Soccer pundit Paul Merson opens up on gambling relapse triggered by lockdown

BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - MARCH 19:  Paul Merson answers questions during Gillette Soccer Saturday Live with Jeff Stelling on March 19, 2012 at the Bournemouth International Centre in Bournemouth, England.  (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
Paul Merson says lockdown triggered him to relapse into gambling. (Getty Images) (Bryn Lennon via Getty Images)

Sky Sports presenter Paul Merson has revealed lockdown triggered him to relapse into gambling.

The 53-year-old former Arsenal and England player – who previously lost £7m to his gambling addiction – wiped away tears as he tried to explain how his fear of the coronavirus pandemic pushed him back over the brink.

Merson told Good Morning Britain: "In lockdown it was scary. My brain was telling me I have saved enough money to get a deposit to get us a house, to get us out of rented accommodation.

Read more: Former gambling addicts march on Wembley calling for end to football betting ads

"The news was blowing my mind. People understand that addiction talks to you and it was saying 'we're not getting out of this, we're in lockdown forever, this is it'.

"And I needed to get a house. The only way I could do that was by chasing my money."

The soccer pundit, who has also previously suffered from drink and drug abuse, shared a handwritten note to himself he wrote in August 2020.

It said: "I need to stop gambling. I love my wife and kids and I'm so happy with them.

"When I was in Orlando with my wife and two little children it was the happiest I have been in years. Because I wasn't gambling.

"I hate myself when I gamble, I hate it. Please help me God.

"I need to pay everyone back and get my wife and kids a house. Please God help me."

Merson told GMB: "I lost everything. It was sad. But it was from my heart. That was where I was.

"I have got a casino in my pocket. I have got a walk-in 24 hour casino. That's my phone!

"I'm lucky, I have a thing called Game Ban. You pay for a year and it cuts out every single thing about gambling if I put anything on my phone."

And the three-times-married father-of-eight – who gambled away all his Premiership Football earnings in the 90s – tried to explain that his illness was not about money.

29 December 1990 - English Football Division One - Arsenal v Sheffield United - Paul Merson of Arsenal. -    (Photo by Mark Leech/Offside via Getty Images)
Paul Merson played for Arsenal in the 1990s. (Getty Images) (Mark Leech/Offside via Getty Images)

He said: "Gambling addiction is not about the money. It is an illness. I thought I was a horrible person, and the more I gambled the more I lost my self-respect, self-worth, I got depressed.

"The first thing that comes in my head is: 'How do I get out of this? Start drinking and gambling again.'"

Watch: Former Premier League striker Michael Chopra talks about his gambling addiction