Paul Merson sparks gambling addiction conversation in new documentary

A review on Paul Merson's new documentary - 'Paul Merson: Gambling, Addiction and Me'.

Ethan Todd
6th November 2021
Image - BBC iplayer 'Football, gambling and me.'
Content warning: suicide and addiction.

On October 11th 2021, the BBC released a documentary titled Paul Merson: Football, Gambling and Me which takes an in-depth look as to how Merson is dealing and recovering from his addiction. It is said that his addiction has cost him over £7 million, due to the habit crippling him both financially and mentally for over 35 years.The documentary also delves into how the former Arsenal and England centre forward's life has been tarnished by his addiction to sports betting.

There is no better buzz in the whole wide world than scoring a goal… but when I come off the pitch I needed that buzz to continue. That’s why I drank and gambled and took drugs.

Paul Merson

Wes Reid, a former teammate of Merson, claims that early signs of his addiction were evident in his late teenage years. Reid emotively illustrated the indications of what was to come - which begins to pull at the heartstrings of the audience - within the first segment of the programme through their honest bond of true friendship.

Despite his concoction of harmful activities, Merson outlines he believes that his addiction to gambling was the catalyst for the alcohol and substance abuse. At one point within the programme, Merson is shown a series of images that stimulate pleasure receptors in his brain such as food, nature and family.

Alongside these nostalgic photos was photos that regarded gambling. It was proven that there is a significant increase in activation with the gambling images rather than anything else, highlighting that addiction of any kind is a psychological issue.

Image: pxfuel

The documentary also talked to other former footballers about how their lives were ruined by gambling, hinting at the possibility that the high adrenaline nature of professional football may lead them to seek such thrills off the pitch in addiction. Negative mental health ramifications of gambling addiction are a persistent theme within the documentary, which pulls no punches on the true detrimental nature of this disease.

According to the BBC, recent research has shown gambling logos can appear more than 700 times during televised football matches. This equates to one every ten seconds!

The exploitation of gambling companies on the psyche of addicts is discussed with gambling reform activist Matt Zarb-Cousin. He starkly illustrates how the industry, within their advertising - associates happy memories and heart-racing music with betting to encourage gambling as he states that "60% of profits come from addicts or those at risk of addiction".

Towards the conclusion of the programme, Merson went to speak to the group ‘Gambling with Lives’, those who have felt first-hand the heart wrenching and suffering that gambling addiction causes. Unfortunately, the reality is that there is an average of at least one suicide linked to gambling in the UK every working day.

Annie, the wife of a serious gambler named Luke, talked about her husband taking his own life only five months ago, consequential to the shame he felt from losing thousands of pounds due to this disease. The sometimes private nature of betting dependency is made desolately apparent here; as she outlines her husband was betting up to 85 times a day prior to his suicide.

The only people who knew he had a problem was Luke and the company he was gambling with.

Annie Ashton

Overall, the documentary showcases the raw world of gambling addiction: both from the human element, as well as the toxicity of the companies responsible.

Moreover, Paul Merson and the BBC perfectly outline that gambling addiction is a multi-faceted disease: from the physical drug withdrawal symptoms felt by some addicts, to the mental health aspects and how gambling companies evidently enable addicts to continue down the dark path with free bet emails and manipulative marketing campaigns. They also cover how social media has made betting severely more accessible to younger generations, who maybe at-risk young people.

According to the providence project, it is estimated that there are currently around 430,000 people suffering from compulsive gambling. As Paul Merson states, there is no cure but the biggest hope is prevention.

Thankfully, the government is holding the first review of the gambling laws since 2005. Major gambling addictions are a treacherous and sometimes fatal disease that thousands suffer from on a daily basis. The government, gambling commissions and betting companies must tackle it together in order to prevent future generations of young people from being poisoned by gambling addiction.

I know one thing - it ain’t going away… that is the scary thing, it ain’t going away.

Paul Merson

If you feel like you need help with gambling - please call the National Gambling Helpline on 0808 8020 133.

You are not alone.

BBC iPlayer - Paul Merson: Football, Gambling and Me

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AUTHOR: Ethan Todd
Aspiring football journalist studying at Newcastle University.

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