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Peter Shilton looks "10 years younger" after beating £18,000-a-month addiction

Mirror 26/09/2022 James Moore

From playing the lottery to a flutter on the horses, many of us place the occasional bet. But for some people, like former England goalkeeper Peter Shilton, gambling stops being fun and leads to a devastating addiction.

Over 45 years, Peter, who became the nation’s most capped player and starred in three World Cups, lost millions to his habit. Now his wife Steph, 53, who helped him beat the addiction, is hoping to support other people whose loved ones have a gambling disorder, through charity ARA’s pioneering Six to Ten Project.

Based on research that found the gambling addiction of one person impacts six to 10 others, it provides resources from counselling to financial advice. “As a loved one you are just as much a victim as the addict,” explains Steph. “It’s like being hit by a tornado.”

The former NHS manager and jazz singer first met Peter, now 73, in 2012 after he had split from his first wife. The pair fell in love and set up home in Essex together. When Steph later spotted him making secretive phone calls, she imagined he was having an affair. The truth eventually became clear – he had a gambling problem. She discovered Peter was losing huge amounts – £18,000 in one month and £800,000 to one betting company alone. Steph could see it was also harming his wellbeing.

“You could tell by the mood swings,” she says. “I could tell when he had money and when he didn’t. I knew he was going through mental anguish. He later said he had times where he wanted to be sick in the morning. It definitely affected him physically. In the thick of it, he lost weight and looked older than he was.” While Steph raised his gambling with Peter, she says he was in “complete denial”. And his habit was taking a toll on her.

“There were times when I cried myself to sleep,” she admits. While she never threatened to leave, Steph did move into their spare room at one point. It triggered Peter to realise he had a serious problem. But, after going cold turkey in 2015, he got withdrawal symptoms. “People don’t think of it as a health problem, but it’s like heroin ­addiction,” says Steph. “I’d seen people go through drug withdrawal and it was exactly the same – the restlessness, inability to concentrate and hot sweats.”

HAVE YOUR SAY! What are you memories of Peter Shilton the goalkeeper? Let us know in the comments section

Peter Shilton won 125 caps for England after making his international debut in November 1970 by Alf Ramsey © Bob Thomas/Getty Images Peter Shilton won 125 caps for England after making his international debut in November 1970 by Alf Ramsey

The process took its toll on her too. “From the moment he quit I felt like I was carrying everything on my shoulders,” she says. “I felt very alone through it. It sapped my energy. There’s also a stigma about gambling addiction, and with Peter’s fame I didn’t know who I could trust. It would have been so good if I could just have had someone on the end of the phone, which is why I’m now so passionate about helping others.” Steph kept reassuring Peter he had an illness and encouraged him to take up golf as a diversion. “Trust is a massive issue, it took a long time to build up,” she says, adding, “at the time I felt he resented me a little bit. I found that hard.”

It took a year for Peter to recover. But she gradually “started to see that strain had gone – it was lovely to see. He even looked 10 years younger”. Peter has since thanked her for helping him through his addiction. “He’ll often say, ‘I’d never have done this if it wasn’t for you.’” The pair wed in 2016 and Step says their marriage is stronger than ever. “I’d be a liar to say I don’t have a few scars,” she says. “It was an uphill battle, but it’s cemented us so well.” Steph thinks footballers are at particular risk because they are used to highs from a young age. But anyone can be affected. “I was his antidote,” she says. “I was key to his recovery so that’s where support needs to be channelled.”

For more information about the Six to Ten Project, visit thesixtoten.co.uk

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