Dundee United striker Lawrence Shankland believes more needs to be done to educate young footballers about the dangers of problem gambling.
Speaking to Paul Pettigrew, founder of gambling prevention community interest company, Gamtalk UK, of which Shankland is an ambassador, the Scotland hitman says he saw former team-mates fritter away their wages in the bookies.
The 25-year-old United forward believes the football authorities have to warn young stars against the potential pitfalls of addiction in all forms before it’s too late.
‘You can lose everything in life. . . a gambling addiction can just keep going’
“When you become a player the PFA come in and tell you not to gamble, because it’s not allowed as footballers,” Shankland said, speaking to Gamtalk on Instagram TV.
“You need to know that, obviously, but there’s nothing to educate young boys.
“I’ve seen it myself, when you’re younger in the youth team there are boys that go in the bookies after training and they’re playing roulette machines and betting on horses.
“They are allowed to do that but within a short space of time they could lose half their wage.
“All boys at youth level, and I can tell you first hand, they’re not millionaires. They don’t have money to go and splash everywhere.
“There’s the odd few with first-team contracts but young boys could lose half their wage in a bookies right away.
“It’s not something we get educated on and I can’t really understand it.
“You can lose everything in life. A drink or a drug addiction, more than likely eventually you’ll pass away, but a gambling addiction can just keep going.
“It’s something that needs to be stopped by the person but I don’t think there’s enough warning signs when you’re young, in education, in what it could possibly lead on to and how easily it can be done.”
Although an issue in wider society, Shankland believes gambling addiction is a problem only intensified by footballers’ fame and worries there are players not seeking help.
He continued: “A normal person can go to Gamblers Anonymous or whatever but a football player’s in the public eye and there’s a chance someone might know them there.
“Before you know it, it’s plastered all over social media and it’s hard for people that have got a wee bit of a problem to come out.
“It would be good to have an organisation there to speak to where you know it’ll stay private.”
‘It caused havoc in the family’
He has never suffered directly but Shankland is no stranger to addiction, admitting the reason he linked up with the Port Glasgow-based scheme is because it’s a problem that has blighted his family down the years.
He added: “Not gambling but there’s been other addictions in really close family.
“They’re at the other side of it now and doing really well but it caused havoc in the family.
“It’s a problem you never really think about too much when you’re around people and how quickly it can happen.
“All of a sudden it can get a grip on somebody and their life can become a real problem, not just for them but everybody around them it creates this destruction.
“I’ve seen first-hand how an addiction can really get a hold of somebody and when I was asked to get involved (with Gamtalk) it was something I was keen to do.”
Aberdeen exit could’ve seen Shanks spiral
Shankland can relate to footballers who turn to betting, insisting he could’ve easily gone the same way when he was released by Aberdeen in 2017.
He said: “I signed for Aberdeen when I was just turning 18. I was going from playing part time to being a football player, or you think you’re a football player!
“You’re still young and you don’t realise how young you actually are. I was there for four years and got released at 21.
“Thankfully, I managed to still find myself in football eventually but at that point there were many paths I could’ve went down.
“I was at a dead end really and it didn’t look like I had any options at all in football. I was like: “What do I do now?
“I can see at that point why people would’ve maybe turned and found themselves in a sticky situation because it would’ve been easily done.
“You’ve not got any money coming in and people start gambling.”
Mentality the key to overcoming problems
Shankland says self-belief was a problem in his young career but that he’s now found his voice and a confidence that has served him well both on and off the pitch.
For Shanks, teaching yourself to be confident is a skill not just footballers need, but anyone struggling in life.
“Confidence is something I’ve had to teach myself,” he said.
“When I was younger I was terrible for that. I was really hard on myself and I actually found myself doubting things more than I should’ve at that age.
“I’m one of those people that puts a lot of pressure on themselves to do well and, at times, when I was younger and inexperienced I’ve put too much pressure on and it can kill you in the end.
“It kind of did for me because it brought my Aberdeen career to an end. I just didn’t have the belief in myself and I was constantly on at myself for doing negative things when there were a lot of positive things in there, too.
“Your mental stability, especially in an environment like this, it needs to be good and it is something I’ve progressed in over the last few years.
“I’ve been playing better but this season I’ve not been scoring as many goals as I did in the Championship.
“People are always asking why and I could’ve found myself in a situation before where I would’ve crumbled and wouldn’t be able to answer the question but now it just comes with experience.
“The mental side of everything is hugely important, not just in sport but in life in general.”
If you want to learn more about gambling prevention or arrange a talk with your young people, contact Paul Pettigrew at Gamtalk UK for free advice and support.