Championships, an FA Cup, the Football League Cup and the European Cup Winners’ Cup with them.
Yet, within a few years, his addictions took control. He said: “I was playing for England and sat in crack dens with a huge rock of coke.
“People would come in to score and then do a double take and think, ‘No, that can’t be Paul Merson, can it?
“I was drinking at 5am after the nightclubs had closed and snorting cocaine in the taxi on the way to Arsenal training. I tried to kill myself three times. Someone took care of me. I don’t go to church but I believe in God.
A stint in rehab overcame Paul’s cocaine addiction, but his gambling problem was still rampant when he joined Aston Villa in 1998.
He said: “I once lost a high-end Rolex to a friend in a game of heads and tails while we were drunk in Spain. He took the watch and then got robbed. But you can’t bet and moan if you lose.
“At Villa, David James and I went to the NEC Motor Show in Birmingham and bought a Ferrari for £105,000.
“I told the guy, ‘I’ll give you some money on Tuesday.’ But on Monday, I went to the bookmakers.
“On Tuesday the Ferrari geezer came to the training ground and I just said, ‘I lost. I do not have money’.
“Then I said, ‘Do us a favour, can I just take a little ride?’ and I went up the road and back. I actually didn’t like it because it had those Tiptronic (semi-automatic) gears. I dodged a bullet with that one.
Now Paul attends Gamblers Anonymous sessions, talks to an expert, uses the app and takes chocolate for comfort instead of drinking.
He said, “I’m a chocolate addict. Or a pudding addict. I eat puddings, which never interested me. It was taking up too much room for the drink, so it’s swings and rides.
“But my wife would rather I eat a bar of Dairy Milk in two seconds than not knowing when I’ll be home.”
And Paul is determined not to relapse again. He said: “Kate would leave me and I wouldn’t blame her.
“I don’t think I have another recovery in me. I’ve done it too many times.
EASY TO LOSE £300,000 IN ONE DAY
PAUL is worried about young footballers playing at the highest level and betting.
He said: “Among professional sports people it is a growing problem. In Tony Adams’ treatment center, there were 70% alcoholics and 30% gamblers, and now it’s the other way around. It shows you.
“Gambling has affected my game more than drinking. With alcohol, people can see you.
“These players with $100,000 a week, someone could lose $300,000 in one day and come to practice. Nobody knows.
“It’s very easy for a player to sit inside and lose money. I’m talking about one or two percent.