LASESARRE, SPAIN - AUGUST 5: Puma Orbita, the official match ball of LaLiga in detail prior the pre-season friendly match between Athletic Club and Real Sociedad on August 5, 2022 at Lasesarre Stadium in Barakaldo, Spain. Noxthirdxpartyxsales PUBLICATIONxNOTxINxJPN 195228971

Let me tell you a story about a poor boy. In the grimy suburbs of London lies a place devoid of light, hope or opportunity, called Morden. There’s little coincidence it sounds like the depths of Middle Earth. Grimy 1970s office blocks are the highlight of the town centre. People amble down the street scuttling towards the underground to escape.

It was here that our hero found himself holed up in a houseshare with five South Africans a decade ago. He had left college and was looking, forlornly, for a job. Supermarkets, bars, cinemas even fucking fruit-sellers were rejecting him. The house itself was so scrappy that the shower actually having hot water was presented as a ‘feature’.

What prospects were there? Well, he loved football for one. The distant light at the end of the tunnel flickered in his browser almost every time he logged on. The Saturday routine involved checking the fixture list and heading down to the pub. It was painful to watch those last few pennies disappear forever into the bar till. Those internet adverts began to look mightily tempting.

The temptation of betting

And so the accumulators began. Some weeks were good, most were bad. Before long, the student overdraft had just ₤350 pounds left when the monthly rent was ₤300. Ladbrokes casino had seemed like a good way to dig out of the hole, but funnily enough, it just made matters worse.

You try living in London for a month off less than ₤2 a day for food and travel. Lidl budget noodles become a luxury item. OK, so Manchester United and Barcelona came to the rescue. A ₤300 double on those two to beat Inter and Lyon respectively returned ₤720, and for a fortnight there was breathing space.

Thankfully, I have escaped to the flourishing paradise of Siberia. Those betting adverts though… I mean it was civilised before, with the big four of Ladbrokes, William Hill, Paddy Power and Coral, but now? It’s bloody carnage out there. It is impossible to watch, read, or think about football without yet another incomprehensible betting company springing up and thrusting its offers in your face.

Gambling sponsorship dominance

I don’t have the full figures for how many bookmakers there are now in football. Honestly, I’d rather not find out. Just take a quick look at the shirt sponsorship deals in the English Premier League alone though. Of the 20 top-flight teams, nine have a gambling company as their main sponsor.

That’s bad enough. Then there is the obsessive swarming of TV coverage. Sky Sports, of course, pushes its SkyBet service like there’s no tomorrow. Paddy Power pump out usually distasteful tweets while hogging the limelight on the most popular podcast, the Totally Football Show. For those of you who didn’t know, I spent the entire World Cup driving to all 11 host cities. That was 16,000km of podcast-filled time, so I heard Lee Price from Paddy Power a considerable amount.

It’s a fucking disgrace. Gambling corporations can hide behind the safety net of offering ‘support’ to the prey they slaughter. “Be GambleAware,” James Richardson is paid to tell us. When the fun stops, stop. Yeah, sure; in between your incessant adverts imploring us to fill your coffers, we’ll get round to being responsible.

It’s a mildly tough one to be fair though. People, in the end, should be responsible for their own actions. That mad American woman who actually successfully sued McDonald’s for making coffee hot was beyond insane. However unsavoury gambling may be, it does pump millions in tax revenue into… oh yes, tax-free havens. Hmm.

The moral dilemma

Smoking was banned from advertising in sport a while ago. Morally, given how it causes disease and a huge burden on health services, that seemed fair enough. Is betting any less damaging to society though? The unattainable excesses teased by bookies destroys lives just as brutally.

Still, these companies continue to pour into the game along with their seemingly bottomless pockets. If someone offers your club twice as much as another potential sponsor, they’d take it, right? It’s not like clubs have morals any more. Manchester United’s longest-running ‘commercial partner’ is a Saudi Arabia-based company. Manchester City jumped into bed with a regime that beheads people, kidnaps innocents and doesn’t give a shit about most human lives.

If you look hard enough, almost every top-flight club will have links to some morally-ambiguous entity. Gambling companies in one sense are not doing a great deal wrong as businesses. There is a direct market of customers to tap into, and they are simply trying to access it.

At what point does the ₤5 billion TV deal-negotiating Premier League grow some morals? Haha yeah, I know, right? Looks like we’re stuck with it then. Maybe the honest government will put the people first and step in? Please, my sides are hurting… Richard Scudamore to donate his ₤5 million golden goodbye to establishing an educational foundation to warn against the perils of gambling and other dangerous vices? Oh stop it, seriously I have words to write!

Looks like we’re all fucked then.