£90,000 down in an hour – I knew it had to stop

Footballers get paid very, very well, there is no denying that. And when the money starts rolling in, a player usually goes down a well-worn path that has been taken by generations before him.

House, car, drinking and women are the four standard stop-off points for most young lads making their way in the game, me included.

The fifth stage, however, is one that not everyone reaches. Gambling.

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It is probably the one vice that is still going strong in football. I know this because I have been there.

Don’t get me wrong, gambling didn’t grab me as badly as it has some. For me, it was a social pursuit and something to while away my spare time.

But it did prove to be a costly pastime with my losses down the years probably standing at about £1m.

That may be a figure that shocks some, especially as I wasn’t someone who ever felt addicted to gambling or anything like that. My friends and family will have probably seen me as someone who just enjoyed going to the races, having a few drinks and then watching his horses in action.

But for a couple of years after joining Blackburn in 2004, I did gamble stupid amounts of money.

Once, I put £100,000 on a horse priced at evens only for it to lose. I was gutted. But, instead of doing what any sensible human being would do and deciding to cut my losses, I put another £100,000 on the evens-priced favourite in the next race to try and get the money back.

Luckily, the bet came in and I ended up level with the bookie. But it was still crazy behaviour.

Before moving to Blackburn in 2004, gambling had never really been an issue in my life.

Neither the Liverpool lads nor the Leeds lads were into it that much.

The arrival of phone accounts and then text betting changed all that, because placing a bet had suddenly become very, very easy.

Where before you would have had to physically walk into a bookies, now it could be done from the comfort of your own home. So, instead of everyone in the city knowing if you had a big bet on, now no-one had a clue what you were up to.

I put my own decision to open a ‘phone account down to the boredom of my drive to the training ground during my first season at Ewood Park. I was still based in Yorkshire and, no matter how many routes my driver Mick tried, there simply wasn’t a decent route to the training ground.

So, the journey took forever. I needed something to keep me amused, so I opened that fateful first ‘phone account.

To place a bet, all I had to do was text the words ‘£10g at 9-2, Alfie Flits to win’. Then, when the bookie’s text came back saying, ‘Bet’ that was it. The bet was placed.

It became so easy that I was soon betting £10,000, £20,000, £30,000 on a race. The amount just kept going up until I placed the two £100,000 bets in an attempt to break even.

It was the birth of my first daughter, Luisa, that snapped me out of it. By now, I’d moved into a house in Manchester, and was sitting in the bedroom with the racing on television. My team-mate Garry Flitcroft was at his house in Bolton and we were texting which horses we fancied in the afternoon’s racing. Within an hour or so, we were both £90,000 down.

We weren’t even at the races, just sitting in the house and yet we’d blown all that money. I thought, ‘This is ridiculous and can’t go on’. So, I wrote a cheque for the amount I owed to the bookie and decided, there and then, that the madness had to stop.

I realised, there and then, that I was gambling with Lu’s future, her inheritance. I want her to have a nice house when she is old enough.

I want her to get a good education and be set up in life. Luisa was the best thing that had happened to my life so I knew the big-time gambling had to stop. And, thankfully, it did.