Former gambling addicts march on Wembley calling for end to football betting ads

·4-min read

A group of former gambling addicts and bereaved relatives are marching from Scotland to London in protest at betting advertising shown during the 2020 Uefa European Football Championship.

Over 10 days, 30 people from campaign group The Big Step will walk 300 miles across the country, stopping at football stadiums along the way.

Some of those involved with The Big Step have lost loved ones, who took their own lives as a result of gambling. Others were pushed to the brink of suicide themselves — including James Grimes, the founder of The Big Step and programme manager at Gambling With Lives.

“Very quickly into my recovery, I realised I couldn’t watch football without wanting to put a bet on, because the advertising I found so triggering,” Mr Grimes told the PA news agency.

One walker, Chris Gilham, said he planned to take his own life after taking out a £25,000 loan and losing it within two hours on a bet.

He said: “I sat there and I planned to take my own life.

“The plan was to win enough money to leave to my wife and two children.”

After he lost, he said he was faced with a choice to either “find recovery or end it all”.

“I’m very, very lucky that I found recovery. That same week, I went to my first Gamblers Anonymous meeting,” he said.

Mr Grimes said: “Every time we watch football we’re being told to ‘bet now’, ‘bet more’, ‘play now’ — it’s just not fair.

“We are calling on broadcasters to suspend gambling ads during the Euros just for the protection of the millions of English, Welsh and Scottish fans that will be watching this tournament.

“National tournaments are unique because the whole country seems to engage in them, and that’s why they shouldn’t be used as a chance to just promote addictive products.”

Passing grounds including Old Trafford, the Ricoh Arena and Stadium MK, the march ends at Wembley on Sunday, when England face Croatia in their first game of the Euros tournament.

Also on the walk is Stacey Goodwin, from Chesterfield, whose gambling issues began when she was 18 and continued into her 20s.

“I was betting my entire wage within 40 minutes of being paid,” Ms Goodwin said.

Like so many of those walking with her, Ms Goodwin can no longer watch football for fear of a relapse into her addiction.

“The camaraderie, the atmosphere of football, is what it’s all about. I had to stop doing that now,” she said.

“I won’t engage and I won’t watch because I know it’s detrimental to my recovery to be flashed that many times with a gambling advert.”

Mr Grimes compared the removal of gambling advertising to that of the ban on tobacco commercials and said people should still be free to bet if they choose to do so.

This is The Big Step’s fifth walk of its kind, starting in 2019 with a group of just 12, which has since expanded significantly – with more than 300 joining a similar campaign in March.

Their latest campaign has received support from famous faces including former footballer and addict Paul Merson.

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