Former Arsenal and England star turned pundit Merson has opened up on his struggles with gambling addiction admitting the thought of placing a bet again “scares me to death”
Former footballer Paul Merson has managed more than a year without gambling – but admits his addiction is “on a fuse”.
The ex-England star, 53, put a note on his Instagram at the end of August 2020 pleading: “Please help me God. I need to stop gambling,” after he lost all the family savings again.
Soccer Saturday pundit Merson is living in rented accommodation despite a successful football career, having lost more than seven million over the years.
Former Arsenal star Merson drank and took drugs in the past but has now been clean for years and is doing well, but he admits the danger is not over for him.
He said: “Gambling is the worst addiction I have had. With the drugs I had a year of it, and it was like madness, the paranoia and I know it is bad, it is plugged in.
“With the drinking I have got that and it is plugged in. I just drank to get out the way I felt and I know I can’t stop.
“With the gambling it seems to be on a fuse where it is still flickering where sometimes my addiction tells me ‘you can go back and win’. And it scares me to death.
“It is only every day I keep on going without a bet. Hopefully it gets embedded in. I have days where I still think it is flickering.”
Father-of-eight Merson, who is currently making a BBC programme about his addictions, also told the Happy Place podcast how his wife Kate gives him “pocket money” to avoid him wasting money on bets.
He admitted one of the high points of lockdown was putting a slide up in the garden for one of his daughters, something he wouldn’t have had patience for during his drinking or gambling days.
Merson said: “I put a slide and a little house up for Sienna, that is a major thing for me.
“Before, that would still be in the box a year later. I had no patience, I just didn’t care, there were more important things to be doing.
“This is not going away… I have had to go through this for 36 years. You miss out on so much.
“People say, ‘How much money did you lose?’ But it weren’t the money… it was time.
“I lost time, you lose being with the kids and doing good things.
“I dread to know how many times I have been to Disney and we would be in there an hour and we would be gone, ‘Lets go, the bar is opening or the baseball is starting.’ You become very selfish and I am not that person.”
Merson – who played for England 21 times – admits his life is “a 100 times better” when he doesn’t drink or gamble, despite initial concerns he might be “bored”.
He said: “People go to me, ‘Oh, what’s your life like? You don’t drink and don’t gamble.’
“My first thing was like, ‘How boring is this going to be?’ And it’s been 100 times better.
“There are hard days, but my life has been 100 times better.”
And he has a special tattoo inked on his arm to remind him not to listen to strangers who judge him.
He added: “I have a tattoo on my arm. I had to have it, it says, ‘Don’t judge me until you’ve walked a mile in my shoes.’
“I think it’s the best saying in the world. People judge me and they don’t even know me.”
*If you are seeking help for gambling addiction, you can visit the NHS website or call the National Gambling Helpline on 0808 8020 133 for free advice and support.