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Organized gambling a greater threat to professional sport than doping

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Keith Gillespie author of
Keith Gillespie author of "How Not to Be a Football Millionaire"

If you have even half an Irish bone in your body, you will know of the greatest sports broadcaster this land has ever produced -- a man by the name of Jimmy Magee.

Jimmy -- and he won’t mind me saying it -- is a veteran of the microphone and a walking encyclopedia of all things sporting on the domestic and international stage.

A noted boxing aficionado, he is also a keen soccer man whose son Paul tragically lost his life to motor neurone disease some years ago. Paul was a player of some potential with Shamrock Rovers in the Johnny Giles era.

Known affectionately as the memory man, Jimmy has attended more World Cup finals than even Sepp Blatter and more Olympic Games than Seb Coe.

He is as happy taking hurling with a man in Ennis as he is chatting about soccer with the great Pele in Rio De Janeiro. He is a man of the people who is loved by the people.

There are many great stories told about Jimmy and by Jimmy, and my own favorite concerns the European Championships back in 1988 when all the glitz and glamor of a major soccer tournament was new to Ireland fans and those of traveling in their wake.

It wasn’t new to Jimmy of course. He had been to such events many times before and has been back many times since. But he did wonder at the Irish experience as the big event new boys lapped it all up.

The morning after the famous draw with Russia in Hannover, the night of the Ronnie Whelan goal, Jimmy was out for a walk when two Irish fans approached him with a simple request.

Asking if he was indeed the memory man, to which Jimmy replied in the affirmative, they had a small question to ask the great Louth native as they struggled to recover from another night of celebration.

“If you are the memory man, could you tell us where we’re staying, we haven’t a bloody clue?” they asked of the RTE commentator.

Alas not even the great Jimmy Magee could guess where two men he’d never met in his life before were staying in a strange German city, but I’m sure they’ve dined out on the tale many times since the summer of ‘88.

Jimmy himself also tells that story regularly and it never fails to get a laugh. He is also fond of another tale for regular telling, a tale that stems from his role as president of our sports writers association in Ireland, ASJI as it is known officially.

As our top man, Jimmy regularly travels to major international conferences where top sports bodies and the media discuss the future for both their industries.

One message comes back from such events on a regular basis – the threat to professional sport of organized gambling. It is a threat, believe it or not, that is bigger than doping.

Big and small organizations across the globe are seriously worried by the threat legal and illegal betting poses to their sports. Match fixing is a scandal that has affected everything from soccer to snooker in recent years, and it is a growing problem.

Taxi drivers in the Far East regularly astound Irish tourists with their knowledge of domestic football in Ireland.  Some of them know the First Division here inside out, and there are very few Irish fans who could match them for their insight into the form of Athlone Town or Waterford United.

Gambling on results isn’t just a worry for sports organizations, however. It is also something that can affect some of the biggest and smallest names who kick a football or pot a ball or chase around a track for fun or for a living -- or for both.

This week, we got an insight into the torment suffered by gambling addicts from two very well known sportsmen.

Keith Gillespie, a footballer from Belfast who never lived up to his potential at Manchester United, has just written a fascinating and compelling book with soccer writer Daniel McDonnell of the Irish Independent.

In How Not to Be a Football Millionaire, Gillespie offers a harrowing account of how he gambled a staggering $10 million during his time as a professional footballer before finally sitting down one day, adding it all up and deciding that enough was enough.

His honest account of his own misfortune is both frightening and essential and well worth a read ahead of the Christmas book rush.

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