Former England footballer Paul Merson has told how during the first Covid-19 lockdown he suffered a relapse in his gambling addiction and lost £160,000 – money earmarked for buying a house for his family.
Merson, 54, has in the past spoken openly about how he lost around £7million while battling a gambling problem for 35 years.
The ex-Arsenal midfielder placed his first bet aged 16 and also struggled with alcohol and drug addictions during and after his playing career.
However, he believed he had turned the corner, and last year Merson hosted a BBC documentary entitled Paul Merson: Football, Gambling & Mewhich explored the tremendous impact this addiction had on his life.
However, Merson has now admitted he turned back to bookmakers during the pandemic because he was so concerned about a lack of work.
With no football matches being played, Merson was unable to fulfill his role as a Sky Sports pundit.
“I was on holiday from Sky Sports and initially enjoyed the lockdown,” he told The Sun. “I was in the garden with my youngest children and the sun was shining. But then I got addicted to Bulletins when Boris Johnson and the guy in the red tie came out.
“My anxiety set in and I thought, ‘You’re not going to have any more football Saturdays’ and I thought, ‘I’m not going to be able to earn anything.’ The mothers of my older children have houses and I want to give my younger children a future.
‘Kate [Merson’s wife] and I had £160,000 saved and I screwed up a few bets. It was all online, but it wasn’t a bookmaker, it was a private bookmaker.
“My last bet was eight grand on a table tennis player. I didn’t have any particular knowledge of table tennis, but everything was locked at that point, so there wasn’t much to bet.
“I remember sitting in my living room and having suicidal thoughts and my kids playing and I was like, ‘Oh my god, I just did it all’.”
Merson, a father of eight, saw his first two marriages fall apart because of his addiction, and he believes his current wife, Kate, would leave him if he relapsed again.
As a result, he revealed that all of his wages now go to Kate and that he receives “pocket money” from her. Merson also attends Gamblers Anonymous meetings and has become an ambassador for addiction support app Recoverlution.
During his footballing career, Merson won two league titles and the FA Cup with Arsenal and won 21 caps for England. He also played for Middlesbrough, Aston Villa, Portsmouth and Walsall.