The former Arsenal star has shed light on how much of a toll his gambling addiction took on him, as well as his drink and drug habits which became rife at the peak of his career
Ex-Arsenal icon Paul Merson has revealed how he lost £7million as a result of his gambling problem while also battling drink and drug addictions at the same time – all while playing top-flight for a number of clubs, including the Gunners, Middlesbrough, Aston Villa and Portsmouth.
The former England international has shed light on how the first bet he placed aged 16 sparked a slippery slope that cost him “everything he’d ever had” – including two marriages.
The 53-year-old opened up about his struggles to the Daily Mail, discussing everything from doing lines of cocaine while at Arsenal to the day his first wife Lorraine went into labour with first child but he opted to spend the day in the bookies.
“I didn’t stop until, eventually, I’d lost everything I’d ever had – close to £7 million, including houses, cars, marriages, my entire pension and my self-respect,” Merson wrote.
Merson highlighted the crippling anxiety he suffered as a child as one of the reasons his addictive personality made it so easy to go “all in” on drinks, drugs and gambling.
In 1989, while Merson was featuring regularly for a title-winning Arsenal side, his drinking had become “really serious”, making his relationship with fiancee Lorraine “volatile”.
He explained how his wedding night in 1990 was spent in a “foul mood” after he was “consumed with overwhelming self-hatred” because of the fact he’d lost thousands while betting on Costa Rica vs Scotland in the World Cup.
“If I back Scotland to beat Costa Rica, this wedding will cost me nothing – Costa Rica won 1-0. I ended the night skint, drunk, and consumed with overwhelming self-hatred. After that, everything started to snowball.”
Merson would go on to try cocaine for the first time in February 1994 – ten months later he had spent “way, way more than £2,000” on the drug, revealing he was “snorting until I was driven to the brink of madness”.
“I had bookies chasing me, dealers chasing me. I settled one cocaine debt by handing over my Arsenal blazer and reporting it stolen. Paranoia took over. I was convinced someone was hunting me down.”
After coming clean for three years, Merson relapsed while playing for Middlesbrough, where he shared a house with Paul Gascoigne.
The ex-Arsenal star revealed how he would place tens of thousands of pounds on single bets, aiming to win the money back with bigger ones when he lost.
“Everything I won in my football career came while I was at the height of my addiction,” he wrote.
“I could never live in the moment and enjoy the team’s achievements. I only thought about what it all meant for drinking and gambling.”