Why did you decide to start GamTalk?
When I left school and I left the professional environment in football I started gambling at 18 and I became seriously addicted to it. I was addicted from 18 to just before 22, like gambling every single day of my life and it completely destroyed that part of my life and nearly the rest of my life. It put me an awful lot of debt and completely ruined me mentally. It also made me lose a lot of opportunities in University, football, jobs, the motto of GamTalk is don’t gamble with your future and that’s basically what I did.
I was playing (football) every single day, it was the love of my life, I didn’t want to do anything else, I put all my eggs in that one basket. Then when you get that dreamed snatched away from you it leaves a massive hole that needs filled and in my opinion gambling filled that void that was left behind in my life. I was completely sickened by the fact that I had been released.
I knew something wasn’t right very early on but I wasn’t sure what a gambling problem looked like if you know what I mean. The big problem for me is that there is no physical side, if you know someone with a poor relationship with alcohol for example, you might notice it.
Do you think gambling soured your relationship with football?
Now, thankfully, I think a massive part of me being ok is that I’m playing football again but back then I wasn’t playing at all and if I was it was a couple weeks at a club and going away again. I just had no confidence to go and play. My head was completely warped to be honest. It made me just not want to play football. I lost a lot of motivation for everything to be honest. If you know somebody who has got a poor relationship with alcohol or drugs or smoking then there’s physical signs you can almost tell by looking at them almost, in almost every case you will, but not with gambling. Somebody could be as addicted as they come and you wouldn’t know that at all.
How common a problem do you think gambling is?
It is such a massive problem in society today. There are two major factors to why it’s such a big problem: the advertisement is through the roof and now everything can be done on a smartphone. My dad would say that anybody he did know that gambled would have to get up, showered, ready and go to the bookies. Now you have a bookies 24 hours a day in your bedroom.
Football is now synonymous with gambling, you can’t think of one without thinking of the other in this country. I think years ago if there was a big game on you would be asked how it was going to go and now you’re asked if you’ve got a bet on. I go into the pub with my pals and I guarantee 90% of the people there are sitting with a coupon on.
Can you tell me what the goals of GamTalk are?
It’s a prevention service. Don’t gamble with your future, prevention is better than cure. There’s a lot of initiatives and organisations like Gamblers Anonymous and Gam Care; Don’t get me wrong they are great service and I don’t knock them and they’re very much needed, but I think for me if you can educate young people in the matter first then you give them half a chance of avoiding when they get to the stage where they might start gambling. Rather than ending up in the situation I was in because I am very, very lucky to have got out of that situation but some might not have if they didn’t have the support system I had.
If a service like GamTalk was available at the time you were in school or in a youth academy, do you think it would’ve helped you?
It would have certainly made me realise that it can become a problem. Nobody grows up in this country that isn’t aware of the dangers of alcohol and drugs, you get talks about it at school, everybody has got an example in their family or friends or somebody that’s got a problem with it, but with gambling it’s almost a secret problem. You’re allowed to just start gambling right away without any prior warning that it can become a problem, and if it does you’re left wondering what to do about it. So I think if someone came to me with a life story and some information on it then at least when I started gambling and I saw those early signs I would’ve looked for help and I would’ve stopped.
Did you ever expect to receive support from professional players such as Lawerence Shankland and Lewis Morgan as well as support from the Scottish Football Supporters Association?
I think when you start anything you have big aspirations for it but it definitely progressed a lot quicker than I thought. I did a week sleeping on the streets in October to raise awareness on what I was doing and really boomed overnight. I didn’t expect so much support right away but the support has been incredible. Some of the people that have messaged behind the scenes, even things like this are brilliant, I didn’t expect it all right way.
With the amount of people supporting you do you thinking that gambling might be a bigger problem than you first thought?
It’s not a bigger problem than I thought I knew it was a big problem, not just for myself but the amount of people in my area and the amount of people I’ve spoken to, I knew it was a huge problem. I just think nobody had been out there speaking about it. One of the most common messages I get is just how can’t believe there was nothing like this (GamTalk) earlier. It’s not the fact that it’s an amazing service it’s just something that was needed I think. The amount messages I’ve had from people who are struggling or who have struggled has definitely surprised me, it’s been incredible.
Do you think we are getting to a point where people feel as though they can openly speak about gambling problems?
I think so, I think people are starting to take notice of how frequent the advertising is. I think everybody is starting to realise that, it’s on almost every football top, it’s on all the half-time adverts, it’s around the stadiums and even some stadiums are named after gambling companies. I think that’s putting it in peoples’ minds more and I think the more people gamble the more likely that there will be more addicts. I think it is something that people are starting to take as serious as alcohol or drugs but there is probably still a bit to go.