Gambling addict Paul Merson got so anxious after Boris Johnson’s daily Covid updates during lockdown that he visited an online bookmaker and spent his family’s £160,000 deposit for a new house betting on table tennis.
He has now revealed that he is banned from all betting companies and believes his third wife Kate will drop it if it 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 I enjoyed the lockdown.
“I was in the garden with my youngest children and the sun had come out. But then I started to get addicted to the newsletters when boris johnson and the guy with the red tie came out.
“Anxiety set in and I thought: ‘They’re not going to have football saturday plus’.
“I was thinking, ‘I’m not going to be able to win anything.’ The mothers of my older children have houses and I want to give my younger children a future.
“Kate and I had £160,000 saved up and I wasted it on a few bets. Everything was online, but it wasn’t a bookmaker, it was a private bookmaker.”
‘WAGES GO TO MY WIFE’
The only sports practiced at that time were Table tennis tournaments and golf.
Paul, 54, said: “My last bet was $8,000 on a table tennis player. He had no particular knowledge of table tennis, but everything was locked down at the time, so there wasn’t much to bet on.
“When I got to that point, it was just a total chase to try and get my money back, which is a prime example of a compulsive gambler.
“That was my last $8,000, but when I’m in control, I lose all sense of reason.”
He added: “I remember sitting in my living room and having suicidal thoughts and my kids were playing and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I just did everything.’
“That was consuming me for a week. At the time I was just thinking, ‘What’s the point of being here? What is the point of me being on this earth? I’m just getting in the way and I’ve let my kids down for the umpteenth time.
“I was looking at my children and hadn’t even told their mother that I had made the money. And when I told her, she was furious.”
Paul, whose first two marriages fell apart due to his addictions, was terrified of losing his third. Despite her anger, however, Kate, whose maternal grandfather was also a gambler, forgave Paul, though she immediately took control of the family finances.
Paul, who has 21 caps for England, said: “My salary goes to my wife and I have pocket money.
“Now thank God she’s in charge and I’m blocked from all betting companies so I couldn’t bet 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 that scares me. I got involved in this because I know you can put off going to an Alcoholics Anonymous or Gamblers Anonymous meeting if it’s raining or you’re tired.
“With Recoverlution there is no excuse, you have your laptop or your iPhone or whatever. And it’s there 24/7 and connects to the whole world. I think that’s an important thing: 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.
However, within a few years his addictions took control. He said: “I was playing for England and sitting in crack dens with a huge coke rock.
“People would come in to score, then look twice and think, ‘No, it 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 has taken care of me. I don’t go to church, but I believe in God.”
A period of 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 toss and tail when we were drunk in Spain. He took the watch and then it was stolen. But you can’t make a bet and complain if you lose.
“In Villa, me and david james I went to the car show at the NEC in Birmingham and bought a Ferrari for £105,000.
“I told the guy, ‘I’ll give you cash on Tuesday.’ But on Monday I went to the bookmakers.
“On Tuesday, the Ferrari guy came to the training ground and I said: ‘I lost it. I don’t have the money.’
“So I said, ‘Do us a favor, can I take a little walk?’ and I went up the road and came back. I actually didn’t like it because it had those Tiptronic (semi-automatic) gears. I dodged a bullet with that one.”
Paul now attends Gamblers Anonymous sessions, talks to an expert, uses the app, and eats chocolate for comfort instead of drinking.
He said: “I am a chocoholic. Or a pudding-aholic. Like desserts, which have never interested me. That took up too much space for the drink, so there are swings and merry-go-rounds.
“But my wife would rather I eat a Dairy Milk bar in two seconds than not know when I’ll be home.”
And Paul is determined never to relapse again. He said: “Kate would leave me, and she wouldn’t blame her.
“I don’t think I have another recovery in me. I’ve done it too many times.”
EASY TO LOSE £300K IN ONE DAY
PAUL is concerned that young footballers play at the highest level and bet.
He said: “Among professional athletes it is a growing problem. In tony adams treatment center used to be 70 percent alcoholics and 30 percent gamblers and now it’s the other way around. That shows you.
“The game affected my game more than the drink. With the drink, people can see you.
“These players with $100,000 a week, someone could lose $300,000 in one day and go into training. Nobody knows.
“It’s very easy for a player to sit inside and lose money. I’m talking about one or two percent.”