I loved it when one lad in particular was in the England squad. He was either the unluckiest card player I’ve ever seen or the worst. I think he was the worst. I was just happy to take his money.
He hadn’t been involved with England much under Sven Goran Eriksson and it was a real bonus when Steve McClaren started picking him.
Every time we met up with England, I smashed him all week. It got to the point where he owed me so much money that he asked if he could pay me back in instalments and set up a standing order to deal with the payments.
Michael Owen (left) acted as the bookmaker for the England squad at the 2002 World Cup
Poor bloke, he must have kept thinking his luck would change, but it never did. For a while, I got standing orders or bank transfers from him every month.
We didn’t qualify for Euro 2008 with McClaren, which was probably a blessing in disguise for him — he would have been bankrupt by the end of it.
Not long after we got back from the 2002 World Cup, a story broke that Michael Owen had run up debts of £30,000 in the tournament in card schools at the team hotel and that I was the man to whom he had to pay the money.
I felt sorry for Michael. He had offered to be the bookmaker in Japan and had taken the players’ bets.
I’d done pretty well and had a couple of spectacular wins. I put £500 on South Korea to beat Italy in the knockout stages. Michael gave me odds of 16–1. The bet came in, so he owed me £8,500 straight away.
But Michael made money from other people and probably came out around even in the end. In fact, he was probably a few quid up.
There was a sizeable band of England’s squad who were addicted to gambling (there is no suggestion that the players pictured are among those who were gambling addicts)
The amounts of money that we gambled in my time with England grew more extreme as the years went by, until it got to the point where I thought there was a huge danger it was destabilising individuals and potentially affecting our results.
People think it began in the Kevin Keegan era, but in my experience the levels of gambling under Keegan were fairly tame.
Everything seemed relatively sedate. Alan Shearer and Gareth Southgate were part of a card school, but I don’t think they played for money.
Some of the other players were in other games and the sums were relatively small, a couple of hundred quid here and there.
When Keegan was replaced by Sven in 2001, things stepped up a notch. It was still manageable, it never got over the top. Generally, it was me, Michael, Teddy Sheringham, David James and Wayne Bridge and sometimes Robbie Fowler.
Dyer made 33 international appearances for England after his debut in September 1999
We’re talking about a maximum of a couple of grand in a hand. That sounds pretty excessive but, given the wages we were on, that was not out of control and nothing was going to make us panic.
But the levels that we reached at Euro 2004 and some of the Euro 2008 qualifiers were just ridiculous, eye-wateringly huge.
We were gambling such large sums that we knew we couldn’t possibly do it in public. So we gambled in each other’s rooms, behind locked doors.
We were like clandestine drinkers, hiding ourselves to get wasted. Except the drug was gambling and there was a sizeable band of us that were addicted.
There were four or five of us who played, but the sums were so large that I’m not going to name names. There were no limits on what we’d gamble or what we’d chase to win our money back if we lost.
The only restriction that we imposed upon ourselves was that we stopped playing 72 hours before a game. It was an unconscious admission that playing cards for obscene amounts of money could be just as damaging to you mentally and physically than going out for a few drinks. It was an acceptance that it was very hard to get your mind back on an important game if you had lost hundreds of thousands of pounds to a team-mate a couple of nights before. And that is the kind of money I’m talking about.
I played alongside Owen for both club and country with Newcastle and the national team
Gambling that kind of money was routine at Euro 2004.
We didn’t gamble with cash by then, either. That simply wasn’t practical. The table would have been groaning with notes if we’d done that. We gambled with IOUs and kept a record of how much each player owed the pot. That was another reason why the sums became so absurd. Sometimes, it didn’t seem real.
After a week or so in Portugal, I was £46k down. Then one night I went from £46k down to more than £50k up.
I was earning £60k or £70k a week at Newcastle by that stage, but when I was £46k down, it was a horrible feeling. I hated it. It was in my head. It was out of control.
Dyer revealed that one player was so deep in gambling debt that he started begging for deals (there is no suggestion that any of the players pictured had said gambling debt)
Adapted from Old Too Soon, Smart Too Late by Kieron Dyer with Oliver Holt, published on February 22 by Headline at £20.
To order a copy for £16 (offer valid to 21/2/18; P&P free), visit www.mailshop.co.uk/books or call 0844 571 0640.
By the end of Euro 2004, one player was so massively down that he was begging players to do deals. ‘Would you take 30 grand for the 50 grand I owe you?’ he was saying.
Most of the time, people helped him out. I don’t know how much he was down but it would have been a few hundred grand.
The amounts of money we were playing for were such that, if someone had a string of bad days, they could easily have been half a million down. That’s just at one tournament.
I can’t talk about how it affected other players, because I don’t know. I don’t think it affected relationships within the squad. But we were at a major tournament. How can you go into an important game and not have that playing on your mind? I don’t see how you can go out against France, say, in one of the biggest games of your life and play your best football.
To be owing half a million pounds in gambling debts off the back of one tournament is an awful lot of cash for anybody.
You’re supposed to be in the shape of your life at a tournament, but if you’re in that kind of debt, your head is going to be a mess.
I was a couple of grand up or down by the time we got knocked out by Portugal. The player who lost the most was down by more than £100k.
Gambling is an issue in football. Players get bored. Players have too much disposable income. We are problem gamblers waiting to happen.
There was a card school at Newcastle too but the amounts weren’t as big as with England
Newcastle’s squad had a gambling problem too
There was a card school at Newcastle, too. We flew to most away games so we gambled on the plane.
The amounts weren’t as big as they were with England, but there was one game that finished as a stand-off between Craig Bellamy and Laurent Robert that ended up with about £40k on the table.
Craig Bellamy and Laurent Robert had a stand-off with around £40,000 left on the card table
Michael Chopra, who went on to develop a serious gambling problem, blamed that Newcastle card school for his issues, which began when he was a teenager at the club.
He mentioned me and Craig and Titus Bramble as the main players in the school. He said his gambling debts had led to him being threatened by underworld figures.
Players run scared in an England shirt
We’re all scared in an England shirt. It’s one of the main reasons we never achieve what we’re supposed to achieve. That’s the England player’s disease.
Sure, some are more scared than others. I sat next to a player on the bench once who had played for Liverpool and other leading Premier League clubs and the fans were giving the lads a bit of stick. He turned to me and said: ‘I hope I don’t get on today.’
That was what it was like with England. That is what it is still like. Too many players are afraid to make a mistake, because they know they will get battered by the media and fans if they don’t do well.
So they do the easy thing. They try to hide. I did. You take the easy option. You don’t do the brave thing.
England players were scared to pull on the Three Lions shirt because of the media criticism
You don’t try to make something happen. You don’t try the clever pass because you’re worried the crowd will get on your back or the press will give you a three out of 10. So, you do not try to stand out. You don’t try to alter the game. You try to disappear. You try to make damn sure you don’t do anything wrong and you limit your ambition to that. And when you do that, you become average.
Look at the way Raheem Sterling has been treated. He is one of the most talented individuals we have, and yet there have been times when he has been made a scapegoat.
At Euro 2016, everyone seemed to decide it was his fault that Roy Hodgson’s team was stinking the place out and started talking about his attitude. So is it any surprise when players are picked for England that they go into their shells?
They don’t play with the freedom they show with their clubs. It’s not hooliganism that’s the English disease any more, it’s fear. It’s not just fringe players that it affects and it’s not just players like me, who won more than 30 caps.
England fans hurl abuse at then-manager Steve McClaren during the 3-0 win over Andorra
I played in England’s game against Andorra in 2007 and I saw what the pressure of playing for England could do to the greatest players.
John Terry and Rio Ferdinand, elite centre halves, could barely play a five-yard pass because of the pressure. The atmosphere was poisonous. We were being vilified by our own fans. The fear of getting a bad result against Andorra and the humiliation that would follow crippled us.
It was brutal. I’ve never seen anything like it. Some of the squad who were in the stand had to move out of their seats because they were getting so much abuse. It was 0–0 at half-time and the jeering when the lads came off was deafening. I’ll never forget how much hatred there was towards the team that day.
England’s players struggled to cope with the poisonous atmosphere away against Andorra
It seems to come with the territory when you play for England. Our fans and media exist in a state of habitual disappointment. We still hark back to 1966. We talk about how the players don’t care and how far behind the rest we are. It’s a convenient narrative, but it’s lazy and I don’t see the situation getting better any time soon.
Lack of responsibility, lack of respect, lack of independent thinking: it’s all there in the failures that have haunted us. We make fun of authority, we don’t respect it.
If you want an example of what’s wrong with English football and if you want to know why we haven’t won a major tournament since 1966, just refer to a night in Malaysia at the Under 20 World Cup. We had been very well behaved but after we lost to Argentina, things got messy. Really messy.
Roy Hodgson feels the pressure as his England side are dumped out of Euro 2016 by Iceland
We all headed for the hotel bar and stayed there. At one stage someone decided it would be funny if we all passed a bag around and then delivered a ‘gift’ hung on the bedroom door of the manager, Ted Powell. Don’t ask me why we thought that would be amusing or acceptable. In that climate, at that age, after a few drinks, it seemed like the funniest idea in the world.
It wasn’t because we didn’t like him. We just thought it would be funny.
It showed a lack of respect, decency, professionalism, seriousness, intelligence, responsibility — and a football culture that’s shot to pieces. It was the way our culture was back then, the way we had been brought up.
We were doing that to the manager of an England team. I look back and wonder if it was our culture holding us back. We acted without considering the consequences. Inevitably that mind-set is going to bleed into performance.
Scholes’ England treatment was criminal
Paul Scholes was the best player I played with and people like Xavi and Zinedine Zidane counted him as their favourite player.
Other nations would have used him as their fulcrum but Sven Goran Eriksson’s first-choice midfield was always David Beckham on the right, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard in the centre and Scholes on the left.
There was an element of disrespect to deploy Paul Scholes (left) out wide for England
We didn’t have a football culture that appreciated him. So we wasted him by putting him on the left and banished him to the margins. It was disrespectful, one of the biggest crimes ever.
When you talk about Gerrard, Lampard and Scholes, Scholes was the best of the three and yet he was asked to give way. He was the absolute master of one touch in training. One day he scored three or four goals — and I’m not talking tap-ins. I’m talking 25-yarders-lodging-in-the-stanchion-type goals.
When the session was over, the rest of the England players formed a guard of honour and clapped him off the pitch. I’d never seen that before and I never saw it again.
Scholes was played on the left of midfield for England by then-manager Sven-Goran Eriksson
The truth behind my punch-up with Lee Bowyer
I could see him marching towards me, eyes bulging. Graeme Souness was shouting ‘don’t do it’ from the touchline but Lee Bowyer kept on coming.
I grabbed him by the shoulders and the neck to keep him off me and then he started raining in punches. It was like slow motion.
When the punches were hitting me in the head, I was thinking: ‘I cannot believe he is hitting me in front of 52,000 people. What the f*** is he thinking?’
I was trying to let him punch himself out. I thought it was just going to be handbags. It’s the kind of thing that might happen in training but not in a match. No one in their right mind would do that — but Bow had lost his mind. I think he hit me four times.
Me and Lee Bowyer came to blows during the 3-0 loss to Aston Villa at St James’ Park in 2005
The punches didn’t hurt but by the time the fourth punch came in, I thought ‘f*** this’ and launched one back at him. Gareth Barry rushed in to restrain Bow and drag him away.
Bow’s shirt was ripped down to his chest and he was still snarling and snapping and trying to get himself free. I was relatively calm, but I looked over at Bow again and he was frothing and raging.
I didn’t realise that you could get sent off for fighting your team-mate. The referee came over and showed me the red card. Then he sent Bow off, too. The crowd had been on our case because we were 3-0 down at home to Aston Villa.
Dyer (left), Newcastle manager Graeme Souness (centre) and Bowyer (right) after the incident
On the pitch, tempers were fraying. Bowyer had come to show for the ball. He was available, but I thought there were better options and passed to another team-mate.
Bowyer went crazy. ‘F****** pass me the ball,’ he screamed. ‘What are you talking about?’ I said. ‘You never pass me the ball,’ he said. I told him to do one but he chuntered a bit more.
A few minutes later, he wanted me to lay it square to him. I thought there were better options. It wasn’t personal. Bow went absolutely nuts. ‘F****** hell,’ he yelled, ‘you never pass me the ball.’ ‘The reason I don’t pass you the ball,’ I said, ‘is because you’re f****** s***.’
Bowyer and myself would later play together at West Ham and maintain a good relationship
His whole demeanour changed. He had gone and I knew he had gone. I’d always got on well with him. I still do. The media have portrayed him in a certain way, and sure, he had his moments.
But Frank Lampard had his moments, too, and people say he was the perfect role model. It helps that Frank fulfilled his potential and that he was an unbelievable player. That encourages people to forget his past misdemeanours.
Bow did have a nasty temper. He was quite laid back in many ways, but once he went, he really went. Sometimes, he boiled over, and when he did, you just had to stand back and watch the show.
Souness wanted to beat me up!
Graeme Souness turned around in the front seat of the car and looked at me. ‘If I ever have to come to a police station again because you have stepped out of line,’ he said, ‘I will beat you up.’
I kept my mouth shut. He wasn’t messing around. He was serious. My first real dealings with my new Newcastle manager in 2004 were hardly ideal. There had been pictures in a newspaper that appeared to show me doing up my flies in the street after a night out.
I was accused of urinating in public and was told I had to report to a police station. Souness said he was coming with me. My heart sank. We were ushered into an interview room where two officers were waiting. It wasn’t the best way to make a good impression with the new boss.
Souness threatened to beat me up after collecting me from a police station in 2004
The senior policeman said I’d be leaving the room in handcuffs and that they were going to throw me in jail for what I’d done. This was for peeing in the street. The claims were absurd. It was just an opportunistic photograph that gave the wrong impression.
They said they had CCTV footage. I told him it was complete nonsense and to charge me or stop wasting everybody’s time. Souness just sat there and listened. When we left the police station, we walked back to the car in silence.
By the time we got back to the training ground, he was in a filthy mood. He was about a month into the job and there were a few other items on his agenda by then. We had played Charlton and he had substituted Craig Bellamy.
The TV cameras caught Craig muttering ‘f****** p****’ in his direction as he walked off. Souness didn’t see or hear it, but when he was shown footage, he was livid. There had also been stories about an altercation between Craig and Nicky Butt before the England–Wales game a week or so earlier.
Souness told Bellamy he’d ‘f****** knock him out’ during their spell together on Tyneside
Souness wasn’t happy about that, either. He called a meeting. ‘When I was on the outside, looking at this football club,’ Souness said, ‘I saw a very talented team, but people who are out of control and think they are above the law. Let’s take a typical week since I have been Newcastle manager.’
He looked at me. ‘I have just been to the police station with this little p****,’ he said. ‘It’s probably normal for him to be back and forth to the police station all the time, but it’s not normal for me.’
Then he moved on to Craig and Butty. He had heard about their altercation and that Butty had threatened to beat the s*** out of Craig. ‘I wish he had beaten the s*** out of you,’ Souness said.
Craig had been warned by Dean Saunders, Souey’s assistant, not to answer back, but it wasn’t in Craig’s make-up to keep quiet. He started protesting that there hadn’t been any argument.
Souness had replaced Bobby Robson – who was manager when I signed for Newcastle
‘See, this is the problem,’ Souness said. I could see he was about to go. He mentioned a few of the trophies he had won and some of the clubs he had played for. ‘And then someone like you calls me a f****** p****,’ he said to Craig. ‘I’ll f****** knock you out.’
He tried to grab Craig by the throat. ‘In the gym now,’ he said. ‘Let’s sort this out like men.’ Alan Shearer had to pull Souness off him. That was the first time in my life I’ve seen Bellers completely speechless. They never made it to the gym, but it knocked the stuffing out of Craig. Souness had put down a marker.
Souness was actually really good for me. The season I had with him was the best football I played. I think it was because I feared the man. I was physically afraid of him. I didn’t want to cross him because I believed there would be physical consequences if I did. I’d seen the proof. You couldn’t slack off.
I owed him a lot. I liked his style. Sometimes he’d have his top off in the gym and he’d be doing the chest press and it was like ‘boom’. I was thinking: ‘My God, this guy’.
KIERON DYER BOOK REVIEW BY IAN HERBERT: ABUSE AT THE HEART OF DYER’S CHAOTIC FALL FROM GRACE
The chaotic life of Kieron Dyer has provided plenty of material used to beat him up in print over the years.
Even his mother’s disclosure that she would be on hand to keep an eye on him at the 2002 World Cup, after his selection by England, prompted a sneering piece about ‘the part-time shop worker from Asda’ as one so-called writer described her at the time.
But every life is a process of cause and effect. Buried in the background there is generally some kind of explanation for the mayhem. The picture of Dyer came into much clearer focus through a compelling interview with Oliver Holt in the Mail on Sunday.
Dyer revealed the sexual abuse inflicted on him as a child by an uncle, in whose care he had been left. He related the small details of the trauma: the redbrick house in Ipswich, the clothes he was wearing that night, his mother Jackie’s number — 214576 — which he rang after fleeing to the telephone in the hall. It didn’t need spelling out that this episode has remained branded across his mind for nearly 30 years.
‘I was so scared at night that I would sleep at the bottom of my mum’s bed until I was 16 and they used to take the mickey out of me — the whole family,’ Dyer said. ‘(They would) call me a cissy. I had my mood swings. They’d say, “Don’t talk to him today, he’s moody”.’
Dyer revealed the sexual abuse he suffered as a child at the hands of his uncle
But there was also a broader sense of the desolation which seemed to occupy the early years of the young Dyer’s life, which was quite obviously a hand-to-mouth existence. Dyer was in his uncle’s care that evening because his mother was, as usual, working the late Friday night shift at Tooks Bakery on the Old Norwich Road. She and his father, Leroy Dyer, had separated.
Dyer’s autobiography, Old Too Soon, Smart Too Late, serialised in Sportsmail this week, reveals an individual who missed a father’s presence. He needed discipline as well as someone to provide attention — both seem to have been in pitifully short supply.
In the Mail on Sunday interview he went on to say: ‘I don’t want to use what happened to me as an excuse for the mistakes I made. In my life and football career, I made monumental errors. But I had a choice. I knew what was right and wrong and you can pick what’s right and what’s wrong.
‘But with the abuse, it’s probably the only thing where I didn’t have a choice. There was nothing I could do about that one moment in time and it formed my life.’
Of course, an attempt to understand what was missing in the lives of Dyer and his siblings — his sister was jailed for nearly six years in 2008 for supplying heroin and crack cocaine — can only extract so much empathy.
His tales of the high life among the Baby Bentley Brigade confirm him to be an emblem of football’s most unregimented excesses.
Kieron Dyer kept the act that twisted and blighted his life secret for the last 20 years
There is something unpleasant about his story of how, at the cards table, he ‘smashed’ a member of the England squad into such debts that he asked if he could pay Dyer back in instalments.
Dyer, by then earning millions a year, ‘got standing orders or bank transfers from him every month’. In another extract on Tuesday he talks about how his lifetime ambition included owning a Ferrari.
The extracts and the autobiography no more make its subject likeable than they excuse his behaviour. But they do add substantially to the sum of our understanding — perhaps revealing why, having found an escape route denied to so many children rooted in working-class poverty, Kieron Dyer wasted so much.
His reflections on such a journey make for compelling reading. Certainly the Under 16 team he now coaches at Ipswich would do well to learn from his tale.