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Stephen Hunt: There was a time that I'd bet more than I could afford to lose

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'It turned out that, thinking my horse would lose, he hadn't put the bet on at all'

'It turned out that, thinking my horse would lose, he hadn't put the bet on at all'

Bongarts/Getty Images

'It turned out that, thinking my horse would lose, he hadn't put the bet on at all'

I went to Cheltenham last week. In the hysteria and giddiness, it's easy to get carried away.

I saw a well-known sportsman win fifty grand when a long shot came up while I was there but it didn't make me want to chase his victories or chase my losses.

These days I don't bet more than 20 quid on a race and there are reasons for that, well actually one main reason: I want to provide for my family when my career ends and I've seen too many players lose all they have through gambling.

When I was a YTS player, I went down to the betting shop with another player. He asked me did I want a bet and I said I'd have a fiver on a certain horse. He went off to place the bets. Nobody was more surprised than myself when my horse won so I asked him for the betting slip so I could collect the money. It turned out that, thinking my horse would lose, he hadn't put the bet on at all and was gathering the money to fund his own expensive gambling habit.

Footballers have always been drawn towards horses. Racing was on in the afternoon when training finished and it was a way of passing the time and getting a shot of adrenaline.

There was a time, when I earned more money than I do now, that I'd bet more than I could afford to lose now (and occasionally more than I could afford to lose then). I owned a couple of racehorses for a while as well and I loved that but it was an expensive business and I got out of it.

But gambling itself can be harder to get away from and it is a problem that affects everyone in society, not just footballers.

Given the money footballers earn and their need for a bit of escapism, gambling is something they can be prone to.

You won't find too many clubs with a drinking culture these days but there will be plenty that will have card schools where players lose more than they can afford, to people who they realise are their team-mates but maybe not their best friends.

There is a competitive element within footballers that can encourage them to bet more than they can afford as they try and keep up with a dressing-room culture that encourages flash behaviour.

There is also an immaturity with money that makes footballers susceptible. This is generally acknowledgd in the game, which means that agents and the PFA could do more to help them in my view.

One of the reasons I don't get out of control is because of an agent I once had who used to come over every month and go through my finances. He would make sure money was going where it should be and check if there was money going out that shouldn't be.

He was a rarity, however, and there are too many who are happy to take their commission but don't care what a player is doing with the rest of his money.

One of the best things that has happened recently is the blanket ban on football betting. Before this season, a player couldn't bet on a match or competition which they could influence. Now you can't bet on any football at all which means there isn't the distraction of betting on games in other leagues as you prepare for your own match.

This is designed to ensure there is no corruption in football and that's a good thing but anything which prevents players who might have gambling issues betting is an even better thing.

This will also help the younger players, who will never know the buzz of gambling on football but for the older generation that memory will remain.

As a footballer, you come across all kinds of information about the game and it can be tempting to think you'll have a bet on it. Now you can't and you also can't provide any inside information to anyone else who might use it to bet.

There are probably ways of getting around this and the gambler with a problem will find one. I remember my heart sinking when a player who I suspected had a problem left to join a club which had a notorious gambling culture.

In those situations, football can just spit you out and while some people will say it's all about personal responsibility, I think more can be done.

When I was a Premier League footballer I would occasionally have a bet which involved me losing a sum I regretted losing, that it hurt me to lose. The figures don't matter, as anyone who has bet too much in any walk of life will know the feeling. But I never felt compelled to chase my losses and, if I won, I often took the money away.

I had worked too hard to be a professional footballer and I wanted security in a business that doesn't provide much.

I enjoy going to Cheltenham, it feels like going home with the number of Irish people I meet. I love being around racing people and it is a world I respect. But I don't go home with any regrets that I wasn't the one leaving town with fifty grand in my pocket. When I look around the racecourse at the end of a long day, I see more losers than winners.

That's the nature of sport and it's the nature of gambling but in gambling that nature can be lethal.

Sunday Indo Sport