Matthew Etherington has suggested that gambling companies prey on vulnerable footballers and claimed that he was "targeted" during his time at West Ham United.
Etherington appeared for West Ham between 2003 and 2009 and has a history of gambling addiction, prompting him to speak out on the matter following the 18-month ban imposed on Burnley midfielder Joey Barton.
Barton’s ban came about as a result of having placed 1,260 bets on the outcome of football matches, some of which he was involved in, over the course of a 10-year period.
And Etherington believes that Barton could have fallen foul of betting company tactics in a similar manner to himself.
“I was targeted when I was at West Ham, I think it was around 2004-05 season,” the ex-Premier League winger told BBC 5 Live.
“There were gambling companies coming into our training ground with cards, with leaflets, saying that you could bet with us, you could bet as much money as you wanted, it would all be settled or we’d pay them at the end of the month.
“They knew we were young, maybe a little bit vulnerable and lots of money in our bank accounts.
“Looking back at that now it was very, very irresponsible of them. It leaves a little bit of a bitter taste in my mouth.”
At the height of Etherington’s gambling addiction he accumulated a debt of around £800,000, before finally entering rehab in 2009 to treat his issue.
The former Premier League star believes that, in the light of Barton’s ban, the relevant football bodies should be doing more to help players who have suffered as a result of gambling problems.
“More can be done within the PFA going into clubs, it’s just whether the players want to listen,” Etherington added.
“I think it’s got to come from the person to want to stop.
“I’ve had players come to me through their agents, Premier League players, since I’ve retired, probably half a dozen, saying they feel it’s getting out of hand and how did you do it [kick the addiction]? But I’ve not heard from them again after that.
“It’s very hard, especially when you’re going into professional clubs it’s a very ego-driven world and everyone’s fighting for that place in the starting line-up on a Saturday, and they just want to get home to their wives, or family, or they just want to get home to do whatever they want to do. Sometimes it’s hard to get through to them.”