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Winner who scaled the heights hits bottom

THE SHILTON AFFAIR: Financial scandal is threatening to overshadow the glorious career of the former England goalkeeper
Sadly for Peter Shilton and for the game itself, the memory of what was an outstanding career for club and country has now become submerged by financial and public humiliation.

He wants to be remembered for sublime goalkeeping feats and heroic resistance in an England jersey, but the biggest and most difficult save of his life comes now as he seeks to hold onto the remnants of his reputation.

Shilton represents the two faces of the sporting superstar: a great winner on the field, a loser off it.

He could deal with just about everything that came his way when he stood between the two white posts, yet he can not handle the wealth and demands that go hand in hand with exceptional talent.

From the day he became Leicester City's youngest debutant at 16, taking over from another England legend, Gordon Banks, Shilton was always destined to reach the top .

He not only scaled the highest peaks but managed to stay there for a considerable time, a privilege open only to a select few. He amassed 125 caps for his country, a record, and took part in three World Cup finals. His skill and enthusiasm for the game endured to the very end. He was still turning out regularly at 43, establishing an appearance mark of 1,367, a total that is unlikely to be bettered.

However the drive for perfection , the hunger for personal achievement took its toll. Like a pressure cooker he had to let off steam and let down his guard, which in public and especially on the field of play never wavered. In a surprise public admission- for he is essentially a private man who finds it difficult to confide even in those close to him - he once owned up to the need for the release that drinking and socialising away from his family gave him.

In 1981 it brought him into trouble when he was arrested for drink-driving after being caught with another man's wife in his car. His own wife, Sue, stood by him then as she has done throughout his more recent and accelerating decline into financial crisis. The relationship has not always been smooth. In December 1986 police were called to their Southampton home after a row and he was detained at his local station for several hours "cooling down". Later Mrs Shilton denied that her husband was a "wife beater".

Shilton rode out those storms, maintaining impeccable standards both in training, where he was always known as a glutton for punishment and hard work, and on Saturday afternoons. His earnings reflected the esteem in which managers held him as his playingcareer took him from Leicester to Stoke, Nottingham Forest and then Southampton. At Derby County, his fifth and penultimate club, he was reputed to be earning £250,000 a year, making him the highest paid player in the game at the time.

He needed those bulging wage packets, because a voracious gambling habit had taken hold.

Malcolm MacDonald, an international teammate, recalled how colleagues hid from the goalkeeper when he wanted to raise the stakes in the card schools which whiled away the empty hours on tour.

Shilton was intrigued about other players' earnings and became furious, said MacDonald, when those from Liverpool gloated about their win bonuses.

"He refused to let players go to bed if he was losing money during a late-night gambling session," remarked McDonald. "One time he owed me around £400 or so. He desperately wanted to play one-card turnovers for £20 a shot. I began stacking winning hands just to reduce the debt to sensible levels."

Shilton also got involved in horse racing, as an owner as well as a punter. Last month the trainer, Martin Pipe, began a bankruptcy petition to retrieve £3,000 in training costs from two horses Shilton had with him. He also gambled in the property market, acquiring four houses, but the recession also became a nightmare area for him. There have been frequent wrangles with mortgage companies and reports yesterday that one of his properties had been repossessed.

His troubles have cost him the friendship of John McGovern, a team-mate at Nottingham Forest and Shilton's choice for his assistant when he stepped into management with Plymouth in 1992.

McGovern walked out on him and the club last October, saying he could no longer work alongside someone who owed him £7,000 from a personal loan which should have been repaid a year ago.