Matthew Norman: Roon a gambler? Not by my mad standards

We walked four miles home after the taxi fare went down on 17 black
Click to follow
The Independent Online

The very best thing human existence has to offer is winning at gambling, goes the saying in Las Vegas; the second best thing is losing. The only pertinent issue about Wayne Rooney, however, is not whether or how much he won or lost, but if he can honestly be said to have gambled at all.

That he blew £700,000 with Michael Owen's bookie has provoked the outpouring of faux distress considered mandatory in such circumstances by the media worldwide. Rooney's debts, according to one African newspaper, represent "an indelible stigma that the entire waters of the Atlantic cannot wash away". Painful as it is to pick a fight with the Sun of Nigeria, you wonder how close this observation comes to crossing the border into hyperbole.

As one who has spent much of his adult life feeling nauseous in William Hill, I reckon Rooney's activities fall under the header of leisure pursuit rather than scary compulsion. Gambling in its pure sense is something other than a diversion from tedium or a way of inducing sharp bursts of adrenalin. It is a form of sado-masochism as compelling as any, albeit far more expensive and dangerous than anything requiring the Frank Bough Memorial PVC Catsuit.

Gamblers, as the cliché correctly has it, gamble not to win but to lose, and at this they are ferociously dedicated. They do not shrug after losing a pitiful fraction of their income and simply pack it in, as a man reputed to earn £10m to £12m a year apparently did back in January. It is this lack of commitment that will offend the likes of Stan Bowles and Kenny Sansom, England internationals in an era when gambling meant handing the missus's housekeeping to a Walthamstow bookie, not making prissy verbal agreements for comparative peanuts to some smooth operator at the other end of a Nokia.

It certainly offends me. The first time I went on holiday with the woman to whom I have long been shackled by the unflinching bonds of holy matrimony, we walked four miles back to the hotel from the casino in Trouville after the taxi fare went down on 17 black. It wasn't an especially jolly or companionable hike as I recall, but the idea of leaving the roulette wheel with a banknote was obscene. Six months later, our honeymoon period came to an end, literally and metaphorically, in the foyer of the Trump Taj Majal in Atlantic City after a troublesome night at the blackjack tables, with me begging 50 cents from a bellboy to get us through the New Jersey Turnpike.

Since then I have done much of my income on horses, dogs and internet poker, and flirted with catastrophe over the touchscreen roulette screens that infiltrated high street bookmakers a few years ago. The sudden flight to Cyprus of a friend whose addiction had forced him to borrow £30,000 he hadn't the faintest chance of ever repaying from Russian Mafiosi, cured me of that addiction. Otherwise, we'd probably be homeless today.

With his Coleen now earning millions herself, and his projected earnings over the next decade put at a quarter of a billion, one thing Wayne Rooney never had a shot at becoming is homeless. Doing £700,000 makes him the equivalent of one of those grannies fondly blowing a tenner on a Grand National no- hoper because she likes the name.

Gamblers have almost no moral standards whatsoever, it should go without saying, but the one class of human on whom we feel entitled to look down is the punter with no ambition to destroy his or her life. Wayne Rooney is just such a dilettante, and the entire waters of the Atlantic cannot wash away the stigma of that.