Michael Chopra reveals football’s gambling problem: 'I signed for Sunderland in order to pay my debts off'

Players bet £30k a sitting, says former Newcastle striker, who blew £2m and had loan sharks after him

Sports News Correspondent

Michael Chopra, the former Newcastle United, Cardiff City and Sunderland striker, claimed he would gamble up to £30,000 in cash with other players on the team bus en route to matches while he was still a teenager with the St James’ Park club.

Chopra, giving evidence as a witness during a trial at Newcastle Crown Court, claims he was threatened by Scottish loan sharks later in his career as he ran up huge debts and joined Sunderland because the sizeable signing-on fee helped pay off some of the money he owed. He said that during his time with Ipswich the club and the Professional Footballers’ Association organised a £250,000 loan to do likewise while his father, Minty, also revealed in court yesterday that he had sold his house to pay his son’s gambling debts. Chopra told the court he estimated he had lost £2m through gambling.

“I started gambling when I was about 17, when I first played for Newcastle I was travelling with the first team,” said Chopra, who came through the youth ranks at Newcastle to play alongside the likes of Alan Shearer, Kieron Dyer, Titus Bramble and Craig Bellamy. “Players would gamble on the bus and I got involved. We would take thousands of pounds on to the bus, anything up to £30,000.

“It might change hands playing cards on the bus, we would go to the bank before and take out the money. It was part of team bonding. We were playing for real cash, if you were playing for £30,000 you would have it with you at the time.”

It was another painful day for football’s image as Chopra’s revelations were followed by the Crown Prosecution Service’s decision to charge two men as part of an investigation into an international match-fixing ring that is said to have attempted to rig matches in England’s lower leagues. Players’ unions have called for all involved in the professional game to be better, and compulsorily, educated over match-fixing. Unions have previously raised concerns that accruing huge gambling debts leaves players open to the approaches of match-fixers. There is no suggestion that Chopra has been involved in match-fixing.

Gambling remains very much a live issue in the game through players amassing huge debts;  breaking betting rules laid down by governing bodies – Andros Townsend was suspended last season for breaching regulations; and, most seriously of all, the rise of the illegal betting markets that have led to the mushrooming of match-fixing across Europe over the last decade. Again, there is no suggestion that Townsend has been involved in match-fixing.

Chopra, who turns 30 later this month, was deep in debt by the time he joined Ipswich Town in 2011. He said: “I had loan sharks turning up at the training ground when I was at Ipswich. They came up to me and asked me for my autograph and said I better get myself into the club and get that money now.

“They said they knew what car I was driving and they would follow me until I paid them. They said they knew what school my little boy went to and where my parents lived and where I lived in Ipswich. I felt sick that I had put my family in that situation from my gambling.”

Chopra, now with Blackpool, moved from Cardiff to Sunderland, then newly promoted to the Premier League, in 2007 attracted largely by the signing-on fee he would receive.

“I was at Cardiff for one year and then I went to Sunderland,” he said. “I got a signing-on fee and paid my debts off. The main reason I went to Sunderland was to pay my debts off. When you go to the Premier League you earn more money.”

Chopra was giving evidence at the trial of four men on drugs charges. As part of the case, the prosecution says a sum of £50,000 found in a car was drug money but one of the accused instead claims it was cash to pay-off a loan shark from Liverpool on behalf of Chopra.

Earlier this year Chopra said he had “voluntarily excluded himself from all betting institutions… to help me fight this illness”. That came as part of a statement in response to being charged by the British Horseracing Authority for “serious breaches of the rules of racing”.

Chopra said he could not afford to defend himself and in January he was banned from all racecourses for 10 years after the BHA’s investigation into a “corrupt network” that gambled on horses to lose.

News
Sir David Attenborough
people
Life and Style
Young girl and bowl of cereal
food + drink
News
Comic miserablist Larry David in 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'
peopleDirector of new documentary Misery Loves Comedy reveals how he got them to open up
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Life and Style
David Bowie by Duffy
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
News
advertisingVideo: The company that brought you the 'Bud' 'Weis' 'Er' frogs and 'Wasssssup' ads, has something up its sleeve for Sunday's big match
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Environment
Dame Vivienne Westwood speaking at a fracking protest outside Parliament on Monday (AP)
environment
Life and Style
tech
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness