Chopra reveals 'huge bets' culture
Top footballer tells court family was threatened by loan sharks over debts
Former Premier League striker Michael Chopra has exposed the high-stakes gambling culture in top flight football and revealed his financial problems became so bad his family was threatened by loan sharks.
Chopra began his career at Newcastle United and was once tipped to become the new Alan Shearer because of his prolific goalscoring record in the youth and reserve teams. His problems began when he was promoted to the first team squad.
He became a member of a group that gambled hundreds of thousands of pounds playing cards on the team bus. That helped fuel a gambling addiction that became so bad Chopra was forced to borrow money from loan sharks to feed it.
Things turned nasty when he struggled to repay them, and threats were made to both him and his family.
"I started gambling when I was about 17, when I first played for Newcastle I was travelling with the first team," said Chopra, while giving evidence at Newcastle Crown Court in a cocaine ring trial.
"Players would gamble on the bus and I got involved. It was part of team bonding."
Chopra told the court he realised he had a problem aged 18, by which time he had an £85,000 (€102,000) debt with Goldchip, an exclusive private members' bookmakers.
Chopra joined Cardiff in 2006 and after scoring 22 goals in the championship, he returned to the top flight with Sunderland. An avid Newcastle fan, Chopra claimed he only signed for their bitter rivals because he needed money to pay the loan sharks.
"I got a signing on fee and paid my debts off. The main reason I went to Sunderland was to pay my debts off."
Prosecutors claim £50,000 found in the footwell of a Jaguar car by detectives investigating an alleged cocaine ring in 2010 was drug money.
Jurors heard the case involves a block of cocaine being flung from the window of a moving Range Rover being followed by police, the discovery of a "drugs factory" -- where £750,000 worth of cocaine was recovered -- and £50,000 was discovered inside the car.
Joseph Lewins (55), of Malvern Road, Washington, Daniel Chisholm (51), then of Franklin Street, Sunderland, Christopher Bacon (34), of Wendover Close, Witherwack, and John Somerville (53), of Sheringham Avenue, Kenton, deny conspiracy to supply class A drugs.
Prosecutor Jolyon Perks told jurors the cash was seized in a Jaguar being driven by a man who had just left Somerville's home and was part-payment for a drugs deal.
Chopra told jurors he had given the money to Somerville -- who was helping him sort out his debts -- so it could be passed on to creditors in Liverpool. He denied an accusation by the prosecution that he had come to court to lie for Somerville. (© Daily Telegraph, London)