Heart of Midlothian, Kyle Lafferty, Leagues, Northern Ireland, Scottish Premiership, Story

Despite the penalty call, Steve Nicol still contends the deserving team won between Switzerland and Northern Ireland.
A controversial handball call in the box and the ensuing penalty from Ricardo Rodriguez mean the Swiss hold a huge advantage over Northern Ireland after the first leg.

Kyle Lafferty has urged football to reassess its relationship with bookmakers as he faces up to an addiction he admits he may spend the rest of his life tackling.

Two months ago Hearts and Northern Ireland striker Lafferty publicly admitted gambling was a vice he had been wrestling with his entire career.

This weekend the 30-year-old is back in Switzerland — where he fed his habit with punts on ice hockey during a season at Sion — in a better frame of mind, even if he has been told he faces a lengthy fight battling his demons.

“I was at a Gamblers Anonymous meeting last Wednesday with John Hartson and a guy picked up his 35-year pin,” Lafferty explained. “He’s gone to every single meeting — two a week. I spoke to him after and I said, ‘Why so long?’ He said, ‘You need to do it.’

“There was another guy who said, ‘Whenever you think you are over it there is a chance you could fall back in.’

“You need as much help as you can and there are lots of people who are helping me, and then there will be others who will want me to fail. I’ve finally got my mind in the right place. I’m going to do this for my family and myself.”

The struggle will be greater given his chosen field’s association with bookmakers.

Kyle Lafferty celebrates after netting the opening goal.
Kyle Lafferty has struggled with gambling throughout his career.

When Joey Barton was given an 18-month ban, later reduced to 13, by the Football Association for multiple breaches of its betting regulations, the midfielder decried the sport’s links with the gambling industry.

Lafferty, who was fined by the FA himself in 2016 for breaking betting rules, can see his point.

“Everywhere you look in Scotland it’s the William Hill Cup, the Ladbrokes Premier League and you are playing a game and bet365 is going around advertising boards,” he said.

“No matter what app you put up on your phone there is something to do with betting like live scores. You can’t get away from it. Everywhere you look there is something to do with betting.

“I think people need to look at it because if you have a problem it is difficult to get away from it, unless you are going to be brave and come out about it and get help, and it’s difficult.”

Lafferty credits Hearts, whom he joined in the summer, for their backing and admits he would be keen to remain with them until he calls it a day.

His career has spanned five countries already, including in Italy, where he scored more goals for Palermo than either Paulo Dybala or Andrea Belotti, both of whom are now considered two of Europe’s leading strikers.

Lafferty was also his country’s talisman in their qualification for Euro 2016, scoring seven times as they made it to France, but he is not even assured of a starting place for Northern Ireland’s crunch World Cup playoff second leg against Switzerland on Sunday.

However, should boss Michael O’Neill retain him, he will be selecting a player who, in Lafferty’s words, has lifted “a massive weight off my shoulders” and one who has even taken up golf to occupy the time he used to spending gambling.

“I’m willing to do anything as long as it gets me away from being in the house by myself,” he said.”Obviously I have a TV and there is a bookies around the corner from me so if I have to be in a bunker for half a day rather than being in the bookies I’ll do that.”

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