More than 20,000 people have signed a petition opposing Everton’s choice of a betting firm as their main shirt sponsor, with one recovering gambling addict fan accusing the Toffees of “selling the soul of the club”.
A club-record deal with Stake.com has produced a mixed response but season ticket holder Ben Melvin, who lost hundreds of thousands of pounds over more than a decade, is firmly against it.
He accepts the Merseyside outfit have made a business decision but does not believe if reflects well on the club.
“When I heard Everton had signed a partnership with Stake.com it was a shock because it wasn’t something I saw as fitting well with Everton’s standards they set themselves,” he told the PA news agency.
“This jeopardises that and I don’t see how it can fit with the work they do with ‘Everton in the Community’ looking after vulnerable people.
“A lot of people were saying ‘We need every penny we can get’ but that doesn’t involve selling the soul of the club for it.
“At a time when clubs are trying to step away from it and think it is not a good thing, Everton have taken a giant leap towards it for a big payday.”
Melvin, who helped the club’s charitable arm ‘Everton in the Community’ with an education session on gambling addiction only last year, began betting as a teenager but it reached a peak in his late 20s.
He says it affected him and his family – he has a wife and two children – as it consumed his whole life but he has now not had a bet for two and a half years and attends weekly Gamblers Anonymous meetings.
“Gambling had taken control of me,” he added.
“It was the first thing I would think about when I woke up in the morning and last thing before I went to bed and, in the timeframe in the middle, any opportunity I had would spend it gambling.
“I borrowed thousands and thousands of pounds to cover losses and I got into major debt with it and my mental health was affected.
“I became a liar and a money-hoarder. It came to the point where I almost lost everything and I had to get serious help.
“I am one of the lucky ones who has come through the other side but there are other people who are not as lucky as me and they are the sort of people I think about with the work Everton in the Community do.
“We hosted a Gambling Harms education programme for Everton in the Community last year and it went really well and I now think, ‘What’s the point in that?’.”
Everton insist their support for vulnerable people will continue through their charitable arm, which sources stressed was a separate organisation, as their assistance with alcoholism did when the name of Chang, a Thai beer company, was on the shirts for 13 years.
When contacted by PA, the club pointed out there was nothing illegal in the deal – although the Government is set to decide on whether to change gambling laws, including a ban of sponsorship in football, next month – and it was a purely commercial decision.
Everton’s new shirt sponsorship deal is the biggest in the club’s history and, with the Toffees having posted cumulative losses of more than £370million in the last three financial years and recently lost lucrative deals with Alisher Usmanov’s USM group due to Government sanctions against Russian billionaires, it will help the finances in the short term.
The offer from Stake.com is understood to have been far in excess of other potential partners.