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Betting on the Beautiful Game: Bolton breaks the link

Football and betting are inextricably linked. Turn on the television to watch sport these days and you won’t have to wait long before an advertisement for one of the UK’s betting companies appears. These commercials are ubiquitous and persuasive, typically, exuding optimism, positivity, and the hope of a quick and easy profit.

I spoke exclusively to Sharon Brittan – Chairman of Bolton Wanderers F.C – she is at the forefront of the fight against the prominence of betting in football and has taken a leading role against those commercial interests which, it is claimed, exploit vulnerable individuals for profit.

Anti-gambling campaigners have long argued that relentless exposure to the marketing strategies deployed by gambling companies have normalised betting and given the impression of betting as a benign activity or harmless fun. However, there is a large body of evidence, gambling addiction causes misery to the lives of millions, often young people or those already in financial difficulty. Experts point to the risk of developing a dependency on the dopamine hit provided by gambling, especially when connected to the unpredictable and sometimes exhilarating nature of live football.

As men’s mental health month comes to an end, this article strives to illustrate the adverse effects of gambling on the lives and mental well-being of many people, especially men. It also aims to delve into the prevalent issue of gambling in football and explore ongoing efforts to address these concerns.

Sharon believes that more should be done by football’s regulatory authorities, the government and other clubs to address the issues around gambling “I think change is needed, I think the fit and proper person’s test has to be right in the first instance.”

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Stoke City F.C. ground – Bet365 Stadium

It has reached a point where betting companies capitalise on football teams, players, and public figures to intensify the promotion of already deep rooted platforms, reaching increasingly younger audiences. With the introduction of online gambling and the convenience of being able to place a bet anytime and in any place, charities and other gambling awareness organisations are hard at work to find ways of tackling the issue.

Harmful gambling has become a serious issue within British society in recent years. Research suggests that 0.5% of adults in England have a gambling problem, and young men are more likely to gamble than any other age group. All whilst the betting industry brought in £15.1 billion between April 2022 and March 2023 alone.

Since the pandemic, the proliferation of online gambling has risen and hasn’t decreased since. The share of the public who gambled online in Great Britain increased from 2020 to 2021, with the number of new online gambling registrations totalling approximately 32.65 million.

Clinicians say that football is a major pull, paving the way to more addictive products like online casinos.

The question is could the football authorities and government be doing more?

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West Ham United’s front of shirt sponsor – Betway

Front of shirt sponsorships from gambling companies in the Premier League will be banned at the end of the 2025/2026 season, the league said in a statement.

This indicates some kind acknowledgement that perhaps the unceasing display of gambling brands in the worlds most watched league is not such a great idea. Eight of the current twenty clubs that make up the Premier League have gambling companies as their front of shirt sponsors.

Despite some signs of progress in this regard, clubs will still be able to feature gambling brands in other areas including shirt-sleeves and LED advertising. It is also worth noting that the front of shirt ban only applies to the Premier League, the leagues below are still able to operate as they are in regard to gambling sponsorships.

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Sharon Brittan by the side of the pitch

Bolton Wanderers stands out as one of the few teams in the country that firmly rejects any association in terms of sponsorship or gambling activity, with any gambling firms. One of the founding members of the Football League, the club was in crisis in 2019 after a series of financial issues. They were saved from the brink when they were sold to the Football Ventures consortium.

This is when Sharon Brittan was appointed as Chairman, swiftly putting in place her community orientated philosophy. She told me how she hopes to use the influence of football to promote more positive values in her community. “Football has a huge following so when you see what we’re doing on the community side and you see the impact and the power that it has, it’s the most wonderful thing.”

The club runs 90-minute group sessions in the local area every week at the Toughsheet Community Stadium. The sessions provide education and discussions on all sorts of issues that are most widespread in the community. “We have an open door policy at Bolton, we’re there to help people.”

A primary subject of conversation revolves around concerns related to gambling and the mental health challenges that come with it. “I’ve seen the horrific effects of gambling on people, on themselves and their families.”

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Bolton Wanderers emblem 

Sharon believes gambling companies target young men especially. “To have gambling adverts plastered all over TV, when you’ve got young boys in particular who are all following football and seeing this at a very young and delicate age is completely wrong.”

Football has become an avenue for gambling brands to hook people in and Sharon has witnessed the long-term repercussions it can have. “The way gambling firms target football is just too much, it particularly targets young boys who often find themselves getting into gambling at fifteen, sixteen, seventeen. Then I see them maybe five or ten years later and they’ve lost everything.”

“Thinking it is an easy way to make some money when you’re a teenager, and the fact that football endorses it, is shocking. So I made a stance on it early on and I haven’t moved from it.”

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Bet365 shirt sponsor and LED advertisement 

She argues those in positions of power need to do more to change the status-quo.

“The responsibility of the owners of football clubs is absolutely huge, and it has to start at the top. They have to be owned by the right people, doing the right thing in the right way and then that filters down the club and into the community.”

Will more football clubs follow Bolton’s lead and take on the gambling industry or is the pull of commercial revenue too powerful? Is it time for the government and football authorities to step in?

Many people have forgotten that the primary essence of football lies in the joy it brings.

As Sharon puts it “Football takes you to the epicentre of the UK, everyone loves football so let’s be responsible, let’s do the right, let’s promote people’s health and well-being and enjoy the beautiful game.”



  • Max Flanagan

    21 year old Sports journalist, born and raised in London, predominantly a football writer but is known to dip his toes into the worlds of Tennis and Formula 1. Lifelong Chelsea fan, constantly reminiscing over life before Boehly.