The Football Association has opened an investigation into The Independent's report yesterday that a footballer with a serious gambling problem has admitted to getting sent off deliberately after colluding with a bookmaker. The player owed the bookmaker £50,000, a source familiar with the situation told The Independent, and the bookie wrote off the debt when the player collected his card, as arranged, having profited from gambling on it.
The player's chronic gambling addiction – the root cause of his action – led him to treatment at the Sporting Chance clinic in Hampshire. The clinic's chief executive, Peter Kay, declined to comment on specifics of the case but corroborated the story.
As part of the investigation, which may involve the FA asking gambling companies to review suspicious betting patterns over the last few years, the FA has asked Kay and The Independent to pass on the name of the player and the bookmaker to assess whether disciplinary action should be taken.
A meeting will be scheduled with Kay, but he is unlikely to provide information that would breach the confidentiality of a player referred for treatment for a serious addiction. It is understood, however, that he has already made the FA aware that the case reported by The Independent was not a one-off. Kay has already confirmed to this newspaper that footballers have gambled or colluded to gamble on being booked – or on other incidents in matches – "to my knowledge on several occasions".
With problem gambling an "epidemic" in football, according to Kay, the FA is considering how best to improve its own methods of preventing the problem. But an FA spokesman conceded: "I have to be honest and say that there is no specific preventative education in place in respect to gambling provided by the FA at the moment.
"We do lots of work with players, especially young players, on alcohol and drugs awareness. This is a key part of their education as players. There is a lot of general education about lifestyle.
"We also hold seminars each season about betting, but this deals essentially with the rules. Gambling is something we have been looking at, and are planning to do further work in line with what we do with alcohol and drugs."
A lot of education to young players which touches on problem gambling but is not necessarily delivered by specialist agencies, is provided and funded by the Professional Footballers' Association.
The PFA's chief executive, Gordon Taylor, described the situation as "beyond belief." He added: "We support the [Sporting Chance] clinic and their attempts to get players on track and it is disappointing that something like this should emanate from them." Taylor said he believed that stories such as the player taking a bribe "can get over-elaborated for effect" at a gambling seminar, which is where The Independent sourced its story.
In fact, that case was among a number of gambling-related incidents disclosed privately to The Independent, more than once – but not in open session – at a seminar at Sporting Chance this week. Those present included players and former players wanting to highlight the dangers of gambling, and its threat to the integrity of the game.
Several spoke in open session about having their lives wrecked by addiction, while the seminar also heard public testimony from respected experts about a large-scale gambling culture in football.
The FA defended its rules on betting, which were softened a few years ago to allow players to bet on football matches they are not involved in and cannot affect. Previously there had been a blanket ban.
An FA spokesman said: "We have clear rules on betting and work with through the clubs and PFA to ensure that these rules are understood by all participants in the game. We remain vigilant."
Kay told The Independent yesterday that football needs to be more vigilant, and provide more education to all players at all levels. Of gambling-related corruption, he said: "Yes, it's happened and probably will happen again, but really that only makes our work and the responsibility of football in general more important. For too long there has been an ambivalent attitude which is changing, and we are listened to now by the authorities."