Harry Toffolo's poor mental health accepted as mitigation for betting breaches
Harry Toffolo’s deteriorating mental health and belief that his football career was over were “very substantial mitigation” for him breaching Football Association betting rules, according to an independent regulatory commission.
Toffolo was given a suspended five-month ban after admitting 375 breaches of FA betting rules and was also fined just under £21,000. The Nottingham Forest full-back placed the bets between 2014 and 2017.
In written reasons published by the commission, it was stated Toffolo – who admitted the charge in full – placed 202 bets on matches in competitions in which his clubs were participating or had participated. There were also two spot bets placed by the player on events which involved himself as well as 15 identified to have been made against his own clubs.
Of the 375 bets, he staked £1,323.92, averaging £3.53 per bet. His total return was £956.22 – a loss of £367.70.
Toffolo placed a bet on himself to score in the 2015 League One play-off final at Wembley for Swindon, who lost 4-0 to Preston.
The independent regulatory commission accepted Toffolo’s explanation of having placed that bet “in excitement”.
The commission found Toffolo began placing bets on football, as well as other sports, when he was 18 and stopped at 21, with stakes “generally small”. He lost money overall, although he did profit from certain categories of bet.
There was no suggestion Toffolo was involved in match fixing or benefited from “any particular inside information” and he was “driven principally, if not exclusively, by his own belief as to what the outcome of a particular match or event might be”.
In the witness statements served on Toffolo’s behalf and also his own oral evidence, it was demonstrated the player “had a number of very difficult times in the period” when he was coming to terms with being told, during January 2014, he did not feature in the plans of then-Norwich manager Chris Hughton but could also not go out on loan to gain experience.
The commission reported “as a result he perceived that his future at NCFC (in the U23 development squad) looked bleak” and it was around that time Toffolo began gambling, partly to “alleviate his low mood but principally because he wanted to ‘fit in’ with players who were claiming to be gambling regularly and successfully”.
Following a loan move to Stoke, Toffolo said away from the pitch he “struggled with his mental health for a variety of reasons” which led him to gamble with increasing frequency.
The player also talked about feelings of loneliness when staying in a hotel during a short-term stint at Rotherham and that he became depressed when sent out on loan to Preston until the end of the 2015-2016 season, when he considered his career in football “to be over”.
The commission accepted there “appears to have been a link” between the state of Toffolo’s mental health and his gambling and noted when he joined Scunthorpe in August 2016 he “thrived far better”, with his family having also made the move. The frequency of his gambling decreased considerably and eventually stopped altogether.
On the basis of the evidence, the commission concluded the bets placed by Toffolo during the relevant periods “were the result, at least in large part, of the significant mental health challenges” he endured over those periods.
The commission found, with the support of his family and those around him and with external help from a sports psychologist, Toffolo made huge efforts to “turn things around”.
“That he did so, and did so so successfully, is a credit to him and, we hope, might serve as inspiration to other participants who might find themselves struggling with mental health issues,” the commission’s statement added.
On the sanctions, the commission stressed Toffolo’s breaches were “significant” and could not be described as “trivial despite the low stakes involved”.
While there was “substantial mitigation”, the commission felt a sporting sanction was nonetheless “appropriate and proportionate in light of the serious nature of the breaches committed over a lengthy period of time”.
It was acknowledged the suspended sanction could be viewed as “too lenient” but was concluded the “particular circumstances of this case justified the nature, duration and terms of the suspension”.
Forest have declined to comment on the sanctions imposed on Toffolo.
Manager Steve Cooper was among those to provide evidence to the commission, describing the defender as a ‘true professional’ and family man who has a positive impact on the dressing room and in the wider community.
The sanctions on Toffolo follow the imposition of an eight-month ban on Brentford striker Ivan Toney in May for breaches of FA betting regulations.