Hundreds of people whose lives were “destroyed” by online betting are walking thousands of miles this weekend to call for an end to gambling promotion in football.
The Big Step set a cumulative walking target of 1,137 miles over Saturday and Sunday – the total distance between every Premier League, Championship and Scottish Premiership football club associated with a betting company – but surpassed that in the first day thanks to four million steps from more than 300 people.
Organised by the charity Gambling With Lives, former gambling addicts, their relatives and MPs have joined the walk, with many travelling to football grounds on their route.
Charles Ritchie, the founder of Gambling With Lives, lost his 24-year-old son Jack in 2017 when he took his own life as a result of his addiction.
Mr Ritchie walked to Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough Stadium on Saturday, before a trip to Bramhall Lane, home of Sheffield United, on Sunday.
James Grimes, the founder of the Big Step and programme manager at Gambling With Lives, was himself pushed to the brink of suicide by his use of online bets.
“It destroyed every area of my life, and slowly stripped all the things that I built up as a young person,” the 30-year-old from Manchester, who is now three years without a bet, told the PA news agency.
“It took away my self-worth, my confidence, my mental health, and my money obviously.
“There are many others that are walking this weekend who have attempted suicide as well… I haven’t met any in gambling recovery that hasn’t had suicidal thoughts, it does take you to that place.”
The initiative is calling for an end to the sponsorship, promotion and advertising of all gambling in football.
“The relationship between gambling and football is toxic and misleading, it’s created a complete normalisation of gambling because people quite rightly trust the messages that our national sport tells them,” said Mr Grimes.
“There will be kids watching Premier League football today that will see gambling adverts and that damage will only be seen in five or 10 years’ time, long after the advert has gone.
“And it’s not fair, I don’t want to watch football, that I watched long before I started betting, and have to see all these brands I associate with so much harm.”
The Big Step was founded in 2019 when just 12 people took part in the walk, but has since grown exponentially – with some, including one 94-year-old, joining virtually from home this year.
The event takes place during a Government review of the Gambling Act 2005 and many politicians involved in this process joined the walk.
“Shirt sponsorship deals and the growing prominence of gambling advertising within football is normalising gambling amongst young and vulnerable people and those most at risk of harm,” said Welsh Labour MP Carolyn Harris, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Gambling Related Harm.
“I have seen the damage that gambling causes and this kind of high-profile advertising needs to be banned.”
Mr Grimes said he is pleased with moves to remove gambling sponsors from football shirts, but measures should go further to stop betting from being advertised altogether.
“I don’t want it to be just one big headline-grabbing measure, like taking it off the front of the shirts, which would be a big deal,” he said.
“Ultimately, we’re trying to return to a point where gambling is tolerated in society but not promoted.”