UNCLE Pat was a drunk who died penniless and alone – if you don’t count the local bookie who he met almost every day.

He was a steelworker and, in his youth, a superb sprinter. A family story goes that in a national championship, he was so good that he deliberately came second, allowing the winner to take first prize, a cricket bat, so he could take home the runner-up prize: a full bag of shopping.

But old Pat didn’t have much going for him, bless. Brian Rice, the Hamilton Academical manager, in stark contrast has been in football all his days. He was a silky midfielder who played under Brian Clough at Nottingham Forest, where he remains a cult hero.

In 2013, like so many former professionals, was working in the cash-rich Middle East. Not bad at all.


Then he admitted to having been a secret gambling addict for the last 30 years. He had racked up a debt of £65,000, all his money had gone, and had it not been for the help of friends, he was heading into a Qatari jail. That’s an illness.

The same one which robbed John Hartson of a fortune. Both had so much in their lives, but it was impossible for either not to place a bet, even when they knew it was destroying them.

I sat beside Hartson at a Ladbrokes dinner last year – he is an ambassador for the betting giant – and he told why a gambling addict in recovery was working alongside the folk who used to happily take his money. Hartson made the point there was a world of difference between a punter who liked the odd bet and someone such as himself who couldn’t go a day without betting on the outcome of, say, the result of an Iranian second division match.

“If I hadn’t got myself clean, I’d either be dead or in jail,” he said. I don’t understand it. I have many vices but betting has never been one. However, when Hartson calls it a disease, I believe him.


Rice admitted on Monday that he had “self-reported” himself to the SFA about betting on football matches which you are not allowed to do when working within the game. At 56, and facing a ban, his future looks bleak, although Hamilton to their credit have said they will stand by their manager.

I wish him well. So did Scottish Conservative MSP Ruth Davidson, who tweeted: “Gambling is a disease and hypocrisy in football is rife – shirt sponsors, FA goals rights sold to betting websites – without acknowledgement of human cost.”

And to that I say: nonsense.

If the game didn’t take money from the bookies, do you honestly think someone like Rice, who admitted to being an addict, wouldn’t bet to excess? However, we live in a free society and people should be allowed to bet, and drink, which most of us do within reason.

Let’s be adult about this. Football isn’t hypocritical about taking money from the bookmaking industry, Gambling is legal and, while too many become addicted, these companies are backing our national game.

Personally, I’d rather have a Scottish company backing our game but there aren’t too many out there who have expressed an interest.

I don’t know Rice but he comes across as a decent man, and one who has an illness. I hope Hamilton keep him on, albeit that might be tricky if he gets a lengthy suspension.