Just about everyone who reads this will at some stage in their lives encounter someone whose life has been scarred by an addiction to alcohol or drugs. Careers come crashing to a halt, relationships disintegrate and lives are quite literally ruined.
Most people easily compute what addiction means. There is perhaps less of a tendency to accept that gambling is an addiction too and that behaviour can become habit forming with all the same consequences as if the behaviour was anchored to drink or drugs.
Brian Rice’s decision to report himself for a breach of the SFA’s rules on gambling is both correct and courageous. The behaviour is serious since it involves a course of conduct over four seasons. The authorities rightly have to protect the integrity of the game by ensuring that there is no whiff of scandal that compromises fair play.
I didn’t really appreciate how gambling can control a life until I listened this morning to the former Celtic footballer John Hartson. Hartson is a great ambassador for standing up for players and managers who need help.
The Welshman has defeated both cancer and a gambling addiction. But listen to his words. He told the BBC: “It took me to the depths. The cancer took me to my knees and ripped me to pieces mentally and physically. I can honestly say as much as that was my life, stopping gambling and becoming clean has not only saved my life, it’s given me a life. Gambling no longer controls what I do”.
Stopping gambling changed Hartson’s life. He thinks he could be dead if he hadn’t stopped. Let me repeat that, he thinks he would be dead. That’s the horror addiction can lead to.
I have heard and been embarrassed by football supporters who taunt the former players of other clubs who have had problems with drink. Football stands can on occasions be the conduit for what some supporters see as good old wind-up. Making fun of addiction isn’t funny and I hope that whatever team you follow there will be sympathy for Brian Rice. His honesty should be applauded and not seen as fit for misplaced humour.
Every time Rice placed a bet he knew he was breaking the rules but the compulsive nature of his addiction always trumped rational thought telling him to exit the bookmakers. He probably felt bad, possibly physically sick and wracked by guilt knowing that he was gambling on his career as well as on the outcome of games.
The SFA should find a way of registering its disapproval in a proportionate way but also in a way that recognises the behaviour for what it is: an addiction.
The football community on occasions of disaster can come together in shows of impressive unity. This is a personal tragedy but thankfully one that need not be enduring.
Scottish football should acknowledge Rice’s bravery and offer a helping hand. It is what anyone would do for a relation, a friend, a work colleague. Rice deserves help and support and I for one wish him all the best.