Hearts to stand by Kyle Lafferty after he reveals his gambling addiction
Hearts chairwoman Ann Budge has vowed to stand by Kyle Lafferty after the striker admitted he is battling a gambling addiction.
The Northern Ireland international admits he has lost thousands of pounds as a result of his problem but believes opening up about his demons will aid his recovery.
Lafferty was fined £23,000 by the Football Association last summer after breaking betting rules during his time at Norwich.
Now he has given a tell-all interview to BBC Scotland in which in details the depths of his struggles.
The 30-year-old admits his issues began after he made his 2008 switch from Burnley to Rangers.
"About halfway through my contract with Rangers I didn't have anything better to do after training than go to the bookies or sit online," he said. "Betting on football had been banned and, if anything, things got worse. I'd bet on horses instead.
"I knew absolutely nothing about horses. I still don't have a clue. I open the app on my phone and go by the colour of the jersey or the name. If it's a winner, it's a winner; if it's not, it's not, and I move on to the next one.
"It was every day on the horses and every single race. I was betting on anything; horses, dogs, virtual racing, roulette.
"There's been times when I've lost big. I don't want to go into figures, but I've lost on the roulette and then I'd be so close to getting it all back. I might be a grand or two from getting it back and I'd keep on going.
"I'd be up two or three grand and I'd end up losing the lot. It didn't affect me at all because I knew I was about to get a move and there'd be a signing on fee or there was a bonus coming and it would make up for the money I lost.
"The thing is, I'm one of these people who could wake up in the morning and feel absolutely shattered, then I can flick a button and I'm hyper, I'm the clown and I'm doing the jokes. I'm taking my anger out on the training pitch. Football was my escape."
Lafferty - who was sent to the Sporting Chance Clinic following his FA charge - has thanked Budge, Tynecastle boss Craig Levein and Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill for their help and support and his club chiefs have now declared they will do all they can to back the player.
A statement from Budge said: " On behalf of everyone here at Hearts, I would like to formally record our total support for Kyle Lafferty as he moves forward to deal with his acknowledged addiction to gambling.
"Kyle took the enormously brave step of coming to the club and asking for help. No one should underestimate how difficult that decision was for him and his family. However, as is well recognised, the first step to dealing with a problem of this nature is to acknowledge that the problem exists. He has earned our great respect for doing so.
"Kyle has the total backing of the coaching staff and his team-mates as he deals with this challenge. It is a testament to the great footballer and character he is, that he has in no way allowed his personal battle to affect his performance on the training ground or on the football field. For the avoidance of doubt, Kyle will continue to train and play as normal.
"Heart of Midlothian has a tremendous fanbase that follows the team in huge numbers both home and away. They have taken Kyle to their hearts since he joined the club in the summer and I have absolutely no doubt that they will continue to back him as we all strive to help him deal with this enormous personal problem."
Lafferty's international manager O'Neill, who the striker has frequently credited for turning around his Northern Ireland career, also later released a statement in support of his striker.
"I admire Kyle for speaking so openly and honestly about his battle with gambling," O'Neill said through the Irish Football Association's website.
"We have talked about it at length and I have assured him that he has the full support of me, my staff and everyone at the Irish Football Association as he aims to overcome this addiction."