Suffolk/Essex: Ex-footballer John Taylor’s gambling addiction drove him to brink of suicide

Former professional footballer John Taylor

Former professional footballer John Taylor - Credit: Archant

Ex-professional footballer John Taylor lived the high life during his illustrious career in which he made more than 500 league appearances and scored 153 goals. But underneath his confident exterior was a compulsive gambling habit which spanned 35 years.

John Taylor playing for Cambridge United

John Taylor playing for Cambridge United - Credit: Archant

“I would bet on anything – horses, dogs, the next coloured car to come down the road.”

That is John Taylor’s frank admission about how his gambling addiction spiralled out of control for more than three decades.

The 49-year-old, who lives in north Suffolk, was adopted by two school teachers – one headmaster and one head of mathematics – from Felixstowe.

“I didn’t want for anything but I wasn’t spoilt. We had a holiday every year,” he recalled. “But living in a seaside town I used to enjoy going to play in the arcades as a child. I suppose I was 14 when I first started to enjoy playing the fruit machines.

“At the time I never thought I had a problem. I was just a young lad growing up and putting a bit of money in the fruit machines.

“But then I was working and spent all my money on it.

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“My first job was working for a shipping company and my dad said he would sub me the first month so when I got paid that money was all mine.

“My first pay packet was £166.67 but by the time I got my second wage, it had already gone.”

John’s career soon took a different turn and he found himself travelling the country playing professional football and earning large amounts of money. He played for Cambridge United, making more than 330 appearances, and spent five years there in the glory days of promotions and visits to Wembley in the FA Cup quarter final.

He also enjoyed spells at Colchester United, Bristol Rovers, Bradford City, Luton Town and Lincoln City before getting into non-league with Mildenhall and Walsham-le-Willows.

“Looking back at being so successful with Cambridge at that time was not the best because when it came to egos, I had the biggest of the lot,” he said.

“The money all disappeared quickly,” he added.

John gambled for the best part of 35 years. Describing his life he said: “It was unreasonable and unfair on others and just total chaos.

“My behaviour was soul destroying and destructive for everyone around me. But to me it was just my normal way of thinking and living.

“I have been married three times and gambling had a bearing on those relationships. I have ruined people’s lives with the fact that I was a selfish, inconsiderate, arrogant, conniving liar.

“I thought I controlled the world. Everything had to be on my terms and I wouldn’t do anything unless there was something in it for me.

“I wasn’t a nice person but I thought I was fantastic. You don’t see that you are lying and covering things up. I thought I was a fantastic liar and had it down to a fine art.”

John, who has been married to Jacquelin since 2010, first attended a Gamblers Anonymous (GA) meeting in 2007 but soon realised he was not ready to accept defeat.

He added: “I went to a few meetings and got some answers to solve some of my financial problems, put them in place and continued to gamble.”

It was not until December 17, 2012, that he returned to GA when he had hit rock bottom, and for the second time he contemplated taking his own life.

“I was driving over the Orwell Bridge and there was an opportunity not to reach the other side,” he explained. “I had three credit cards and two loans they were all maxed out.”

John, who has two daughters, aged 14 and 17, who live with their mother in Stowmarket, added: “Amazingly when I told my wife everything, it was a major relief. It was like someone had taken a weight off my shoulders.

“Although she didn’t know what to expect, she was relieved to know there was a problem.

“I walked into the Colchester GA meeting and was asked to tell my story. Just by the outpouring of grief I knew it was the right time. That day I knew gambling had beaten me.”

It soon became clear to John that the recovery process was an ongoing one with a 12 step GA programme.

“Slowly with the experience, strength and hope you get at GA, and by using a very simple programme one day at a time, it’s allowed me to look at myself,” he said. “I’m now working towards stability. I’m content in my life and have got some degree of peace in my daily life and in the principles I follow don’t associate with people who bet, don’t go into betting establishments, go to GA meetings and don’t carry cash.

“Remembering the very first day I walked into a GA meeting makes it very difficult to want to have a bet because I can see the consequences. I would lose my life. There would be no question about it.

“One of my friends at GA gave me this brilliant analogy: ‘An arsonist comes out of prison. Would you give him a box of matches, some paper and some petrol?’ And it’s really quite simple, the obvious answer is no because you know exactly what would happen and that’s the same with me if I have money, time and a desire, I would go gambling.”

John has admitted he will always be a compulsive gambler, like he is an alcoholic.

“It’s an illness and it can never be cured but it can be arrested,” he explained. “Did I wake up this morning and want to have bet? No. Did I wake up this morning and want to have a drink? No.

“But the problem was when I did want to drink and gamble I couldn’t stop. One glass of wine and one bet was never enough for me and that’s where the problem is.

“I haven’t had a drink since a couple of weeks after I placed my last bet on December 17, 2012. I had a life detox.”

At the same time as first attending GA, John separately saw a counsellor and found some more answers from within in relation to his adoption and adolescence.

“If you asked what people thought of me they would say I was the life and soul of the party but really I had very low self-esteem and didn’t like myself.

“I realised then that I had some attachment issues because of my adoption and I now see some things in my life that I hadn’t been able to see and look at things in a different light.”

Three months ago John suffered a heart attack which made him respect his life even more and, despite his life-changing gambling addiction, he has “absolutely no regrets”.

He said: “I look back at my life and will learn from the mistakes I have made.

“If I hadn’t gambled, I wouldn’t be sitting here now having had these life experiences. And I certainly wouldn’t have my children and they are the most important thing in my life. If people have friends or family who don’t know where to turn, there is a GA meeting for everyone.

“I get up in the morning and I know that, for me, life will get better if I don’t have a bet. So just for today, I will not gamble.”