The Shameful Scourge of Gambling in Football: The Ivan Toney Case
A Tale of Two Sides
An old school chum of mine was once enthralled by the gambling demon. His addiction was not merely a whim or fancy, but rather a suffocating vice that once drove him to the precipice of life, on the ledge of a bridge, contemplating the abyss. It led him to highways, where he pushed his car to horrific speeds, gambling with his life after losing at casinos.
His tale is far from unique. Though he managed to drag himself away from the brink, many do not find such strength. It’s difficult to grasp the life of a problem gambler, a slave to addiction. Yet, his candid confession provides us a glimpse into the agony. “A hamster wheel of misery,” he called it in an open letter to Brigid Simmonds, chair of the Betting & Gaming Council, and Michael Dugher, then shadow secretary of state for culture, media and sport.
“Gambling owns them. Lives in them. Comforts them. Loathes them. Goads them. Waits for them around every corner. Pretends to be their friend while simultaneously destroying the very core of their being.” Such revelations cast long shadows across the world of football, littered as it is with contradictions and hypocrisies. And one such shadow fell across Ivan Toney, the Brentford striker.
The Unravelling of Ivan Toney
A few years ago, there would have been multiple articles condemning Toney as a fool. How could he, as a Premier League footballer, have brought upon himself an eight-month ban through gambling? The sheer folly of it is staggering. But you can’t help but feel there’s a wider debate to be had, a discussion more worthwhile than chastising Toney without all the facts in hand.
At present, the Football Association (FA) has yet to release the written reasons for Toney’s ban. We know not the specifics of his bets, nor if insider information was exploited from his time with Brentford and his previous clubs, Peterborough United and Newcastle United, including his loan spells at Wigan Athletic and Scunthorpe United.
What we do know is that Toney was initially charged with 262 violations of betting rules between February 2017 and January 2021, with 30 charges later withdrawn. His confession to these offences has cost him dearly, with a ban in place until mid-January of next year. He is even forbidden from training with Brentford until mid-September.
The Conundrum of Betting in Football
There are strict rules and severe consequences for those in football who gamble. Yet, why do they do it? Is it boredom? Recklessness? An abundance of money? Or, like my friend, has Toney been ensnared by the cruel mistress that is gambling? Could there be mitigating circumstances that brought Toney to this juncture?
Despite all these uncertainties, one thing is clear: the sport is awash with temptation, and the lures of betting are omnipresent.
Last year, there was a the court case of two former pros, Alan Rogers and Steven Jennings, accused of blackmailing a football manager who admitted to a gambling addiction. Their case was dropped due to the reluctance of the victim to proceed, and a court order was put in place to protect his identity.
The revelations from that case were shocking, not least the fact that the manager had gambled away nearly £879,000 over two years, incurring losses of £270,000. His spiralling addiction, and the intense pressure it brings, is an issue football seems almost indifferent to.
A Game of Contradictions
One can’t help but notice the industry’s glaring contradiction. On the one hand, it vehemently prohibits betting within its ranks while, on the other, it brazenly promotes it. Every time Toney donned Brentford’s jersey this season, the club’s front-of-shirt sponsor, Hollywoodbets, was prominently displayed. When he signed for Brentford, they were playing in the Skybet Championship. Brentford’s owner, Matthew Benham, amassed his fortune from a betting and data-analysis firm. Football stadiums, television screens, and media outlets, all awash with betting advertisements.
The FA, to its credit, has acknowledged this dichotomy. In 2017, they ended their contract with Ladbrokes and announced they would no longer have a betting partner. Under government pressure, Premier League clubs also agreed to remove betting firms’ names from their shirts by the 2026-27 season. Despite these changes, gambling advertising continues on shirt sleeves and pitch perimeter ads.
Before Toney, there was Joey Barton, who was slapped with an 18-month ban in 2017. Barton brought attention