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Peter Shilton: 'I've lost millions but I hope to help the next generation'

The legendary England keeper talks to Steve Davies about his gambling addiction

Peter Shilton, with his wife Steph, has written about his recovery from compulsive betting in Saved: Overcoming A 45-Year Gambling Addiction
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For a man who has barely looked at a racehorse in more than six years and certainly hasn't had a bet on one in that time, Peter Shilton speaks with a remarkable and candid affection about the sport of kings.

This is a man who has confessed to having had a gambling addiction for 45 years, a man who admitted to being almost ruined mentally, physically and financially by an illness that only recently he has addressed, conquered and finally talked about.

It is an illness that went on so long and dragged him so far down that he genuinely does not have a clue how much it cost him in terms of money but is adamant it runs into millions.

All that pain, all that heartache, all those lost years, and it all started from having "a few bob" on the horses. "I told myself it was a hobby," he recalls, remembering those early days when the bug first bit. "It's funny, I still think it's a wonderful sport and I still honestly believe it can be a great day out."

But just not for him. Not for England's most capped player, a goalkeeper who represented his country 125 times over two decades, starred in World Cups, won European Cups and went on to make more than 1,000 appearances as a professional footballer in a career which spanned more than 30 years.

Shilton on Maradona: "He never apologised or acknowledged it was cheating. I was brought up that you admitted when you'd done things wrong"

His racing days are long gone and that's a source of pride rather than regret because it means Shilton is on the road to recovery as a former addict, a man who, with the strength and help of his wife Steph, has emerged from a dark place and now is desperate to campaign on behalf of others who seek help in their fight against the demons.

Saved: Overcoming A 45-Year Gambling Addiction, written by Shilton and Steph, was recently published to much acclaim.

It is a brutally honest journey into an addict's life and the 72-year-old acknowledged it took a lot of soul searching to confront elements of his past and bravery to commit those memories to print.

He is such a tireless campaigner against aspects of the betting industry's relationship with football – notably bookmakers' names on shirts – that he has marched up to 10 Downing Street with a petition against the practice bearing 12,000 names.

"Morally, we don't believe there is any justification in advertising gambling in football, especially on shirts," Shilton says. "We must protect our children."

Yet despite all those years of pain and torment, the eye-watering losses, the lies and tears and now, despite having emerged clear-eyed with a zealous desire to do right by current addicts and children in his campaigning, despite all that, he can still talk with an entrancing fondness about horseracing, a sport for which he had a real soft spot and one that afforded him some wonderful times.

When you start talking racing with Shilton the stories flow, of days out at Leicester and Nottingham, of trips to Wolverhampton, of Mick Channon, ownership, going up to the gallops on frosty winter mornings to see some of the several horses he owned go through their paces.

"I always had a love of horseracing," he says, crediting his dad, although adding it may simply be in his DNA.

"I remember at Leicester City – this is going back," he says and it certainly is given Leicester was his first club, where he spent eight seasons up to 1974. "Alan Jarvis was a local trainer starting out and five of us had a selling plater with him for a bit of fun. It was called Near Affair, I'll never forget it.

"We'd been to see it a couple of times and it lost and the time it won none of us went. It was a hurdler, but he'd stuck it in a Flat race at Wolverhampton with a 7lb claimer on and we didn't think it had much chance so none of us went. It won at 10-1 and I don't think Alan was best pleased we hadn't turned up.

"I owned one called Admiral Jersey. I had a promotional contract with Admiral Sports and I got the horse out of the company. Those were my early entries into owning but because Admiral Sports wasn't much good I lost interest in that side of it until I got to Southampton."

That was in 1982, after golden club days with Nottingham Forest, with whom he won the league title, two European Cups and being named player of the year in 1977-78, the last line of defence in a side moulded to greatness by the inimitable Brian Clough.

Shilton twice won the European Cup with Nottingham Forest and became England's most capped player, representing his country 125 times over two decades

At Southampton he was reunited with Channon, a Dell icon who had just left the club but still lived in the area. It was Channon who would reignite the Shilton flame in ownership, although their combined love affair with horses went back a long time before to the early 1970s.

Shilton explains: "Mick and I were with the England youth team and he had a horse running – he'd just bought it for £400, Cathy Jane. He bred Jamesmead from her, who went on to win the Tote Gold Trophy [now Betfair Hurdle].

"Anyway, that's by the by, the point is, Mick said to me, 'Shilts, I have a horse running in the Brown Jack Stakes at Ascot'. So we went in this horrible, smoky betting shop, listened to the commentary, and it won and he screamed the place down. I think that was the start of his love affair with horses.

"Before he became a trainer he got me to buy a horse with Richard Hannon called Hard To Catch.

"The next horse was probably my best, Between The Sticks, also with Richard. That won at 33-1 at Newmarket first time out. It won again at Windsor next time and ran in the Queen Mary at Ascot, finished sixth on ground much too firm for her. Good days."

The passion for the sport is heartfelt and engaging and, while it unquestionably whisks Shilton back to some happy times, it also came at the heaviest price.

"I wish I could tell you how much I lost but the truth is I don't know," he says. "It must run into millions.

"But that wasn't how it started. I wasn't a regular racegoer in my early days and I wasn't betting a lot. Just the odd flutter here and there. It all just felt like a hobby.

"And I always managed to separate it from my football. I never bet when I was away on tours and wouldn't bet on matchdays. Nothing interfered with my football and I kidded myself that because I was such a model professional footballer – worked hard, trained hard, did all the right things – that I was a model gambler as well.

"But once you're addicted that's it. And I was addicted. And the more you earn the more you bet. Don't get me wrong, I had the good things in life on the money I earned – the houses, the horses, the holidays – but I also had money to bet.

"And while I was mostly betting on horses, I'd have the odd ten-team accumulator on an evening football coupon back in the days pre-singles. It was throwing money away. And of course when I lost, like all addicts, I just figured I'd get it back tomorrow. That was the mindset. And so we went again.

"The most I had on a horse was probably £3,000 – I think I lost about £20,000 in one day. The numbers become a bit of a blur if I'm honest.

"And no-one helped me because I kept it secret. People knew I liked a bet on the horses but few sensed there was a problem because I kept it to myself. Arthur Cox, my manager at Derby – I didn't know this until recently – he phoned my agent Jon Holmes and asked 'is Peter all right?' Gary Lineker knew a little because I roomed with him. But this was my secret and that was how I wanted to keep it."

Shilton admits to being "lost", crippled by an addiction, until he met Steph ten years ago.

Steph tells her side of the story in Saved: Overcoming A 45-Year Gambling Addiction and the two have become powerful advocates against some of gambling's excesses, fighting it head on.

The two of them campaign alongside Gambling With Lives, a pressure group set up by families and friends of young people who took their lives as a result of gambling, and he says his biggest issue is the betting firms and football shirt sponsorship.

"It's a back-door way of snaring kids," he warns. "And these kids are overly exposed. Back in the day you'd go into a betting shop and the windows were blacked out. Nowadays, kids have casinos in their pockets. Clubs have bookmaker ads flashing up whenever the ball goes near that side of the pitch and children see this. Free bets need to go, pop-up advertising should be banned.

"A lot of clubs have said they won't survive but I don't go along with that. There are plenty of clubs who don't have bookies' names on their shirts who survive, who don't take the easy money. It's a poor business model if you rely on betting companies to survive. Football does need to clean up its act."

Shilton has been 'clean' for more than six years and insists he is not anti-gambling, far from it.

"I did enjoy my horses and horseracing and if you're a person who can go to the races and just have a few bob on then all well and good and there are plenty of people like that," he says. "We're not anti-gambling. Gambling sensibly, moderately and for fun is fine.

"But it's not what I did and if I can stop one person from going down the route I did, then the book will have been worthwhile."


Shilton on football . . .

Maradona's Hand of God goal 
I've blamed the referee and linesman and the only grief I had with Diego Maradona was that he never apologised or acknowledged it was cheating. I was brought up that you admitted when you'd done things wrong.

"Maradona knew what he'd done – he ran back looking at the referee. It cost us the match. I would definitely have got that ball"

It was something I and the other England players felt really aggrieved by, especially the fact Maradona kept on behaving as if it wasn't a problem.

He knew what he'd done – he ran back looking at the referee. It cost us the match. I would definitely have got that ball.

The greatest player I played against – and with
Having said that, Maradona was the greatest I played against. He was a truly great player. I've always said he didn't score that second goal against us in '86 if the first hadn't stood, but it was still an incredible goal. And that was what he could do – dribble past players, at pace, in total control. You don't see that any more.

The best I played with? It would have to be Gary Lineker. If you ever needed a goal in a big-game situation you could absolutely rely on Gary. A classic poacher and one of the best there ever was at that.

The England goalkeeper at next year's World Cup
It has to be Jordan Pickford. There has been criticism of him at Everton, but in an England shirt I don't think he's ever let us down. Unless his form drops rapidly he's my No 1. There are challengers, though, the likes of Nick Pope and Aaron Ramsdale, who is really grabbing headlines since his move to Arsenal.

Comparing the current crop of goalies with my day 
It's impossible to make comparisons. Balls are different, the rules are different, using your feet to play out, everything has changed. I didn't get a goalkeeping coach until 1982 and I'd already been playing for the best part of 20 years. To me goalkeeping is about organising a defence, making stops and being consistent. The best goalkeeper is the one who makes fewest mistakes. That never changes.

On the plight of Derby
I had five years at Derby, which started well but then the money dried up and it all went a bit sour. But it was a great club and I look back with fondness at my time there. Now I read the current owner Mel Morris could lose £200m in investments and you wonder how. Was that all about chasing success which never happened?

They're a great club and they will come through it. I think Wayne Rooney is doing a great job and showing the character and fight he showed as a player. I do, however, object to a bookmaker being emblazoned across their shirts.

Brian Clough and managing modern players . . . 
Cloughie at his peak – and that was when I was with him at Nottingham Forest – and Peter Taylor (I always put them together, a bit like Morecambe and Wise) had an aura, and a confidence, and respect. And the sort of players Cloughie had at the club were good characters, definitely not mischievous and easy to manage in my view. He looked for ability and honesty.

He'd probably struggle with modern-day player power but I still think players want or don't want to play for a manager and if you respect that manager you'd play for him. And everyone would respect Cloughie because of his stature. Could he have managed someone like Paul Pogba? He probably wouldn't have signed him in the first place.

Saved, by Peter and Steph Shilton, published by Ad Lib, is out now (hardback £20)


Read more:

We can all learn how to be a better friend to a fellow bettor in need

'People suffering harm can sound very confident they don't have a problem'

Be honest with yourself and record all your bets to help stay in control

'If a customer started betting £200 each-way you'd say, that's not like you'

Why all punters should be paying attention to Safer Gambling Week

Breaking the invisible barrier: the stigma of talking about problem gambling

Women and gambling – are the right actions in place to tackle a growing problem?

Safeguarding gambling industry staff is overdue and needs to become a priority


The Racing Post fully supports Safer Gambling Week and acknowledges it as an excellent opportunity for us all to reflect on whether we keep our gambling in check. Although Safer Gambling Week is only seven days, its message is ongoing and remains important. We have lots of resources available on our dedicated Safer Gambling page and more details can be found at safergamblinguk.org.


We are not anti-gambling. Gambling sensibly, moderately and for fun is fine
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