A footballer has returned to the non league scene after serving four-year ban from football for betting on matches.
Striker Martin Pilkington, now at Buxton, was one of the most prolific finishers in the Northern Premier League whilst playing for Ashton United.
He scored the winner in a surprise FA Cup win over AFC Fylde, but he had placed a bet of £50 on his own team to lose. The money he was set to win would have been almost 50% of his £220 weekly wage with the club.
A few months into 2014, a new rule from the Football Association stated that players from the top eight tiers of the English football pyramid would be banned if they betted on any football matches across the world.
Pilkington carried on gambling between 2014 and 2016 and he placed 831 bets on the football while still playing for Ashton United.
He was eventually investigated by the FA where they they banned him from playing football for four years in 2016 with the final 12 month under suspension.
The player has since done the time and is back playing, this time for Northern Premier League Premier Division side Buxton.
BBC Sport – FA Cup: Buxton striker Martin Pilkington on gambling addiction and depression https://t.co/CV4mAgcEtG
— Martin Pilkington (@killer_gorton) September 6, 2019
He spoke in an interview, which was published on the BBC Sport website, reflecting back at his troubles and how tough it was, but also how he’s come out the other side and rebuilding his life again.
“Gambling addiction is 100% harmful. Football is everything to me and when I was told I wasn’t allowed to play, I was depressed. I had dark thoughts.
“The FA asked me who I bet with. The question should have been: Who didn’t I bet with? I used to bet with everyone.”
48 bets involved his own team’s matches, 16 were on them to lose with Pilkington making appearances in six of those 16 games.
The FA report stated: “at no time was there any suspicion of match-fixing”.
He explain why he bet on his own team to lose: “If I ever thought we had a tough game, I’d stick the other team in my accumulator.
“Regarding the FA Cup tie with AFC Fylde, it was win-win because we’d get a bonus if we won so I thought if we lost then at least I’ve won some money.
“I think the £100 I would have won if we’d lost was more than the win bonus we received.
“When I told my team-mates I had bet on us to lose in a game I scored the winning goal, they laughed.
“I work for my uncle fitting floors. We’re sub-contractors and it’s unpredictable in terms of how busy we are, so I used to spend days chasing money.
“Playing football was my main income.”
“I’d have a couple of bets in the early 12:30 game. Then I was at it until 10pm because there were always a couple of late Spanish games,” he added.
“I did it all online. Because I wasn’t getting cash out of my pocket, it was easy to lose track of how much I was spending. Whenever I looked at my account it was always down to the bare bones.
“It was definitely an addiction. You just get sucked in.”
He was looked into by the FA after the amount he betted on for Ashton United’s home game to Rushall Olympic in April 2015.
The FA report says the uncle of Martin Pilkington made two bets on that fixture, with an initial stake of £200 returning winnings of £875.
Pilkington admitted to breaching betting regulations and requested a personal hearing which was scheduled to be held at Wembley Stadium.
Though Pilkington couldn’t afford to get to London due to living in poverty and struggling to gain access to his daughter.
Instead, the hearing was held in a Manchester hotel around 10 miles away from his club Ashton United.
He was aware of the rules but failed to read the full document. He also seeked help and went to Gambling Anonymous meetings.
He says: “I was naive. “I never cheated. When I’m on the pitch, I play 100% to win.”
Paul Phillips, his manager at Ashton, was the person who told him how long he was banned from football for.
The player revealed: “When I first heard it was four years, I thought it was a wind-up.
“At first I wasn’t that bothered but as time went on, it hit me hard. I found myself betting more and drinking more.
“There was no help. It was like being thrown out in the trash.
“I’d played football since the age of five. I’d worked my way up from a pub team to the seventh tier of English football.
“Just before the ban, there were clubs watching me. I was scoring a lot of goals and I was in my prime.
“After the ban, it dawned on me that my dream of being a professional was over.
“I massively regret what I did.”
Paul Phillips is now manager of Buxton and ‘had no hesitation’ of bringing him back. “The lad has learned his lesson and deserves a second chance like everyone else,” he said at a hearing.
Lastly, Pilkington said: “My advice to any young players reading this is to stay away from gambling. It really isn’t worth it.”
If you need some help with your depression or gambling addiction, here’s some information…
– National Gambling Helpline Freephone 0808 8020 133
8am-midnight 7 days a week
https://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/addiction/Pages/gamblingaddiction.aspx (includes a short questionnaire, self-help tips and numbers)
– Samaritans 116 123
24 hours, 7 days a week
– Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) – for men
Call 0800 58 58 58 – 5pm to midnight every day
– Childline – for children and young people under 19
Call 0800 1111 – the number won’t show up on your phone bill
After posting the article of his interview on social media, fans took to give their reaction with some praising his honesty – see what they had to say on the next page.