‘Many players gamble or have gambled,’ says Kenji Gorré, the Dutch football player from the Portuguese Boavista. He can talk about it. He was (briefly) addicted to gambling and now tries to help football pros himself.
This is badly needed, the players’ union VVCS also knows. The union previously stated that much more information should be given to professional footballers and youth players about the dangers of gambling. In the Netherlands, the online gambling market has been open to legal providers since October 21, and is widely advertised by former football players.
It AD recently announced that a number of football professionals have been found to be involved in an illegal gambling company, the now defunct Edobet, which has been linked by the police and the judiciary to an alleged criminal organization. Sparta players Tom Beugelsdijk and Aaron Meijers bought shares, Orange international Jordy Clasie and former top player Dirk Kuijt would have played for large amounts.
The 27-year-old Gorré does not want to respond to that case, but does want to tell you how he himself suddenly fell for the temptation of structural gambling about six years ago. “Maybe my story will help others, and at least I can give some insight.”
In that period, despite all his efforts, he played few games. The winger saw his life goal, to become a top football player, fade away. “As soon as the ball rolled on the roulette table, I felt the tension I was missing. I thought I had everything under control, but I was just addicted to gambling because I went to the casino every day for six months. I didn’t even notice. It had just become routine. It was also quite normal among footballers.’
Gorré, who grew up in Spijkenisse but in England, was ‘born’ in the football world. His father Dean was a professional at Ajax and Feyenoord. His mother was also very fond of sports. “Football was always everywhere. I said to my father: what is life without football? I wanted to become a top football player, there was no other option for me. When things didn’t go well with football, my world collapsed. I took that home to my loved ones.’
Talent of extraordinary category
From an early age he was described as a talent of the exceptional category. His father was a professional in England in his late days, so 6-year-old Kenji played his first game at an English amateur club where scouts from top English clubs noticed him. Before he knew it, he was training with Manchester City on Tuesdays and with Manchester United on Thursdays. ‘That’s very normal. Some young boys train with three big clubs.’
At eight he had to choose. Two of England’s biggest clubs fought for his signature. “They really put the pressure on me, on my father. “Hey, you like it here, don’t you? Just sign with us.”
It became Manchester United, he played there for twelve years in the youth. “People thought it was special that I was allowed to train at such big clubs, and at one point walked around among all kinds of top players and said hello to the great manager Sir Alex Ferguson every day. For me it was normal, no big deal. It belonged to me.’
No contract with United
At United, they continued to praise Gorre until Ferguson told him he would not offer him a contract. Gorré burst into tears on the way back in his car. ‘I thought, what am I going to tell my parents who stayed in England for me and took me everywhere? My brother who gave up his own childhood because everything revolved around me? Who am I now? I was always Kenji Gorre, the Manchester United player. Now I was Kenji Gorré, the clubless one, the loser. I felt like I fell off the top of the world and dragged everyone along with me.’
With the help of his father, he picked himself up and chose his new club with care. That was Swansea City from Wales, where he was soon offered a nice long-term contract. ‘I did well in the highest youth teams. But there was always a new manager who didn’t know me and who brought in his own players.’
He was lent, among others to ADO Den Haag, in the vicinity of many family. But chances to play were few there too. Gorré, who often switches to English: ‘I was hungry to play, I was starving.†
In The Hague he visited a casino for the first time. ‘I also went out a lot, in Amsterdam, drank alcohol. I ran from my feelings. Where can I feel loved and appreciated?’
He returned to Britain where the gambling culture is deeply embedded in society, especially in sport. Big betting shops advertise everywhere, some clubs are literally kept afloat by betting providers. Gorré was unable to progress with his football career and increasingly visited the casino. ‘I came home from training at two o’clock and thought: what am I going to do now? Training is fun, but it is especially satisfying when it leads to something. Okay, then you take a nap, play some fifa and then? You’re looking for adrenaline. My relationship was not going well, my football was not. Everything was locked, I couldn’t be home. In the casino at the roulette table I did get my rush. Before I knew it, I was going every day. Initially with a friend, then alone. I stayed there for hours. Other players went too. You’d be surprised how many players gamble.’
Enough players have gone bankrupt because of their gambling addiction. Gorre can understand that well. “I had a good contract at a young age. I didn’t value money much, thought: money comes and goes. I don’t know exactly how much I lost. But it wasn’t like I got into debt, certainly not. thank god.’
The relationship with his current wife ended. In retrospect, it was his salvation. ‘Everything revolved around me, I determined everything. I looked for places where I shouldn’t be to still get a kick. Nightclubs, casinos, parties, alcohol.’
Football players can no longer go to those kinds of places so easily, cell phones with cameras are everywhere. But the telephone also offers a solution at the same time. You can easily gamble anonymously online with it. ‘It happens a lot. I don’t need it at all anymore.’
The move to Portugal, first to CD Nacional, a club in Madeira, then to Boavista, Porto’s second club, changed everything. ‘Everything was right, the environment, the clubs, the people. Then I started investing heavily in myself. I really have a coach for everything: my body, my spirituality, my mindset, my finances, I started reading a lot myself.’
He was always a sympathetic ear for young players and also started coaching them professionally through his company On the ball. ‘I have personal conversations with young players and make podcasts. That went surprisingly well right away.’
He often asks young footballers addicted to gambling the same question: why do you do that? Is this the life you want to live? What do you really want in life? “I found out: I’m here for a reason, not just to be a professional footballer, but above all to help others.” If he’s reserve now, he’ll stay positive. ‘I now know how to deal with such a setback. Football is part of me, but not everything. I am also a husband, brother, son, friend and, hopefully, a helping hand.”