All posts by Joe Citrone

Scott Davies: I lost a quarter of a million pounds

When I watched Scott Davies playing for Oxford United back in 2014, it looked like he was living the dream. What was really going on in his life, though, was more like a nightmare.

Aylesbury-born Davies discovered his talent for football as a child and was on the books at Watford and Wycombe Wanderers before being signed by Reading in 2002.

He came through the ranks with the Royals as a dynamic midfielder with a good eye for a pass. He was briefly mentored by the highly-thought of now-Leicester City boss Brendan Rodgers before breaking into the first team for a few games in 2009 after several loan spells elsewhere.

“It was a massive eye-opener training under a manager who, for me, is one of the best in the world. Even back then, he was different to other managers I had, ” says Davies.

From the outside looking in, it would seem he had the world at his feet. But, unbeknown to anybody else, he was going through a hellish gambling addiction that would soon overwhelm him and do long-lasting damage to his football career.

The downward spiral

From an early age, Davies had a competitive edge that made him crave success away from the pitch as well as on it, and that led him to the local betting shops.

“I was watching the ball go round on the screen at night and the room would be spinning.”

“I started gambling at 16 years old. I used to go into the bookmakers, never really got ID’d and was earning money for the first time. I was only on an apprenticeship, earning £50 week, but I was losing that within 15 or 20 minutes of getting paid,” says the 31-year-old.

“It completely got hold of me and then over the next few years, my football started to do really well. I scored 25 goals in my first 50, 60 games so was rewarded with a new contract where I went from £18,000 to £130,000 a year. I never got any life skills on how to look after money, and my bets just became bigger.”

Before he knew it, Davies’ debts started to pile up and he was beginning to struggle to find money for bills. Something that started as innocent fun was starting to become an issue affecting his life both on and off the pitch.

“I just couldn’t put my phone down. It was a necessity to stay up and gamble rather than get sleep and relax before a tough session every morning,” he recalls.

“There were times when I was playing the roulette machine so often, I was watching the ball go round on the screen at night and the room would be spinning. I would lean out the side of my bed and be sick because of the motion sickness.

“I used to bet on Hungarian handball or horse racing in Chile at four o’clock in the morning. I’d bet on badminton, table tennis; whatever would keep me stimulated throughout the night, I’d bet on it.”

Rock bottom

After leaving Reading in 2011, Davies attempted to revive his career at Crawley Town and Oxford. But by 2015, his gambling had spiralled out of control and he’d dropped into non-league with Dunstable Town after being let go by Chris Wilder’s Oxford a year earlier.

“I felt so worthless that I didn’t actually want to be here anymore.”

With his football dream in tatters, Davies was teetering on the edge of disaster.

“By that time I’d lost my career, I’d lost a quarter of a million pounds and spent about £50,000 of my parents’ money also,” the Bucks-born footballer explains.

“I got to the state of mind where I was suffering from depression, I wasn’t enjoying football. It wasn’t important to me anymore because I didn’t have a nice lifestyle off the pitch that enabled me to enjoy playing.

“In the end, I felt so worthless that I didn’t actually want to be here anymore because I had nothing to live for. It was a case of needing to sort things out before I ended up dead, I guess. “

Davies, by his admission, was a “closed book” and it was only until it really hit home just how much his addiction was affecting, not just him, but the people around him, when he took the first steps towards recovery.

“I was in the bookies one day and it all hit home when I turned round at the door and saw my mum in floods of tears, crying her eyes out. I looked at her and she looked so weak and vulnerable and for the first time in my life I thought ‘I can’t put her through this anymore’.

“I used to find her on the computer in the middle of the night googling how to help people with gambling addictions. It just wasn’t a nice place to be and my mum’s state of mind was probably just as bad as mine. I’ve got the best parents in the world and to put them through it wasn’t fair.”

The recovery

Davies checked himself into a rehabilitation clinic in 2015, opened up about his issues and, as of now, is four-and-a-half years without a bet. He encourages others in a similar position to do the same.

“Speak to someone. It’s quite scary, but not many people have a safe space to turn to and have that person who can listen and doesn’t judge. I had that for the first time when I checked into rehab,” the ex-Reading trainee recalls.

“I had a guy there who was an ex-footballer and a gambling addict. I was like ‘hallejuah, you understand me’. I’d say get it off your shoulders because a problem shared is a problem halved; that’s an expression that I live by and think it’s so true.”

Davies’ new role has allowed him to keep very famous Kompany.

Davies is using experience as a way of helping others avoid the same mistakes and now works with Epic Risk Management, a gambling harm-minimisation consultancy.

“I became the public speaker for the rehab clinic that I went to. They asked me if I’d be interested in going round and telling my story. I didn’t realise that I had a knack for it,” he says.

“I was then approached by Paul Buck, who is the CEO of Epic Risk Management. He just asked me if I wanted to run the new project that we’ve got and, for me, it’s been an absolute blessing. I feel like I’ve got the best job in the world.”

Davies is striving to educate players, both young and more experienced, on the perils and long-term consequences of gambling, and still thinks there’s a lot more work that can be done.

“Something I always say at all the clubs I go and talk to, if you have a problem with your groin or hamstring or you roll your ankle, who do you go and see? Straight away they say the physio.

“Then I say if you’ve got a problem with something that’s going on in your mind, who do you go and speak to? And they look puzzled. It’s just something we need to take the attached stigma away from.

“There is a lot of work going on by betting companies [to prevent addiction], but it is just the start of a very long road. Hopefully a successful one.”

Image credits: Epic Risk Management (@epicpgc). Follow Scott on Twitter.

Jamie Speight on the life of a journeyman boxer

Sport may just be about winning for some – but for former Southern Area champion Jamie Speight, boxing involves so much more than that.

Most young, up-and-coming fighters dream of lifting world title belts aloft or earning Floyd Mayweather money, but reality for the vast majority can ultimately be quite different.

After eight victories in his first eight fights as a professional, Jamie Speight probably had similar ambitions. But, with 26 more defeats than victories on his record in a career now spanning a decade, he has a different perspective on his role within the sport these days.

Speight – a scaffolder by trade – usually fights out of the away corner and is what many would describe as a ‘journeyman’ boxer – a role commonly misunderstood, especially in an era where just one loss can devastate fans’ perception of a fighter.

By his own admission, Speight was a “wimp” as a young kid; often pushed around and bullied by his classmates. He used boxing as a way of toughening himself up.

“I was one of these quiet, polite kids who didn’t want to upset or hurt anyone. I got bullied by the same five kids every day – it was just nit-picking, name-calling, not letting you in the group, being picked last for everything. And then it started to become a bit more physical as time went on, ” he says.

“My old man said ‘the school’s doing nothing about it, it’s time to take you down the boxing gym’. It was just to toughen me and so I could defend myself and I never looked back.”

From contender to away fighter

After a solid amateur career, Speight turned professional in 2009, defeating Pavels Senkovs on his debut in Bristol, and going on to win his next seven contests.

He went on to box a close fight with a current world champion in Josh Warrington in 2013, and picked up Southern Area belts in both the featherweight and super-featherweight divisions.

However, back-to-back defeats on Sky Sports in 2017 made Speight reconsider the direction of his career.

“I boxed Reece Bellotti for the WBC Silver International title live on Sky Sports at the O2 Arena. It was a good fight. Reece is a good kid, he broke my ribs in the sixth and stopped me in the eighth,” says the former English title challenger.

“After that, I got another shout for a Sky Sports show at the York Hall, where I boxed Joe Cordina. I knew Joe prior to this fight, I’d sparred him when he was an amateur, it was 50-50 and a good spar, it went well. I took the fight thinking I’d be fighting the Cordina I’d sparred as an amateur, but he was so much better.

“More often than not, if you’re ringside for one of my fights, you’ll hear me speaking to my opponent… the best time to learn is on the job.”

He continues: “That’s the point where I went ‘that’s me, then’. I’d done my best, the best I can possibly do. I just thought ‘this is where I’m at now, I’ve had a good roll of the dice, I’ve had a good time, so let’s now earn some money and try helping some people along the way’.”

The role of the ‘journeyman’

The ‘journeyman’ role is an often confused and yet crucial job. You’re not necessarily there to win, but you can’t be a bad boxer. You’ve got to be durable, tough, technically sound and avoid getting stopped regularly in order to keep the British Boxing Board of Control off your back.

Speight ticks those boxes, although the term ‘journeyman’ doesn’t necessarily describe his role in the best way. He’s more of an in-ring mentor to younger fighters coming through the pro ranks.

“More often than not, if you’re ringside for one of my fights, you’ll hear me speaking to my opponent. I’ll be saying ‘tuck that left hand up a bit more, don’t do that, don’t do this,’ and try and give them advice, as the best time to learn is on the job.” the 31 year-old explains.

Speight travels here, there and everywhere, all over the country, trying to pass his knowledge and experience onto rookie pros with only a few fights to their name, despite never really being given much chance of glory in the ring himself.

“I can have a fight and come out with blood, cuts, bruises. But I know I’m alive, I feel alive, I feel high on adrenaline and just generally happy. You’ll never see a happier fighter than me”

“You’ll hear people say this a lot: ‘Boxing is the most corrupt sport on the planet’ and that’s one of the truest statements ever made. I’ve had promoters tell me ‘Don’t beat this kid, move him round, don’t beat him, don’t hurt him’. You’re actually given instruction on what to do and what not to do,” says the veteran pro.

Just imagine Ole Gunnar Solskjaer asking Jurgen Klopp to kindly go easy on his current Manchester United side… And that’s not even mentioning the limited notice some of these ‘journeymen’ get for some fights.

“The shortest I’ve had is when I was at home on a Saturday morning, dropped my partner at work, I came back, just picked up my bag to go to the gym, my phone rang and it was my manager.

“He said ‘I need you to fight, get up to London [from Plymouth].’ I got changed, got straight in the car up and boxed that afternoon. So it can be that late, up to a few hours’ notice,” recalls the experienced fighter.

The future

If the grassroots, small hall level of boxing can verge on the farcical at times, what keeps people like Speight in the sport?

“The best way I can describe it is the sport is like a drug. And it’s the most addictive drug you’ll ever have. It’s what I call living,” he says.

“I can have a fight and come out with blood, cuts, bruises. But I know I’m alive, I feel alive, I feel high on adrenaline and just generally happy. You’ll never see a happier fighter than me.”

Despite his love for the sport, boxing is a notoriously dangerous game. Many fighters have paid the price for going on too long, and the recent, tragic passing of American boxer Patrick Day underlines and emboldens the peril involved in the sport of boxing.

“If I’m being foolish, I can make it last as long as I want because I’ve not burnt the candle at both ends, I’ve not been out every weekend like a lot of fighters,” says Speight.

“The more and more these things happen, the more it puts the fear of god into you. I value my life more than I value boxing, as much as I love it. I’m going to finish this year, give it one more after that and then that’s me.” he wraps up.

It’s likely that the role of fighters like Speight will never truly be understood. Fans will look at his record, see 41 defeats and go ‘he must rubbish’. But without guys like him, the sport as we know it doesn’t exist.

‘Journeymen’ keep the sport ticking over and they deserve a lot more respect.

Photo credit: mikeyray2013 via Instagram. You can follow Jamie Speight on Twitter.