Over the past 35 years, former Arsenal and England footballer Paul Merson has gambled away a fortune.
In this programme, he sets out to understand why his life has been so badly blighted by gambling and explores the relationship between football and gambling at a time when it has never been more urgent to question the industry’s place in the world of sport.
Now on the path to recovery he wants to understand what caused his addiction. Could it be the way his brain is wired, his environment or both. Paul sets out to meet old teammates, scientists and psychologists to see if he can get close to finding the answer.
He starts by meeting former Arsenal teammate Wes Reid. When they received their first pay cheques as Arsenal trainees, Paul and Wes went to the bookies, and Paul lost his entire week’s wages in 15 minutes, kicking off a 35-year struggle with gambling.
Paul also meets footballers Keith Gillespie, John Hartson and Scott Davies, who between them gambled away £15 million, and he visits the families of three men who took their own lives as a result of gambling addiction. At Imperial College London, he talks to Dr David Erritzoe, a consultant psychiatrist whose team of researchers are mapping the brain, trying to pinpoint the neurobiological basis of gambling addiction so that new treatments can be developed.
As the government considers whether gambling laws should be reformed to protect those addicted to gambling, Paul wonders if an entire generation of young Brits is at risk of following the same, dangerous path that he trod. Advertising and sponsorship by betting firms has exploded in recent years, with more than a third of English Premier League clubs promoting gambling companies on their shirts.
Paul Merson: Football, Gambling And Me airs Monday 11th October at 9pm on BBC One.