ON the pitch, the young Kevin Twaddle had the potential and skill to be one of the country’s best football talents.
A clever winger whose professional career took him from St Johnstone to Raith Rovers, Morton to Motherwell and eventually his beloved Hearts, he had the world – and the ball – at his feet.
But off the pitch and behind the thousands of pounds a week salary, tens of thousands in signing on fees and his glam footballer’s lifestyle, Twaddle was in the grip of an overwhelming force that would drive him to lie, cheat and callously steal from the very people he loved.
For years he was the bookies’ best friend, squandering his salary along with any other cash he could get his hands on, sometimes betting tens of thousands of pounds in a single day.
So intense was his gambling obsession that he admits if the chance to win a bet by breaking the rules of the game had come up, he’d have done it.
“There’s no doubt that if I was playing now, I’d try,” he says, reflecting on how his compulsive gambling drove him to behaviour that now leaves him deeply ashamed. “I’d probably have kicked the ball out of the park to win a bet.
“These days you can get odds for anything, the first ball out of the park, who will be sent off – I wasn’t a dirty player, but I’d have got myself sent off for that. If I could have fixed games, I would have.”
It’s a startling comment from a former professional. But according to Twaddle, 42, gambling drove him to irrational behaviour – including stealing money from his dying grandmother – as he blundered through a fog of bookies, casinos, bets and deceit.
Today it’s nearly seven years since his last bet and Twaddle is his own harshest critic. There’s huge guilt over how he treated friends and loved ones, and bitterness at a football career thrown away. Behind him is a trail of wrecked relationships and hurtful behaviour that he’s finally come to appreciate was his own fault.
Certainly it’s a stark vision of what damage gambling can do. And, as startling new figures suggest, he’s not alone.
Recently details emerged of the staggering sums of money pumped into bookies’ fixed odds gaming machines – £129 million a year in Leith and north Edinburgh alone – hinting that many may be in the grip of a new wave of gambling fever.
The figures aren’t much better for the constituency area of Edinburgh East – which covers Craigmillar, Duddingston, Meadowbank and Portobello. Punters there spend around £98m a year, according to the Campaign for Fairer Gambling.
Add in 24-hour internet gambling that often offers free credit to get players started, mobile phone casino apps that accept real money bets, Facebook bingo apps that play with cash, slot machines that accept £100 credit card bets for a single spin, and all-day bookies, having a flutter has never been easier.
It’s why Twaddle, who fought through his addiction with help from Gamblers Anonymous Scotland (GA), says its meetings are busier than ever, sometimes with young men and increasing numbers of women who are still in their teens.
“These gambling machines, they’re like crack cocaine,” Twaddle sighs. “So many people are playing them, yet often they don’t have jobs. Where do they get the money from to fund their addiction? Well, I would have done anything to keep gambling. I took money from people knowing they would never ever get it back. I mixed with people I shouldn’t have.
“When you’re an addict, it doesn’t matter where you get the money from.”
Indeed, last year gambler Yiuman Poon appeared in court after stealing £700,000 from the Little Chef in Dreghorn Link where he worked to feed his habit. Last week, Colinton Mains post office worker Nadeem Amjid, 26, was jailed for 20 months after stealing more than £33,000 from an elderly customer to feed his gambling.
While they are extreme cases, Twaddle points out gambling is everywhere. “Addiction is a horrible thing, it makes ordinary people do things they wouldn’t normally do.
“And it’s hard trying to stop because every time you switch on television during the day there’s another advert for online bingo. Try to watch sport on television and Ray Winstone keeps popping up telling you to have a bet.
“People are in bookies when there’s not even any racing on. Why? Because they are pumping money into gaming machines. I’d have been playing them, too, if they’d been around when I was gambling because sometimes the horse takes too long to run around the track.”
He talks with searing honesty while sitting in the living room of his £200,000 semi-detached home in Brunstane. It’s a pleasant home, he and wife Jac have only been in a few months, and while it’s perfectly appealing it doesn’t scream the kind of luxury that might be expected from an ex-footballer whose playing days should have set him up for life.
Instead, having fluttered away his and other people’s cash, he ended up back living in his parents’ Danderhall home, football career over, gambling out of control, and suicidal thoughts swirling around his head.
“I used to go to casinos, it was red carpet treatment,” he remembers. “I thought at the time ‘Wow, look at me, big man’,” he reflects. “Now I look back and think – ‘what an arse’.”
He was just 13 when he helped pick a few teams for his dad’s coupon. It started as harmless fun, even better when the coupon came good and he ended up £84 better off. But it wasn’t the money that fuelled his obsession, it was the buzz.
“Ask most people who struggle with gambling addiction, you could fill the room with £50 notes but it’s not that they really want,” he explains. “The money is not important.”
As a teenager, he got other people to place bets for him, funding his habit with a newspaper round and playground games of cards. As an apprentice painter, he’d collect his workmate’s lunch money, set off for the chip shop only to blow it all at the bookies on the way.
By the time he signed for St Johnstone, the 23-year-old was out of control – at one point betting £12,000 on a match he was playing in against Stenhousemuir only to lose the lot.
Twaddle first told of his gambling hell in a startlingly honest book, Life on the Line: How to Lose a Million which was published late last year.
Writing it lay personal demons to rest, but opened up painful wounds for loved ones who’d been unaware of how far he’d fallen, so clever was his web of lies and deceit.
“I robbed my mum, watched my nana die and stole every penny she had,” he admits. “I was looking at going to jail for fraud only for my dad to bail me out. People say ‘wow, we never saw you as that person’, but I was and I feel terrible for the upset that I’ve caused.
“People would say ‘what are you doing?’ but you live in a bubble and you have to reach a place you’ve never been before and instead of blaming someone else, you have to accept what you’ve done. I was delusional.”
His first meeting at GA left him shaking and terrified. It was a further six months before he felt in control of his addiction.
Today Twaddle runs his own painter and decorator business and fills the void left by decades of gambling by concentrating on his flourishing career as a pool player – he’s now a Scottish internationalist.
“Gambling will take away your dreams and aspirations,” he adds. “It took away mine.
“My football career should have gone a lot further but I was too busy going to the bookies. It’s not the money, it’s the time with my family, watching kids grow up ... that’s what I lost. You can’t get the time back. The money is actually pretty much immaterial.
“Now I try to be a better husband, dad and son every single day. I work hard at being a better person.”
KYLE JOINS INITIATIVE TO COMBAT GROWING PROBLEM
Former Hearts player Kevin Twaddle has been working alongside the players’ organisation PFA Scotland, taking its gambling awareness project to players in the dressing rooms.
He says there are players today who are in the grip of the same problems he faced as a professional. “The amount of people that have come forward to get help since the awareness project began is incredible. There are high-profile people in football struggling with gambling.”
Several high-profile players have revealed the extent of their gambling problems. Last month, former Liverpool and Germany midfielder Dietmar Hamann said he became hooked after his marriage collapsed, at one stage losing £200,000 in a single night.
In January, Ipswich Town’s Michael Chopra and ex-Manchester United player Mark Wilson were given 10-year bans from betting on racing after gambling on horses to lose. Doncaster’s James Coppinger was banned for three years for breaching racing’s rules.
Dominic Matteo, the former Leeds United defender, told how he blew £100,000 betting on a horse. And former West Ham player Matthew Etherington admitted to blowing £1.5m on gambling.
Meanwhile, England stars Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen reportedly fell out over a £700,000 bet, and Scotland player Colin Hendry ended up bankrupt over gambling debts.
In 2009, former Hearts player Kevin Kyle admitted he was addicted to gambling.
Gambling in the game is a global problem. Last week, Fifa banned players and officials in Italy and South Korea over match fixing, while Europol is currently investigating claims that hundreds of games at top level of the sport, including World Cup qualifiers, have been rigged.