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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.

Gillespie was back in Belfast on Monday to launch his book in the local Easons – and another current story made it into his conversations with various journalists.

The well-known and highly talented Tyrone footballer Cathal McCarron has just revealed his own gambling addiction and, like other GAA stars before him, he is receiving help from the Gaelic Players Association.

Tyrone boss Mickey Harte has admitted that he’s known of McCarron’s problems for some time.

“Football is a secondary issue for Cathal right now,” said Harte as the player tries to come to terms and to grips with his problem.

Like Harte, Gillespie offered support and sympathy for McCarron on Monday and urged the player to contact him if he can help.

Their sports may be different but their stories are very similar. And they are not the only ones afflicted by this gambling bug.

It is an issue that sport needs to address and one, as Jimmy Magee will readily tell you, the major bodies are trying to tackle. We can only hope they succeed.

(Cathal Dervan is sports editor of the Irish Sun newspaper in Dublin)

Sideline Views

SOCCER: Jason McAteer got married in Limerick on Saturday and a fine time was had by all present at the reception which followed in the Dromoland Castle resort out by Shannon Airport. Funniest moment of the day came as we awaited the arrival of the bride in the church -- she was late, of course -- and word crept from the back of the congregation that Liverpool had taken the lead against Crystal Palace. That went down very well with the English visitors.

SOCCER: Great line from interim Ireland boss Noel King on Monday when he confirmed that he has seen Friday night’s opponents Germany – on his son’s FIFA 14 game on PlayStation. Apparently the Germans impressed King in their computer mode – wait till he seems them in the flesh in Cologne on Friday night!

GRAND PRIX: Lewis Hamilton had to reverse this week and retract his claims that world champion-elect Sebastian Vettel is “boring.” It’s a pity then that their sport is boring the pants off most of us in this part of the world these days. The proof in the pudding is the fact that their spat is more interesting than their racing.

GOLF: Great Britain and Ireland lost the bi-annual Seve Trophy to Continental Europe last weekend – not that anyone in Ireland really cared. There wasn’t an Irishman on the team despite the name, so those of us who care about Irish golf won’t cry too many tears over rumors of the event’s demise.

SOCCER: New Sunderland manager Gus Poyet has promised to quickly sort out the mess he has inherited from Paolo Di Canio. It may take him longer than he expects, but with Sunderland rooted to the bottom of the Premier League surely things can only get better for all concerned.

RUGBY: The 2015 Heineken Cup final will be played at the San Siro stadium in Milan that normally serves as host venue to soccer giants AC and Inter. It’s a great ground so hopefully there will be a Heineken Cup final next season.

HERO OF THE WEEK

Anthony Stokes is back in the Ireland squad and in fine form if his goal against Motherwell for Celtic on Saturday is anything to go by.  Ignored by Giovanni Trapattoni because of his poor attitude, Stokes insists he has learned his lesson and is ready to take his second chance with Ireland. Let’s hope he proves it on the pitch against Germany on Friday night. Everyone deserves a second chance after all.

IDIOT OF THE WEEK

Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere is an idol to many kids and a role model to many more across the globe. So what the hell was he doing posing for a photograph last week with a cigarette in his mouth? As a professional sportsman he should know a whole lot better. At least his Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has thrown the book at him.

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