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Former Leyton Orient and Stoke City player Tony Kelly opens up about gambling addiction
Former Leyton Orient player Tony Kelly has written a book warning about the gambling addiction which ruined his career.
The 47-year-old enjoyed two seasons with Leyton Orient as part of professional career which also featured spells at Bristol City, Stoke City and Bury. But his playing career was overshadowed by his gambling addiction which left him with crippling debts in excess of £100,000.
Kelly said: "The actual gambling itself started when I was 18 when I moved to London but that was more curiosity and just messing about with the lads. It wasn’t until I moved into professional football at the age of 22 that I was already doing quite a bit of gambling on the horses.
"Obviously you have more funds at your disposal because I was earning a lot of money and your mindset changes that it doesn’t matter if I lose £500 because I can always get it back next week. Slowly and slowly you're on a downward spiral but you don't actually realise you're an addict.
"I knew it was a problem but it wasn't until I finished football when I'd wracked up a huge amount of debt and it was then when I finished when I realised I had a serious issue.
"But it wasn't until then that I started to take advice about getting professional help through councelling and finding a way of sorting out my debt and being able to move on and come out the other side without going into crime or depression."
The attacker admitted he would spend entire days gambling and there were times when he had to borrow money just to get through the week.
He said: "The Stoke period I would say is when I really became an addict but still not realising it and not going for help or listening to people. That was the period when I started wracking up debt and becoming an addict.
"There were loads of low points. I had a house in Stoke on Trent, which I rented out to Chris Moyles for a while, but then because of the amount of debt I wracked up I couldn't afford to keep it. The low point was losing the house because if I had got help I could have saved the house."
Kelly continued: "I’ve had bad days where I went to see Lou Macari [Stoke manager]. He was a nice guy and manager to work under. I didn’t go into full detail what I was going through at the time but deep down I think he knew because he knew what I was capable of on the pitch.
"He helped me out by getting some petty cash from the secretary because I ran out of money. Things like that were my real low points."
Kelly, who was sold from St Albans City to Stoke City in 1990, said: "There were days where I would gamble all day and when you've got so much debt you start chasing it. That's the worst thing you can do because you're never going to get back what you lost. It continues and you just get deeper and deeper.
"It’s an evil disease. Gambling is alongside drugs and alcohol. Now fortunately it's starting to come out and hopefully people will realise it's the same old addiction just like drugs. It takes over people’s lives and ruins them. I've seen it for what it really is."
He overcame the disappointment of being released by Bristol City by moving from his home in Coventry to London. He enjoyed his time with the O's but admitted his form suffered peaks and troughs due to his battle off the pitch.
Kelly, who lives in north London, said: "I had two years at Orient. It was brilliant in terms of the football and the people I worked with. I came at a time when Barry Hearn had just taken over the club in 1995 and Pat Holland was manager. As soon as I signed there was a bit of razmatazz because Barry was the chairman. They had the red carpet and stars out for the home games so there was a great atmosphere.
"I had a great two years there and scored quite a few goals but unfortunately that period and during my whole professional career I did get addicted to gambling. There were times in all three main clubs I played for, Stoke, Bury and Leyton Orient, where my form was always up and down.
"Even at Orient there would be times where I was flying and scoring goals for a few week and then I would be dropped. I think that's frustrating for the fans because they're wondering what's going on and don't quite understand why you're playing one week and then not the next, but obviously my addiction was kicking in and the loss of form was due to all the mental stuff going off in my head. But it was still a great time at Orient and I enjoyed it."
In addition to his book, 'Red Card', which was supported by a charitable grant from the Professional Footballers' Association, Kelly hopes to go into consultancy work and also wants to bring out a short film portraying the life of a gambling addict and their family.
He said: "The first time you feel you've got a little problem you have to listen to the people that are close to you such as your family, friends and the manager. If they can see it then they’re telling you for a reason. The main thing is to get help as quickly as possible before you go too deep.
"I hope it appeals to football fans alike but I think it will appeal not just to the football world but society in general because I've had phone calls from people and friends and parents interested in it.
"The dips of form I suffered throughout my career, if managers and coaches were more aware of this gambling issue then they could look for little tell tale signs. If a lad loses his form then it might be because of personal issues.
"There are loads of little things like the chirpy character in the dressing room who’s all of a sudden lost £2,000 and is just sitting there in silence. So all the managers and agents have a small role to play in looking out for these things."
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