Although his future is bright, Dundee United star Lawrence Shankland is working with a scheme aiming to stop others from gambling away theirs.
Founded by Port Glasgow-based former footballer and ex-gambling addict Paul Pettigrew, Gamtalk aims to raise awareness of the addiction to young people before they potentially become hooked.
Ex-Kilmarnock and Morton youth player Pettigrew reached out to Shankland on a whim and revealed the 25-year-old Scotland hitman was more than happy to help.
“It was a case of speaking to one guy who’d speak to another and build it up from there but it was so weird,” Pettigrew revealed.
“I said to my girlfriend: ‘Imagine we could get Lawrence Shankland’.
“I didn’t personally know him but I saw he’d started to get into the Scotland set-up and I don’t know why but I was determined to make him my first ambassador.
“It worked out that way but I do know a couple of people from playing football who helped.
“The minute I got onto him he was right on board – he loved it.
“He’s never had a problem in that sense but he’s been brilliant, it’s been good for me.
“It raises the profile of Gamtalk in general by having somebody like that on board because people will go and have a look at the pages more.
“For every 100 people, one of them might be a teacher or run a youth club and they might think to get us in to talk.”
Shankland will do anything to help
Shankland’s profile has already helped Pettigrew reach higher places, including the House of Commons, meeting with SNP leader in London, Ian Blackford MP.
Pettigrew says the wheels are already in motion for the year ahead as he aims to reach further with his programme.
He added: “It’s already worked so far (using Shankland’s profile). I had a meeting with Ian Blackford for going into schools so it’s going good.
“It just builds the name up a bit more and he could help me more in terms of getting in football clubs.
“He literally said to me: ‘Anything at all I can do, I’ll help out with’.
“He’s the first person I’ve spoken to of calibre and I didn’t want to push too much but he’s just so helpful.
“It’s limited right now because of Covid but say in the future I have a school talk in Dundee, which is the aim, I’d love to take him along.
“I’m sure if he’s got the time, he’d be happy to do it. He’s brand new.”
He continued: “The overall aim is to be in as many schools, sports clubs and youth groups as I possibly can.
“I want to be in somewhere every day, every week talking to as many people as possible and, hopefully, in 5-10 years I can look back and think: ‘There’s a generation of teenagers who understood the dangers before they maybe started gambling’.
“I want them to learn from me rather than being in thousands of pounds of debt, miserable and trying to solve it from there.
“It’s a big problem in society nowadays which is still quite hidden.”
Pettigrew’s past spurred him on
After leaving organised football, Pettigrew spiralled into addiction and, at one point, had six-figure debts with the bookies.
However, he’s turned his life around, becoming debt-free and focused on growing Gamtalk.
Pettigrew said: “I started Gamtalk in September after being bad with gambling for years from when I was 18 until I was about 22.
“I used to play for Morton and Kilmarnock when I was younger, just on youth forms, and then I ended up getting really bad with gambling.
“It took a couple of years to get back from it because it ruined my life, to be honest.
“When I got over that I always had the idea to start something up and just went for it.
“I’ve got a couple more ambassadors lined up for next year – a woman footballer actually.
“It’s good because people can relate to footballers and it’s good when people see somebody, particularly Lawrence, whose career is on the up.
“It’s a great one to have early on but I’m going to get a woman on board as well because I’m trying to make sure people know it’s not just a male problem.”
Gambling a very real problem for footballers
Pettigrew is also hopeful Shankland’s involvement can encourage fellow-footballers to feel safe speaking out about their problems.
He believes players can be ‘very susceptible’ to developing a gambling habit and revealed he’s already had a few come forward with concerns.
Pettigrew commented: “I’ve had the Instagram page since September and since then I’ve had footballers talking to me, maybe not about them directly, but pals in their team.
“These guys are training until maybe 1pm and then they have their afternoon off and maybe some of them have some spare money.
“I think they’re very susceptible to it, footballers.”