Northern Ireland goalkeeper Trevor Carson has revealed how a gambling addiction left him at “rock bottom”.
The 33-year-old, who currently plays for Scottish Premiership side Motherwell, said he has not placed a bet in more than six years after seeking professional help.
He recalled how his lowest moment came when he spent his last £200 — which he had kept to buy his young daughter a birthday meal and present — at the bookies.
Carson, capped five times by Northern Ireland, was speaking in an interview with football journalist Michael Clarke.
He described how his father would place novelty 50p bets for him at the age of 11 — but what started as fun developed into a serious addiction that almost ruined his life.
Carson said, through the help of support group Gamblers Anonymous, he has now overcome his addiction.
“For years I convinced myself that maybe I didn’t have a problem, or if I wanted to stop that I could stop. I needed that help, I needed to go to Gamblers Anonymous. It changed my life — it definitely did, for the better,” he said.
Carson, from Killyleagh in Co Down, spent five years at Sunderland — a spell which included loan moves to several lower-league clubs.
He later joined Bury, Cheltenham Town and then Hartlepool, before signing for Motherwell in 2017.
Carson said it was at Sunderland when he first realised he had a serious problem.
He described how he had to seek help from the then chairman, former Republic of Ireland striker Niall Quinn, after getting into serious financial difficulties as a result of his gambling.
Speaking to The Michael Clarke Show, he said: “I have no shame in saying I did have a gambling addiction. I got myself in pretty serious debt. I wasn’t earning big money at Sunderland at that time. It was the end of the (2005/06) season and I ended up having to go to the club.
“Niall Quinn was the chairman at the time and I ended up ringing Niall and he couldn’t have been better. He said ‘come over, speak to me’. And I will never forget him, my mum will never forget him, for what he did for me, because I was in a dark place then.
“He got me over, he said to write down my debt — what I owe, who I owe — and he said just forget it. I said no, I have another year on my contract, I will pay you back — deduct it from my wages or whatever, I just need to get my head above water.”
Instead, he said Quinn set him the challenge of competing with the main two goalkeepers. Craig Gordon and Marton Fulop, saving the club from signing a third senior ‘keeper, as a means of paying him back.
Carson made his debut in a July 2006 friendly against Darlington, after Gordon and Fulop got injured, and signed a three-year contract, but never held down a first team spot.
Later, he moved down the leagues, and it was during a spell at Cheltenham that his addiction started to run out of control.
He said he felt “sick” after relapsing after Quinn’s help, adding: “You think that would have been it — I was maybe 19 or 20 at the time, and I still gambled after that. It wasn’t enough for me to give it up.
“It wasn’t until I went to Cheltenham when I was 25 or 26. I had got married in the July, moved to Cheltenham, and my marriage broke up maybe two months later. My partner moved back to Newcastle.”
He added: “That is when it hit rock bottom basically — I lost a lot of money. I didn’t even contact the PFA, I remember Googling, and I went to a Gamblers Anonymous meeting for the first time in my life.
“It was a Tuesday night, November 10, 2015. I always remember the date because it was my last bet. For me, just going into that meeting and sitting around a circle and speaking to other people who had this addiction and illness — that is what helped me.
“I went to meetings, I still do Zoom meetings now just to keep on top of it, because I always know I am one bet away from being in that dark place again.”
Carson told Michael Clarke that one incident sticks in his mind — where he lost money he had saved for his daughter’s birthday — as being a turning point, saying it was the moment he realised he needed help.
He added: “It was my daughter’s birthday on November 4 and she is up in Newcastle and I am going to see her on November 7 or 8 — I can’t remember.
“At the time I had gambled that much money — I think I had £200 to my name. That £200 was enough for me — petrol up to Newcastle, take my daughter out, get her a little present, take her for something to eat and petrol back down. The rest of the month would look after itself.
“I had managed to convince myself that I could make that £200 into £1,000 — that is the gambler’s mindset — I could get her a better present and take her to a nicer restaurant.
“So I went into the bookies, lost the £200. Luckily I was able to go to my grandad, which I did on many occasions, and made up a lie about needing money for this and that, which as a gambling addict you do. You lie and you deceive.
“But for me — I just never forget getting in the car and thinking ‘this can’t go on’.”
It was his darkest moment, he explained, adding: “Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom to accept you have got a problem or to want help, and for me that was my rock bottom."
For Carson, the signs started at an early age, as innocent fun led to an addiction that almost ruined him.
In the podcast, he added: “I can remember back to being 10 or 11 years old — playing football on a Saturday, then I would go with my dad to watch him on a Saturday afternoon playing for Killyleagh or Saintfield — whoever it was.
“You would always meet at the bookies and your dad would put your 50p football bet on for you.
“For me it was sort of instilled in me, and I had it in me.
“When I was at the height of my addiction, the thought of going a week without a bet seemed impossible, but I am six and a half years now without a bet and it is all from going to that one meeting at Gamblers Anonymous.”
Carson is the latest Northern Irish sports person to speak out about problems with gambling.
Former Armagh All-Ireland winner Oisin McConville lost tens of thousands of pounds but has since recovered and trained as a counsellor.
Northern Ireland footballers Kyle Lafferty, Roy Carroll and Keith Gillespie have also publicly discussed their past problems.
Carson said learning to speak to others was the first step to tackling his demons.
“It took a few days for me to build up the courage to go — I accepted that I did have a problem but it just was a pride thing I think,” he added.
“But it is honestly the best thing I have done.
“My advice to anyone out there if they are going through anything similar is to speak — go out, get help. Because it is the best medicine, just speaking.
“Thousands of other people are going through the same thing and need the same help.”
He added: The old saying is one day at a time, and all of a sudden that day becomes a month, and that month becomes a year. For me it is six and a half years down the line.
“If you are at the start of your journey, it might seem daunting, but — for me — just speak out and get help.”
* Anyone affected by gambling can contact the National Gambling Helpline 24 hours a day on 0808 8020 133 or visit the GamCare website.