Gambling: A Perspective on Football’s Addiction

by | Jan 18, 2020

A mea culpa. Between 1997 and 2000, I was a part of the problem. I was a relief manager for a chain of betting shops covering other managers’ days off during the week, because there has never been a betting shop manager who has found it easy to get Saturdays off. I didn’t think too much about the moral aspect of it at the time of applying for the position. I’d suffered pretty close to a nervous breakdown earlier in the year and lost my job as a result, and that anyone would employ me again felt like little short of a miracle to somebody who’d spent the previous six months some distance short of having any self-esteem whatsoever.And when I quit in the summer of 2000, this was also for entirely selfish reasons as well. I’d worked almost every Saturday and Bank Holiday over the previous three years, and received the offer of a job that offered me normal office hours, and in addition to this a couple of thousand pounds a year more than a major chain whose pay, even for the never risk-free job of looking after premises with large amounts of cash sitting around them, was almost staggeringly bad. There was nothing noble about my decision to enter the industry, and there was certainly nothing noble about my decision to leave it, either.
Each shop had their “regulars”, many of whom may nowadays have been considered “problem gamblers” in the modern argot. Even then, we were under instruction that if it felt as though someone acting like a “problem gambler”, we should take them to one side and have a ‘quiet word’ with them. None of us did, of course. No training or resources (apart from some mildly condescending leaflets) were ever given to us, we were already in a state of cat-like readiness over the possibility of fraud or armed robbery, and it definitely wasn’t worth the four or five quid an hour that we we were earning to risk a smack in the mouth, which we might well have got for trying in the first place.
At the end of the first decade of this century, I was half-looking for a new job and a large betting company was a local employer who seemed to be constantly advertising on local employment websites. They seemed to be positioning themselves as data analysts, but I never applied. A knowledge of foreign languages was almost essential. The hours, they mentioned in tiny print, were likely to be unsocial. It didn’t matter whether you could settle up quickly or not any more because machines took care of all that. Horse racing and greyhound racing were seldom mentioned. It was all about the football and the sports betting. The industry, I could feel in my blood, had changed beyond recognition, and this was more than ten years ago, before the banter bros had subsumed it into their world. I never applied.
But even now, almost two full decades after I stamped my final bet or filled out a huge ledger which confirmed a shop’s takings for the day, there is a small part of me that instinctively reaches to defend an industry that has changed beyond recognition since I was last involved in it. But then again, I’d like to think that having been involved in it in any sense whatsoever gives me at least some degree of perspective over it all, because if there’s one we know for certain about the 21st century, it’s that we all have a tendency to overreach in our reconsideration of anything. There’s no room for nuance in the modern world. We haven’t got the time or the patience for that any more.
For all of that, though, football probably has got a gambling problem of its own. The game may already be in too deep in terms of advertising, with more than half of the clubs in the top two divisions now shirt sponsored by betting companies, the EFL carrying the name of one, and television advertising within matches now being such that one could be forgiven for watching it and thinking that they’re the people bringing us the matches rather than the broadcasters themselves. How on earth does the game extricate itself from the hundreds of sponsorship deals that has signed up to without financially damaging itself? Is it even possible to do this, if the clubs, leagues and governing bodies wanted to?
Furthermore, the gambling companies themselves certainly don’t help themselves a lot of the time, with their bantertastic advertising, gimmicky sponsorship deals – the one that left such a horrible taste in the mouth at the time of the FA Cup match between Sutton United and Arsenal a couple of years ago, for example – and a general air of “LADS LADS LADS” which suggests, whether correctly or not, that they don’t really give a shit about anything bar taking bets and, consequently, making money. How, we might well ask, are some of these companies ever going to be capable of repositioning themselves as anything different to this?
They’ve been deregulated for years, and they reacted to this by pushing as far as they could push, and it might well be argued that, having been given the opportunity to market gambling responsibly, they’ve failed to do so. For all of that, though, there are millions of people who can and do gamble responsibility every week and enjoy it. Very few would argue that gambling should be completely outlawed. The question, therefore, becomes that of where we decide the law on complete deregulation and a complete ban might rest, and the answer to that question rests with society as a whole, rather than with professional football alone.This doesn’t, however, mean that clubs and governing bodies don’t have questions to ask themselves over football’s relationship with this particular industry. What, for example, does it say about the game that there don’t seem to be other industries prepared to outbid gambling companies in order to secure shirt sponsorship deals? Should football’s standpoint be, “if it’s legal, we’re cool with it”, or should clubs, leagues and governing bodies take a more proactive stance against this particular form of advertising? And how are we supposed to square the zero-tolerance attitude towards anybody involved in the game betting on it with the close relationship between clubs and leagues with the companies themselves?
None of these are easy questions to answer, and we should treat anyone who does consider them easy with considerable caution. It’s a complicated subject and it should be looked at from all angles, because changes would impact upon lives, both for better and for worse. There is no glib answer that can really be given to the question of how we regulate the promotion of something that can do considerable damage to a small number of its client base, but the fact that it’s a conversation that is even being held feels like progress of sorts. It’s time for the professional (and semi-professional) game to let its relationship with this industry mature, and definitely time for the banter bros of the gambling industry to do the same, at the very least.
I was led to writing this by a superb and balanced podcast on the subject by the guys at The Sound of Football earlier this week. Give it a listen – you won’t regret it.

And when I quit in the summer of 2000, this was also for entirely selfish reasons as well. I’d worked almost every Saturday and Bank Holiday over the previous three years, and received the offer of a job that offered me normal office hours, and in addition to this a couple of thousand pounds a year more than a major chain whose pay, even for the never risk-free job of looking after premises with large amounts of cash sitting around them, was almost staggeringly bad. There was nothing noble about my decision to enter the industry, and there was certainly nothing noble about my decision to leave it, either.
Each shop had their “regulars”, many of whom may nowadays have been considered “problem gamblers” in the modern argot. Even then, we were under instruction that if it felt as though someone acting like a “problem gambler”, we should take them to one side and have a ‘quiet word’ with them. None of us did, of course. No training or resources (apart from some mildly condescending leaflets) were ever given to us, we were already in a state of cat-like readiness over the possibility of fraud or armed robbery, and it definitely wasn’t worth the four or five quid an hour that we we were earning to risk a smack in the mouth, which we might well have got for trying in the first place.
At the end of the first decade of this century, I was half-looking for a new job and a large betting company was a local employer who seemed to be constantly advertising on local employment websites. They seemed to be positioning themselves as data analysts, but I never applied. A knowledge of foreign languages was almost essential. The hours, they mentioned in tiny print, were likely to be unsocial. It didn’t matter whether you could settle up quickly or not any more because machines took care of all that. Horse racing and greyhound racing were seldom mentioned. It was all about the football and the sports betting. The industry, I could feel in my blood, had changed beyond recognition, and this was more than ten years ago, before the banter bros had subsumed it into their world. I never applied.
But even now, almost two full decades after I stamped my final bet or filled out a huge ledger which confirmed a shop’s takings for the day, there is a small part of me that instinctively reaches to defend an industry that has changed beyond recognition since I was last involved in it. But then again, I’d like to think that having been involved in it in any sense whatsoever gives me at least some degree of perspective over it all, because if there’s one we know for certain about the 21st century, it’s that we all have a tendency to overreach in our reconsideration of anything. There’s no room for nuance in the modern world. We haven’t got the time or the patience for that any more.
For all of that, though, football probably has got a gambling problem of its own. The game may already be in too deep in terms of advertising, with more than half of the clubs in the top two divisions now shirt sponsored by betting companies, the EFL carrying the name of one, and television advertising within matches now being such that one could be forgiven for watching it and thinking that they’re the people bringing us the matches rather than the broadcasters themselves. How on earth does the game extricate itself from the hundreds of sponsorship deals that has signed up to without financially damaging itself? Is it even possible to do this, if the clubs, leagues and governing bodies wanted to?
Furthermore, the gambling companies themselves certainly don’t help themselves a lot of the time, with their bantertastic advertising, gimmicky sponsorship deals – the one that left such a horrible taste in the mouth at the time of the FA Cup match between Sutton United and Arsenal a couple of years ago, for example – and a general air of “LADS LADS LADS” which suggests, whether correctly or not, that they don’t really give a shit about anything bar taking bets and, consequently, making money. How, we might well ask, are some of these companies ever going to be capable of repositioning themselves as anything different to this?
They’ve been deregulated for years, and they reacted to this by pushing as far as they could push, and it might well be argued that, having been given the opportunity to market gambling responsibly, they’ve failed to do so. For all of that, though, there are millions of people who can and do gamble responsibility every week and enjoy it. Very few would argue that gambling should be completely outlawed. The question, therefore, becomes that of where we decide the law on complete deregulation and a complete ban might rest, and the answer to that question rests with society as a whole, rather than with professional football alone.This doesn’t, however, mean that clubs and governing bodies don’t have questions to ask themselves over football’s relationship with this particular industry. What, for example, does it say about the game that there don’t seem to be other industries prepared to outbid gambling companies in order to secure shirt sponsorship deals? Should football’s standpoint be, “if it’s legal, we’re cool with it”, or should clubs, leagues and governing bodies take a more proactive stance against this particular form of advertising? And how are we supposed to square the zero-tolerance attitude towards anybody involved in the game betting on it with the close relationship between clubs and leagues with the companies themselves?
None of these are easy questions to answer, and we should treat anyone who does consider them easy with considerable caution. It’s a complicated subject and it should be looked at from all angles, because changes would impact upon lives, both for better and for worse. There is no glib answer that can really be given to the question of how we regulate the promotion of something that can do considerable damage to a small number of its client base, but the fact that it’s a conversation that is even being held feels like progress of sorts. It’s time for the professional (and semi-professional) game to let its relationship with this industry mature, and definitely time for the banter bros of the gambling industry to do the same, at the very least.
I was led to writing this by a superb and balanced podcast on the subject by the guys at The Sound of Football earlier this week. Give it a listen – you won’t regret it.