Q & A: Ray Parlour on football's relationship with betting
Gambling Online Magazine caught up with Ray Parlour at this year’s London Affiliate Conference (LAC), where the former Arsenal and England midfielder was representing operator ComeOn. Among other topics, the 45-year-old discusses betting culture in football, Arsenal’s chances of success with Unai Emery as manager and one of the best weeks of his life.
Can you tell us a bit about your partnership with ComeOn and how you’re finding LAC?
I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve always loved betting. I often used to bet on horses and greyhounds while I was a footballer, so when ComeOn asked me if I wanted to be one of their ambassadors, I said I’d love to. I give them my predictions every week, and it’s been really good fun.
Footballers in England are not allowed to bet on any football now. What were the rules like in your time as a player?
I don’t think there were a lot of rules. Of course, you’d never go against yourself, but if you’re betting on yourself to win, I don’t see a problem with it, because you’re trying to win the game anyway. But I think they’ve got it right now, because if they say you can bet on certain things in football and not on other things, it’s too confusing. Players can still bet on horses and other sports, but when you may have inside information, it can give you an unfair advantage. You could argue I can’t affect Scunthorpe United vs. Colchester United for example, but then the rules would become too cloudy.
What was the betting culture like among footballers when you played?
We played a lot of cards, as we travelled by coach a lot. Players used to bet on horses quite often. I think it was due to the buzz you got out of it. As much as people think footballers don’t need to bet, because they’ve got a lot of money, they still get a buzz out of it, especially as a lot of the guys were working class, and it’s a part of working-class culture.
There is still a problem with gambling in football though. People don’t talk so much about alcohol in football anymore, but gambling is still an issue, because footballers have got a lot of spare time. I think if you went to any clinic for footballers now, there would be more people with gambling addictions there than there would any other kind of addiction.
Are players perhaps looked after better off the pitch than they used to be?
Agents and financial advisers are much more involved these days. I’m sure their money is looked after much better. Most players have financial advisers now, buying properties for them and doing all sorts of things, because there’s so much money involved in the sport. It’s just about knowing what your limits are. You have to know it’s not going to affect your family or your life in general. If you can get that right balance, there’s nothing wrong with it. Obviously, Paul Merson had a problem, but he was one of a large number players that used to bet. Hopefully, that’s still the case. There will always be some people who have problems with it, but if they get the right help, then hopefully they can come through it.
Looking at Arsenal today, you said recently they are where they should be, but how far away do you think they are from being able to compete for league titles again?
They’re quite a way off yet. Man City and Liverpool are on a different level at the moment. I’d put Spurs in that category as well. I think they will have a few problems moving to the new stadium. Arsenal need a few transfer windows and for Unai Emery to get his own messages across to the team. He needs to bring more players in and needs to be given a chance. There has been talk about fans wanting him out already, which is ridiculous. Sometimes you don’t get a chance, but I don’t think Arsenal are the sort of club to sack managers quickly, so they will give him an opportunity. I’m a supporter, so I hope they do well, but nothing is guaranteed in the Premier League.
People talk about the mentality issue of being able to get over the line and win the first title. When you won your first title in 1998, how important was it for you to play with players who had won it before?
It was always difficult, but we had the backbone of players who had done it before. Lee Dixon, Nigel Winterburn, Tony Adams and Steve Bould had all previously won it and that was a big plus for us. We had players that had won the league back in 1989 and were still there. That helped us go into a season with more belief and confidence.
This is an issue for Liverpool at the moment, and it is a massive season for them. If they can somehow get over the line, then that’s a big plus going forward, because they’ve put all their best players on long-term contracts and will have the stability they need, and once they win that first one, they could then win two or three in the next four or five years. If they lose it though, then all the same questions will be asked again about whether Jurgen Klopp can win things with them. Football is a cutthroat business and it’s all about winning trophies. It’s no good coming second, because people never remember who came second.
Despite the culture off the pitch at Arsenal, the club still had a winning mentality. How much more difficult is it for players to have that mentality now, when they have so much, so young?
You’ll never be able to prevent that issue. My first wage was £250 per week, and then in the first team, there was a £300 win bonus. You’d still try and win anyway, but it’s so different these days. If you had said to me ten years ago players would be sold for more than £100m, I would have said you were mad. It’s not the players’ fault that the money has got like that, but so long as they’ve got the right mentality, I don’t see a problem with it. There were players who earned more than me at Arsenal, but so long as they put the effort in every week and played well, who’s bothered? Once you sign that contract, it’s down to you. You should be happy with your contract if you signed it.
You won three Premier League titles. Would you swap any of those to win the Champions League?
I still think the league title is the most important one. You have to play 38 games to win the league, and the best team will always win it and the worst team will finish bottom of the table. It’s a marathon. As much as I would have loved to have won the Champions League, you need a bit of luck along the way. One bad decision, and you’re out of the cup. The league doesn’t lie. You can have a bad decision during the season, but you can still win the league. I would stick with the three Premier League titles.
Who would you bet on to win the Premier League this season?
I’ve got a lot of Liverpool-supporting mates who are desperate for them to win it, but I’ve got a sneaky feeling Man City might just do it. That would be the first time they’ve retained it, which would be massive for them. I don’t know who I would really want to win it. Liverpool have never won the Premier League, and I could really see them pushing on after they’ve won it the first time, but I do have a feeling Man City will win it. Spurs are still in the title race too. They’ve still got to go to Man City and Liverpool. They’ve been brilliant this season, considering they didn’t sign any players in the summer or in January. Mauricio Pochettino has done a brilliant job. You never know, but bookmakers don’t get it wrong too often.
One of your finest days was your goal in the 2002 FA Cup final against Chelsea. How does that rank among your best moments in football?
That was one of the best weeks of my life. It was very tiring, as we beat Manchester United at Old Trafford to win the title on the Wednesday, after we’d beaten Chelsea on the Saturday to win the FA Cup. I remember running through, and I didn’t think there were many players running alongside me. I think Sylvain Wiltord was to the left of me, but wasn’t in open space, and it just opened up for me. Marcel Desailly turned his back, which you can’t do as a Chelsea player, and it just crept in the top corner. You might do that every day in training, but you don’t get many opportunities to do it in a game.
I scored in the FA Cup final and then got man of the match in the game at Old Trafford, so it can’t really get much better than that.
You celebrated quite hard after the FA Cup win too, didn’t you?
Yes, I went out on a session for a couple of days. It seemed to help me. I call it fuel!
By David Cook