Northern Ireland news

My gambling addiction began age 13 with slot machines, says footballer Kyle Lafferty

Kyle Lafferty revealed his gambling addiction almost destroyed his footballing dreams, after he was charged by the FA ahead of Euro 16. Picture by Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

NORTHERN Ireland striker Kyle Lafferty has become the latest sports star to speak publicly about a gambling addiction - tracing the start of his problems back to the amusement arcades of his childhood.

The 30-year-old, from Enniskillen, said he began "playing slot machines for a pound a time" at the age of 13 or 14 and was "first one in the door when they opened and pretty much last one out".

He said as a professional footballer he then began "betting on anything".

Team-mates "looked out for me and tried to help me" but he said losses "didn't affect me at all because I knew I was about to get a move and there'd be a signing-on fee or there was a bonus coming".

Lafferty's addiction almost destroyed his footballing dreams, after he was charged by the FA ahead of the Euro 2016 tournament.

Last February, he ended 35 minutes of betting on horses and dog races by putting money on two Spanish La Liga games.

"I knew it was against the rules to bet on football, but when you've got an addiction you just want to win that money back," he told BBC Sport Scotland.

Kyle Lafferty said it has been `a lot' for wife Vanessa to take in

His bet came in but it also came to the attention of the FA who fined him £23,000.

However, it "thanked Lafferty for his honesty and wished him well in trying to confront his demons".

"The punishment could have been a lot worse. I was so honest they probably went easy on me."

Lafferty, whose clubs include Burnley, Rangers, Norwich and Italian club Palermo, said the association put him in touch with the Sporting Chance clinic and he was seeing someone weekly about his gambling.

However, he dismissed that as "the cowardly way of doing it".

"You can just show face and give the impression that you're looking for help and then half-an-hour later you're probably in a bookies on the way home," he said.

"Now I'm ready to say I've got an addiction to gambling."

He acknowledged that he is "going to take all sorts of grief off fans of other clubs".

"I could have got help in private and nobody would have known about it. I want to do it publicly because I want to be honest and if there are any other footballers who are addicted to gambling, then maybe me speaking about my battle might help them."

Former Northern Ireland international Keith Gillespie has previously spoken his gambling addiction - estimating that he lost more than £7 million.

GAA stars Oisin McConville and Cathal McCarron are among other Irish sportsmen to also go public on the issue.

Lafferty said he was helped by Northern Ireland coach Austin MacPhee and manager Michael O'Neill, as well as his current club Hearts in Edinburgh.

O'Neill said: "I admire Kyle for speaking so openly and honestly about his battle with gambling.

"We have talked about it at length and I have assured him that he has the full support of me, my staff and everyone at the Irish Football Association as he aims to overcome this addiction."

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access