Ivan Toney could be banned from playing for months after he was charged by the Football Association with 232 alleged breaches of its gambling laws.
The Brentford striker, who has been in scintillating form for his club and had hoped to be included in England’s 26-man World Cup squad, was charged on Wednesday after the FA concluded an investigation into activity which covered a period of nearly four years.
“Ivan Toney has been charged with misconduct in relation to alleged breaches of the FA’s betting rules,” the FA said in a statement. “It is alleged that the Brentford FC forward breached FA rule E8 232 times between 25 February 2017 and 23 January 2021.”
Footballers who play in England are banned from making any type of bet on football, or asking others to do so on their behalf. The FA’s rule E8 also bans the sharing of privileged information for the purposes of betting and sanctions can be tough.
In 2020 England international Kieran Trippier was banned from playing for 10 weeks and fined £70,000 after he was found to have shared information about his upcoming transfer to Atlético Madrid with his friends. An appeal made to Fifa to reduce the ban, observing that Trippier had not benefited financially from his actions, was rejected.
The former England player Daniel Sturridge was banned for six weeks after sharing privileged information on a transfer, this ban was extended to four months after a failed appeal. Last year, two Boston United players were charged with, between them, 757 breaches of Rule E8, related to placing bets on matches. The pair, Andi Thanoj and Jay Rollins, were subsequently found guilty and banned for five months.
Toney has one week to reply to the charges, with a deadline set of Thursday 24 November. The 26‑year‑old has scored 10 goals in the Premier League for his club so far this seaason.
In a statement, Brentford said: “The club has been in discussion with Ivan and his legal representatives about this matter and those conversations will continue privately. We will make no further comment until the matter has been completed.”
British footballers will stage their first on-pitch protest against the effects of gambling harm this weekend, with more than 100 players showing support for a ban on advertising by bookmakers.
Players in FA Cup, Scottish Women’s Premier League Cup, Women’s Championship and non-league matches will wear yellow laces as they try to heighten the pressure on government to take action.
The League One side Forest Green will be part of the protest during their FA Cup first-round tie at South Shields, a match being shown live on the BBC. The club’s owner, Dale Vince, said his club were proud to support the initiative, organised by the pressure group The Big Step.
“Gambling companies are exploiting football and football fans, making huge profits at the expense of people’s lives,” Vince said. “Their overwhelming presence in our national sport is hyper-normalising an addictive harmful product, with only self-regulation to protect the millions of young fans exposed. This is something Forest Green Rovers stands against.
“We will proudly wear yellow laces this weekend to reinforce our support for the campaign to end all gambling advertising in football.”
Also wearing the laces will be Lewes Women, Glasgow City and the men’s non-league sides Dulwich Hamlet, Billericay Town, Llantwit Major, Headingley AFC and, on Tuesday, the Lewes men’s team. League Two Tranmere will warm up in yellow T-shirts before Saturday’s FA Cup first-round match against Carlisle.
The Big Step calls for an end to gambling advertising and sponsorship in football, a sport where young fans and viewers can be subjected to more than 700 gambling-related messages during a televised Premier League match. Recent Gambling Commission data showed that while overall levels of participation in gambling had remained stable over the past year, the percentage of 16- to 24-year-olds who identified as problem gamblers had more than trebled.
A review of gambling laws was commissioned by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in 2020, with a ban on bookmakers’ logos on football shirts one mooted outcome. Two years later a white paper proposing reforms has been delayed four times and is yet to be published.
James Grimes, the founder of the Big Step and a former gambling addict, said: “This weekend is a bold reminder to the government that campaigners for gambling reform and our supportive football clubs are not going away until people can go to a match and support their heroes without being encouraged to gamble.”
Kimberly Wadsworth was 32 when she took her own life in 2018. The passionate Leeds fan who worked in marketing was a gambling addict. Having begun on the fixed-odds betting terminals found in any high-street bookmaker she had graduated to online casinos.
There she was plied with “free” bets and gained VIP status from the companies she gambled with. They incentivised her to keep playing even when her losses were heavy. Hers is a not unfamiliar story – Public Health England estimates there are 409 gambling-related suicides each year in England – but she is a reminder that gambling addiction is not an exclusively male affliction.
On Friday and Saturday, Kimberly’s mother, Kay, will join recovering gambling addicts and other families who have lost loved ones to gambling-related suicide in walking to five Yorkshire football grounds, starting with an early appointment at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough. From there the group of more than 30 will visit Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane, Rotherham’s New York Stadium and Barnsley’s Oakwell.
On Saturday, the group take the 19 miles from Barnsley to Leeds to complete 41 miles over two days. They have been allowed by club officials to take pictures inside Elland Road. “I am proud to walk in Kimberly’s memory with people who have suffered the harm and devastation that gambling addiction brings,” said Kay. “These harmful gambling products are designed to hook people in, regardless of their background, so we are calling on football to stop promoting them to millions of young fans.”
The event is the latest organised by the Big Step, a campaign to end gambling advertising and sponsorship in football, led by people harmed by gambling. Previous events include July’s 70-person walk from Manchester to Liverpool in memory of Ryan Myers, a 27-year-old Liverpool-supporting carpenter. In February, a three-day hike took in Scottish stadiums on the route from Edinburgh to Glasgow in remembrance of Lewis Keogh, a 34-year-old Sheffield Wednesday fan.
This weekend’s walk’s aim is highlighting, in the words of James Grimes, the organiser and Big Step founder, that “this is not just a male issue. Although football was a part of Kimberly’s addiction so were other parts of gambling that you wouldn’t necessarily associate with a young, male football fan.”
Football club shirts, websites, social media, pitchside banners and in particular TV advertising continue to be awash with gambling, despite lobbying that aims to protect young eyes from being enticed. Grimes is a recovering addict whose 12-year journey from football betting as a 16-year-old Tottenham fan took in about 50 gambling companies across myriad betting products including online casinos to the point of being “basically suicidal” after a heavy losing run on a fixed-odds betting terminal.
“Spurs had a casino on the front of their shirts at that time: Mansion. That was a company I went on to use and it quickly consumed all of my life. Football was a constant in it. Whenever I saw new companies pop up on shirts or the side of the pitch, I would use those sites. It sucked everything away from me. I turned from a happy, normal boy into a hopeless, helpless wreck of a man.
“The thing I try to emphasise is that it was only gambling that did that. I had a great upbringing, there was no trauma, I never had an addiction to anything else.”
Grimes believes he fell victim to the liberalised 2005 Gambling Act that opened up the flood of betting advertising. From there, the 18-25 market, especially vulnerable, was exposed to a cornucopia of gambling products in which football bets became a gateway drug towards becoming the VIP clients companies take heavy profit from.
Could things be changing? Of the five Yorkshire clubs visited by the Big Step this weekend, only one, Leeds, has a betting shirt sponsor, the Manx-based SBOTOP. Barnsley began the season with a rapidly curtailed cryptocurrency deal, a reminder of clubs’ eternal attraction to easy money. When the Big Step campaign began in 2019, 28 of 44 Premier League and Championship clubs had betting shirt sponsors, a number now reduced to 14.
Despite heavy lobbying and growing resistance among fans, betting advertising pervades on TV, radio and the web. A government white paper on gambling reform was postponed for a fourth time in July. The presence in government of the anti-gambling advocate Chris Philp, chief secretary to the Treasury, and the influence of Iain Duncan Smith, similarly minded, in Liz Truss’s leadership campaign are yet to be brought to bear. For now, football clubs continue to act as advertising boards for an industry held responsible for the loss of Kimberly and many others.