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I gambled away pounds 700,000.. I was close to suicide.. but luckily my manager was Paul Merson SAYS DARREN WRACK; The FA CUP e-on FOURTH ROUND, KETTERING VFULHAM, KO 3PM.

Byline: BY MIKE WALTERS

KETTERING giantkiller Darren Wrack gambled away pounds 700,000 and contemplated suicide before he came back from the brink.

Romance of the Cup was once the preserve of dustmen and van drivers enjoying a day in the limelight or a last fling for journeymen before the final curtain ushers them towards obscurity.

But for the Kettering midfielder, 32, it has become a beacon of hope in his struggle against despair.

As his long association with Walsall was winding down last year, Wrack - with little to show from 16 years in the professional game apart from a pile of losing betting slips - threatened to take his own life.

Just 10 months later, he will join Kettering's bid to scalp Premier League Fulham this afternoon and cause one of the biggest shocks in the Cup's finest traditions.

Next time a Premier League manager picks the bus driver and kit man for an FA Cup tie and thumbs his nose at the world's oldest knock-out competition, tell him what it means to the likes of Wrack.

Next timed im TV executive signore a potentially seismic upset and choose the same old rich clubs for live coverage on the box, send them to Rockingham Road for a wake-up call.

Fulham may prove to have too much quality for Mark Cooper's underdogs, but even the faintest whiff of an upset is a reminder to Wrack that his battle with gambling addiction was a fight worth winning.

He said: "I'm 41 weeks without a bet now - if you had said that to me this time last year, I would have laughed, but that's how much of a grip it had on me.

"I was caught in its vice and I just couldn't see an end to it. To some extent, that's why Walsall didn't offer me a contract last summer.

"They tried to look after my money for me, but I was never ready to admit to my addictions until I went to Tony Adams' Sporting Chance clinic and I still go to Gamblers Anonymous at Kings Heath in Birmingham every week. It's easy to find, it's not hidden away.

"It's true I did consider ending it all last year. I spoke to my missus and told her I wanted to go to the bridge down the road from where I lived and jump off.

"I couldn't see a way out, I was forever pacing up and down the flat and it was the worst feeling in the world - absolutely rock bottom.

Fortunately, she told me to get the thought out of my mind and not to be so stupid.

"I gambled away about pounds 700,000 over 16 years - everything I ever earned - on horses, greyhounds, football and I would spend my afternoons in the bookies.

"There were times when I didn't have any food in the fridge because I was always chasing the big win so I could put down some money on a house or a car."

For a time there was a team-mate and manager at the Bescot Stadium who knew only too well the perils of obsessive betting.

Paul Merson's own Arsenal and England career was derailed by demons offering unlimited lager and punts on useless nags - yet Wrack still did not get the message.

He admitted: "Paul tried to help me as much as he could. He advised me to pack it in and my family said the same thing, but foolishly I shut them out of my life because I didn't want them to know I had no money.

"I was living in a dream world. It's a sad fact that gambling took everything from me."

Happily, Wrack's career is not only back on track with the Poppies, but his partner Leighsa has kept him on a tight leash and they are expecting their first child.

"Everything is much more positive now and we have a chance of pulling off a Cup shock if we don't let Fulham do what they do best," he said.

"We have Alfie Potter here on loan from Peterborough and there's a picture on the wall of his goal for Havant and Waterlo oville at Liverpool last season with the caption 'This is what you can achieve'. That's why the Cup is so magical."

Merson's career was derailed by demons offering unlimited lager and punts on useless nags

CAPTION(S):

NO HARM IN DREAMING.. Kettering's Tommy Jaszczun and John Dempster get their hands on the FA Cup. Right: Darren Wrack. Below: Rockingham Road's spartan dressing rooms
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 24, 2009
Words:756
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