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Former Stoke City, Bristol City and St Albans City player Tony Kelly opens up about gambling addiction
Former St Albans City star Tony Kelly has written a book warning about the gambling addiction which ruined his career.
The 47-year-old enjoyed two spells with the Saints and earned a move into the professional game at Stoke City, Bury and Leyton Orient. But his playing career was overshadowed by his gambling addiction which left him with crippling debts in excess of £100,000.
Kelly said: “The gambling started when I was 18 when I moved down to London but that was more curiosity and just messing about with the lads. It wasn’t until I moved into professional football at the age of 22 that I was already doing quite a bit of gambling on the horses.
“Obviously you have more funds at your disposal because I was earning a lot of money and your mindset changes, thinking it doesn’t matter if I lose £500 because I can always get it back next week. Slowly you’re on a downward spiral but you don’t actually realise you're an addict.
“I knew it was a problem but it wasn't until I finished football when I’d wracked up a huge amount of debt and it was then when I finished when I realised I had a serious issue.
“But it wasn’t until then that I started to take advice about getting professional help through counselling and finding a way of sorting out my debt and being able to move on and come out the other side without going into crime or depression.”
The versatile attacker admitted he would spend entire days gambling and there were times when he had to borrow money just to get through the week.
He said: “The Stoke period I would say is when I really became an addict but still not realising it and not going for help or listening to people. That was the period when I started wracking up debt and becoming an addict.
“There were loads of low points. I had a house in Stoke-on-Trent, which I rented out to the DJ Chris Moyles for a while, but then because of the amount of debt I wracked up I couldn’t afford to keep it. The low point was losing the house because if I had got help I could have saved the house.”
Kelly continued: “I’ve had bad days where I went to see Lou Macari [Stoke manager]. He was a nice guy and manager to work under.
“I didn’t go into full detail what I was going through at the time, but deep down I think he knew because he knew what I was capable of on the pitch.
“He helped me out by getting some petty cash from the secretary because I ran out of money. Things like that were my real low points.”
Kelly, who was sold from St Albans to Stoke City in 1990 for a fee which earned the Saints almost £45,000, said: “There were days where I would gamble all day and when you've got so much debt you start chasing it. That’s the worst thing you can do because you’re never going to get back what you lost. It continues and you just get deeper and deeper.
“It’s an evil disease. Gambling is alongside drugs and alcohol. Now fortunately it’s starting to come out and hopefully people will realise it’s the same old addiction just like drugs. It takes over people’s lives and ruins them. I've seen it for what it really is.”
The skilful winger overcame the disappointment of being released by Bristol City as a youngster by moving from his home in Coventry to London. This eventually led to his Saints move in a period he looks back with fondness.
Kelly, who scored 20 goals in 86 appearances for the club, said: “I moved on to St Albans and that’s really where my career took off.
“I had a spell where I had a good year and a half here [1988-89] and it was a really enjoyable time at St Albans because it is a well run club with a lovely little stadium and pitch. The fans were great and basically that’s really where I found my home in terms of non-league football.”
In addition to his book, which was supported by a charitable grant from the Professional Footballers’ Association, Kelly hopes to go into consultancy work and also wants to bring out a short film portraying the life of a gambling addict and the impact on family life.
He said: “The first time you feel you’ve got a little problem you have to listen to the people that are close to you such as your family, friends and the manager. If they can see it then they’re telling you for a reason. The main thing is to get help as quickly as possible before you go too deep.
“The dips of form I suffered throughout my career, if managers and coaches were more aware of this gambling issue then they could look for little tell tale signs. If a lad loses his form then it might be because of personal issues.
“There are loads of little things like the chirpy character in the dressing room, who’s all of a sudden lost £2,000 and is just sitting there in silence. So all the managers and agents have a small role to play in looking out for these things.”
Kelly will return to Clarence Park this Saturday when he will be signing copies of his book, Red Card, for supporters at the FA Cup first qualifying round tie at home to Enfield Town.
He said: “I hope it appeals to football fans alike but I think it will appeal not just to the football world but society in general.”
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