Belfast Telegraph

I've got a gambling addiction: Northern Ireland star Kyle Lafferty opens up in stunning interview

Northern Ireland star Kyle Lafferty has revealed his fears that his Euro 2016 hopes had been blown in a bookies in East Kilbride.

The Enniskillen man was eventually found guilty of breaking FA gambling rules and handed a £23,000 fine but in an extensive interview with the BBC, Lafferty says he had worried his actions could have ruined his whole career.

It all centred on a bet he place on February 20 last year, a double on both teams to scores in the Beal Betis v Sporting Gijon and Celta Vigo v Eibar fixtures.

"I'd had a few winners the day before, so I had cash on me," Lafferty told the BBC.

"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."

Lafferty says his honesty helped him escape a greater punishment from the Football Association.

He said: "It was leading up to the Euros and I had all sorts going through my head, thinking I was going to be banned, but I'd have had no-one to blame but myself had that happened. I put my career on the line.

"Now I'm ready to say I've got an addiction to gambling."

Lafferty, now playing at Hearts, revealed that he has 'lost big' in the past but that wasn't enough to worry him as he knew a big signing-on fee or bonus would cover any losses.

The Northern Ireland star is now opening up about his issues in the hope of beating them once and for all and also helping others who may have similar sturggles. The 30 year-old has already been honest with Hearts and Northern Ireland coach Austin MacPhee as well as NI boss Michael O'Neill, Craig Levein and former Celtic ace John Hartson.

"I'm glad we're on the same side now," Lafferty continued. "I want to show them that I'm here to sort my career and my life out. If I don't go to meetings I know Austin will be on the phone and Craig will probably slap me across the head. I've got to sort this out.

"I know I'm going to take all sorts of grief off fans of other clubs. It's a big thing to do what I'm doing.

"I know Hearts fans and my team-mates will be behind me, though. I'm not talking about this because I'm looking for sympathy.

"I could have got help in private and nobody would have known about it. I want to do it publicly because I want to be honest and if there are any other footballers who are addicted to gambling, then maybe me speaking about my battle might help them."

Both Lafferty's club Hearts and the IFA have said they will stand by Lafferty.

"I admire Kyle for speaking so openly and honestly about his battle with gambling," said Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill. "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."

Hearts chairwoman Ann Budge also backed the forward.

"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," read a statement.

"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."

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