Jake’s Journal: Won’t somebody please think of the footballers?
Their obscene wealth, combined with an extraordinary amount of spare time on their hands (training usually finishes at 2pm), means they often try to spend the boredom away.
A TikTok video reliably informs me that record-breaking goal robot Erling Haaland has forked out almost two million quid on luxury watches at the tender age of 22.
Some like to collect supercars, trainers, and tattoos, while others prefer rental properties and racehorses.
It’s their money, and they can do what they want with it – except bet.
This brings me to the news that Brentford and England hotshot Ivan Toney has been banned from the sport for eight months.
His crime? Admitting to 232 betting breaches between 2017 and 2021.
In 2014, a worldwide ban on betting on football came into force for everyone involved in the professional game, from Premier League superstars to Isthmian league groundsmen.
The reasons are simple; to protect the integrity of the sport, to prevent profiteering from insider information and to thwart match-fixing.
To keep the beautiful game beautiful, basically.
Some of the commentary surrounding Toney’s ban has sought to point out the hypocrisy of football, which has been known to grab gambling dollars wherever it can.
It does this through competition naming rights, pitchside advertising hoardings, shirt sponsorships, data collection – you name it. The list goes on.
It has sought to dial back its reliance on gambling recently, however, as demonstrated by the voluntary front-of-shirt sponsorship ban on gambling brands, which won’t begin until the the 2026/27 season.
The FA, which is domestic football’s governing body in England, has also scrapped its commercial contracts with gambling companies over the last few years.
But the saturation remains, and rightly or wrongly, it is everywhere you look on match days.
I am not the first person to point out that Toney plays for a club bankrolled by a gambling company (Smartodds) and sponsored by a gambling company (Hollywoodbets), having been promoted to the Premier League from a division named after a gambling company (Sky Bet Championship).
Still, football’s cosy relationship with betting, and Toney’s close proximity to it as a proven Premier League marksman, might not excuse his rule-breaking behaviour.
Twitter is awash with people only too happy to tell you that bartenders don’t simply jump in their cars and drink-drive after serving people alcoholic beverages all day.
Fine – fair enough. But the sheer proliferation of gambling alongside football makes it inevitable in my view that some players will at times fall foul of these rules.Does being surrounded by advertising make you more likely to have a bet? Of course it does, that’s what marketing is, for any product in any industry.
Why do you think US operators nearly bankrupted themselves on marketing costs to acquire customers? Because the more of it there is, the harder it is to ignore.
If I was morally opposed to gambling as a leisure pursuit, (I wouldn’t be working in this industry for one), but I could turn the channel over at half-time or simply refuse to buy a replica shirt.
Professional footballers don’t have that option.
One prominent gambling commentator said that Toney “knew” he wasn’t allowed to have a bet, but went ahead and did it anyway. Again, this is an oversimplification in my view.
Most people “know” that cocaine is illegal, but plenty of people do it anyway. Some are plagued by addiction, and so choice doesn’t really factor, and sometimes it’s the same for gambling.
I am not suggesting Toney has a gambling addiction, and I don’t think that has been suggested elsewhere. But history tells us that footballers do tend to suffer badly from gambling-related harm when they have addictive personality traits.
Paul Merson is one example that springs to mind, although there are countless others.
The ex-Arsenal and Aston Villa legend suffered through many years of alcohol abuse and an expensive coke habit, but it was gambling that saw him fritter away more than £7m.
Despite winning the league with Arsenal, earning more than 20 England caps, and representing his country at a World Cup, Merson says he can barely remember his playing career. Football was a distraction. His focus was on finishing matches so that he could have another bet.
How sad is that?
I think like most issues in life, this is not a black and white one and there are strong arguments to be heard on both sides. Personal responsibility plays a massive part, as rules are rules and betting is quite rightly prohibited for Toney and his teammates. But the safeguarding of overexposed athletes is also a crucial issue, in my view.
If gambling wants to maintain its lucrative relationship with the nation’s favourite sport, it should look at responsible gambling from all angles. Not just by protecting customers from gambling-related harm, but also with education, research and training programmes for professional sports people.
There are notable examples of this already. EPIC Risk Management provides expert advice on the prevention of gambling addiction from a place of personal experience, with former professional footballer Scott Davies at the forefront as a programme facilitator.
Kindred Group’s 32Red brand temporarily replaced its front-of-shirt sponsorship with safer gambling slogans, which is a nice gesture, but could it be called anything more than that?
The government’s gambling review white paper was surprisingly light on proposals for marketing, which is bizarre as advertising is the single most emotive factor when it comes to turning the tide of public perception.
The government opted to sit on the sidelines. The league and its clubs took charge by voting for the voluntary front-of-shirt ban.Ultimately, the gambling industry itself should have taken more responsibility on this issue.