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Forget the Old Firm rivalry, Kyle Lafferty needs my help, says Celtic legend Hartson

Former gambling addict to aid Lafferty's recovery

By Graham Luney

John Hartson and Kyle Lafferty may have had very different allegiances when it came to the Old Firm, but now the two are united behind one goal - to help the Fermanagh man overcome his gambling addiction.

Northern Ireland international Lafferty confessed to his betting demons this week, revealing he had lost thousands of pounds over the past decade.

The 30-year-old added: "With the mindset I had, a grand was like a tenner. I knew it was against the rules to bet on football, but when you've got an addiction you just want to win that money back. I knew it was wrong, but I did it anyway."

Rangers old boy Lafferty, who was fined £23,000 by the Football Association last year for punts on matches, explained how he hit rock bottom when he hurled abuse at betting staff for closing his account.

Hartson had left the Hoops by the time Lafferty arrived at Ibrox in 2008, but now their paths have crossed as the Welshman has promised to help steer the former Norwich City striker through a gambling storm.

The former Wales international said in 2011 he owed one bookmaker over £300,000 and also had to borrow money from friends to feed his addiction.

He has been down this path before and knows how tough it can be to escape the nightmare. That's why he's willing to help others, including Lafferty.

"When I was at my rock bottom and I needed help, there was help there for me," said Hartson.

"I like to help others and I've helped several individuals over the last four or five years in the best way that I can.

"Kyle is no different. The fact that he's a professional footballer is completely irrelevant to my thinking.

"The boy needs my help and I'm going to do my utmost to help him, irrespective of what team he plays for, where he comes from or what he does.

"He's approached me, he wants my help and I'm going to give it to him.

"It doesn't matter what relationship he has with certain fans - he needs my help."

Lafferty sought the 42-year-old's advice before giving an honest account of his problems and now the healing process can begin.

Craig Levein admits Hearts did not know the scale of Lafferty's gambling problems when they signed him - but insists it would have made no difference to their decision.

Both boss Levein and owner Ann Budge have vowed to help Lafferty through his struggles.

Asked if he knew just how bad Lafferty's problem was before signing him on a free transfer from Norwich during the summer, the Gorgie manager said: "No. When we signed him we obviously did background checks.

"Yeah, maybe there were some things (indicating) he liked a bet, but it wasn't at the forefront of our thoughts when he joined. It was only four or five weeks ago that he approached (assistant boss) Austin MacPhee and explained the situation he was in.

"Since then we've done everything we can to help him. He needs to help himself, but by going public he's shown he's serious about it.

"Would it have put us off signing him had we known beforehand? That's a tough question, but I don't think so.

"Looking at it purely from a football point of view, he has had these problems for ages and, credit to him, he even managed to play at the Euros while it was going on, which I just find remarkable."

Lafferty has thanked the Jambos for their backing and Levein is just relieved his player is facing up to the problem.

"I imagine it would be a weight off his shoulders now," he said. "He's a human being. If he's got these worries in his head it must have an effect."

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