PICTURE By Colin Ewart shows Williams in Aberystwyth Town colours this season.
A FORMER Wrexham AFC footballer has opened up about his battle with a gambling addiction as he sets off on a new journey in life to help support others facing the same struggle.
Attacker Marc Williams, now 32 years old and living in Old Colwyn, has enjoyed a fantastic career in football.
He is a much-loved character at National League side Wrexham AFC, having spent six years there and was also a huge part of the Llandudno side promoted to the Welsh Premier League (now JD Cymru Premier) for the first time in their history ahead of the 2015/16 season.
The club enjoyed a remarkable first season in the top-flight as it finished third and qualified for the early rounds of the 2016/17 UEFA Europa League. Williams himself was outstanding that year and was voted the top-flight’s Player of the Season for his efforts.
The former Wales under-21 player has also turned out for the likes of Kidderminster Harriers, Chester, Colwyn Bay and Bangor City during his 15-year career to date, before arriving at Aberystwyth Town – where has spent the last two seasons and became club captain – although, he is now departing Park Avenue with the 20/21 JD Cymru Premier season completed this weekend.
He has been a real star for Aber during his time there, scoring 19 league goals and a further four goals in cup competitions.
During those 15 years, and like many others throughout the UK and indeed the world, Williams fell into the trap of gambling. It’s a hidden addiction that often goes unnoticed, but one which secretly affects so many of us.
So many people, including myself, like to take a punt on the football or the horses. But, for some it’s difficult to know when to stop and ask for help.
For all of his senior career in football, Williams battled a gambling addiction and admits to having fluttered away as much as £10,000 during one session.
Marc, whose brother Mike also plays football for Colwyn Bay, is on a three year abstinence away from the gambling world and is keen to highlight the risks involved through his new role with Deal Me Out (DMO).
He joined DMO in 2020. It’s an organisation delivering workshops throughout Wales on tackling gambling addictions and providing advice. Williams acts as DMO’s Head of Education and helps them educate, prevent and support people who are battling the addiction with the aim of making people aware of the dangers of gambling and identify when they may be at risk of becoming addicted to it.
Talking about his struggles with addiction, Williams said: “The addiction affected my life from the age of around 15 and 16, with a few periods of abstinence in between, but I did initially always relapse and go back to it. And when you do go back to it, you seem to go back harder – gambling a little bit more to get that adrenaline rush.
“The mental health side of it wasn’t great. You’re building up lots of debt and almost living with this internal addiction that’s invisible to everyone else. You’re trying to put a brave face on and be okay socially when in reality, inside, you’re struggling. It was difficult to put on such a brave face when you’ve got so much debt. I had a lot of sleepless nights, continuing to gamble throughout the night and isolating myself from my family and friends.
“It affected my football too – turning up to a changing room when you’re trying to get your game head on and you’ve got all that going on in the background, constantly thinking ‘Can you pay your bills?’, ‘Where’s your next gambling money going to come from?’ was really tough. The stress of that really took over and with it came all the lies, because that’s what a compulsive gambler becomes good at in order to keep the addiction alive.
“I don’t really like to talk about how much I’ve lost – because if you’re working with people if they look at your amount and think ‘Oh I’m not that bad’ it can make them think they haven’t got a problem. So I don’t like speaking numbers – everyone’s journey and addiction is different. Whether you’re taking home £1000 a month or £4000 a month, taking 50% of it is going to be a big chunk of your money gone. I think how much people lose is irrelevant, I think it’s important to look at what your income is and what your means are.
“I did once reel out £10,000 in around 45 minutes. So, if you put that into football terms, I lost £10,000 in the first half. That’s when I hit self destruct mode and went out of control, chasing everything I was losing and the bets got bigger and bigger. With the addiction, small bets didn’t mean anything to me as I’m a high risk compulsive gambler – it got to a point where putting £50 or £100 down didn’t give me that adrenaline rush or that dopamine. But, the bigger the rush was, the bigger the losses were too.
“It started off for me with football accumulators, but then unfortunately the fixed odd bets took over my life in my twenties. I used to live in the bookmakers – when I was with Wrexham, I would go to training, come home and sit in the bookies comfortably for about eight or nine hours just spending my wage. Once it became an online platform, it became even easier for addicts as you were able to do it from the comfort of your own home, becoming more and more isolated in the process. In the end, it became anything from roulette to sports and Blackjack in search of money. You end up betting on things you know nothing about. When I look back on it, betting on things like basketball and Chinese football – it got ridiculous and out of hand.“
Talking about the turning point for him which led to his abstinence from gambling and him looking to help others through his new role, Williams said: “I realised at the start of my twenties I had a problem, it was on and off and I was trying my best to stop but always fell back into the trap and never really dealt with it. I had a large stint of abstinence in my late twenties but unfortunately relapsed two and a half years ago and after that final straw – losing that £10,000 in a half of football – I broke down, from there I knew I needed help – I’ve done everything in my power since and I’m in a good place now.
“It’s amazing now that I can help people and guide them in the right direction – I can talk about my lived experience to maybe make people more comfortable around talking about it. There’s a stigmatism around it but it’s becoming more and more talked about.
“I joined Deal Me Out in November, started a lot of voluntary work with my own website and started really enjoying that. I’m really passionate about helping people and, I know how the addiction affects people. To be able to go and educate people in the community from teachers and kids in schools to football clubs and even construction sites for, means a lot to me – I want people to realise that this is a serious addiction and it’s everywhere, more people gamble than we think.
“The main thing is to know where to send people if they are struggling. The amount of people we’ve helped already gives me great satisfaction, helping people get out of that dark place that I’ve been in myself.”
Reflecting on his journey over the last three years, he added: “To be three years free from gambling is pretty amazing, for the first time in my life I feel like my mind is clear. People call me Mark Zen because I meditate every morning and every night! I’m a better person for it, my anger is less because I’ve taken that addiction out of me. I have great hobbies, I do things with great friends, my partner is very supportive and my personality has changed, I feel how I am now, as a sibling, as a son and so on, I’m a better person.
“I know I’m a better dad too – now when I have my daughter I give her every second and every minute I have. I’m with her for every smile and every laugh – where as in the past I wasn’t. I’ll always remember the final relapse, she was there when I broke down and I said I was going to get help and I’ve done that and when I looked at her that day that was my reason as to why I wanted to quit.”
For more on Deal Me Out and what it can do for you, visit: https://www.dealmeout.org/about-us