Peter Shilton is a bone fide England legend. With 125 caps, he remains the nation’s most-capped player. Only the great Gordon Banks would likely be ranked above him among England’s best goalkeepers. He is a two-time European Cup winner with Nottingham Forest and was part of the England team that made the World Cup semi-final in 1990.
At 71, he is at a stage of life where he might be expected to slow down a little, conduct a few interviews trading off his glory days and maybe look out for a few advertising gigs. Betting companies are always good, hoovering up any ex pro, offering money for old rope.
The deal is a former player offers bland opinions on forthcoming matches and the betting company get to splash their logo all over the material, thus normalising their presence in the market place.
Peter Shilton has criticised the influence of betting companies/advertising within football
Yet Shilton has experienced something of a personal epiphany, as will be relayed in his much-anticipated new autobiography, Saved, in September, which he is writing with his wife, Steph.
For much of his life Shilton has been immersed in gambling. Indeed, he and his room-mate Gary Lineker used to be the squad bookies on England trips, famously being fleeced by Chris Waddle and Paul Gascoigne at the 1990 World Cup finals, when they laid on a race night which, unbeknown to them, the rest of the squad had already watched and knew all the results.
In his mind, gambling was a leisure activity. The reality, he now realises, is that it was more grave than that, a journey which will be explored in his book. So rather than going down the route of taking easy money to promote gambling firms, he is instead campaigning to ban them from being shirt sponsors.
‘People in football who are advertising gambling companies couldn’t have known anybody who’s vulnerable or who’s had a massive problem [from gambling] or a family who’s suffered from gambling,’ says Shilton.
Shilton with his wife Steph, the former England goalkeeper gambled for 45 years
‘Otherwise they wouldn’t be advertising gambling. There are marriages that break up, kids suffer because mum or dad or both are gamblers.
‘I was gambling for 45 years and it gradually escalated so I know what I’m talking about. I can look back and realise I should have stopped. And that’s my reason for doing this now. It’s my experience and I want to pass that on.
‘I think for the big clubs shirt sponsorship and adverts [for gambling firms] around the ground should be banned, because it is affecting young kids.
‘You’re not supposed to advertise [gambling] to kids but that is lawful. Kids support their team or a player and they’ll have the name of a betting company splashed in their minds all the time. You can’t watch a game without getting influenced by a betting company.’
Shilton says the rise in betting related problems will cause more strain on social services
Shilton cites research from the Government’s Gambling Commission, which found that nine per cent of 11 to 16-year-olds had spent money on gambling in the week running up to their most recent survey. The same report estimated that 1.9 per cent of 11-16 years old were already problem gamblers, a rise from 1.7 per cent the previous year.
‘It’s getting more and more and that will push on to straining social services,’ says Shilton. ‘The betting industry profits are going up and up, if you look at the figures for vulnerable gamblers and even kids they’re going up and up.
‘We’re not for banning gambling because people can have a bet. We’re talking about vulnerable gamblers and the stuff which is out there for them or for kids who are being enticed into it. They are the next generation of gamblers.’
Shilton is mindful of the short-term financial impact this would have on some clubs. ‘There is a case for smaller clubs needing time for readjustment, as they’re not as wealthy and the crowds aren’t coming in at the moment. But Premier League clubs should be banned immediately.
Clubs such as West Ham and Fulham have betting companies emblazoned on their shirts
‘There’s talk that without betting sponsorship, football could be in trouble and I just don’t accept that. I think it’s a bad business model if they have to rely gambling advertising to survive.
‘In sport in general and in football in particular there are a lot of vulnerable gamblers in terms of players. It’s made for footballers to gamble when they’re resting between games. And it’s so much easier with phones.
‘That’s why the whole industry needs to be looked at. I don’t accept slogans such as ‘Time Out’ and ‘Gamble Responsibly’ work for vulnerable gamblers. It is superficial, a way of the gambling industry making it look as though they’re doing something.’
For Shilton, this is a new lease of life. His previous political engagement was in supporting Brexit, which led him into a public exchange of views with old friend and avid Remainer Lineker on social media. The pair though are singing from the same hymn sheet on this, with Lineker tweeting his support for Shilton’s campaign. ‘Me and Gary are mates and it’s brilliant that he’s supporting me and Steph on this,’ said Shilton.