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Wife of Peter Shilton reveals how she confronted him with an ultimatum

He’s the most-capped England player ever — but Peter Shilton was lost to a secret betting addiction. In Saturday’s Mail he told his story. 

Here, in our final extract from the Shiltons’ book, his wife Steph gives her engrossing account of events . . .

On a sunny August day in 2013, the postman arrived with a bundle of letters. Checking through them, I noticed a bank statement addressed to my husband, the former England goalkeeper Peter Shilton.

Normally he would have scooped it up and hidden it, as he liked to keep his finances secret. But that day Pete was working in India, thousands of miles away, so I was first to see it land on the doormat.

I sat with the envelope in my hands. I knew I shouldn’t open it. I left it on the mantelpiece for three days, wrestling with my conscience. Opening it would be a betrayal of trust, but I knew it would reveal the truth.

Steph Shilton, the wife of former England goalkeeper Peter Shilton, described how she  opened his bank statement to discover he’d lost £18,000 in a month. Pictured: Peter and Steph Shilton at their home in Essex

My hands shook as I tore open the envelope. There were pages and pages of transactions, large sums paid to a betting company. 

I had suspected my husband was a gambling addict and here was the proof. I used a calculator to add up what he had lost: more than £18,000 in a month.

I felt faint. I honestly thought I might be sick. The bubble I lived in had burst.

I thought back to the pride and admiration I felt as I walked on to the pitch at Wembley with Pete six months after we met. I was newly in love and, to me, he was a hero. But now I knew that behind that handsome facade was an addict whose losses must run into millions.

Pete had been invited to present Liverpool’s Stephen Gerrard (now manager of Rangers FC) with his 100th cap for England. Pete, with 125 caps, holds the record for the number of times he played for his country.

A chauffeur picked us up. We walked through the Wembley tunnel, lined with huge images of famous England players, including Pete. He laughed and said: ‘Yes, I have played here a bit.’  

Typically modest. A moment later we were on that famous pitch, me in my high heels . . .

I was still coming to terms with Pete’s fame. I’d had no idea who he was when we met in February 2012. 

I was away for a weekend break with some girlfriends at a hotel and spa outside Colchester. I’d been single for a long time and my grown-up daughter Missy, who had just had a baby, was my priority.

We got into the same lift, then got chatting later in the bar. Pete was in black-tie as he’d been speaking at an event and seemed the perfect gentleman. I was delighted when he asked to see me again.

I knew nothing about football. When I went to Pete’s house in Warwickshire, I asked where his ‘football cups’ were, expecting 125 gold or silver cups to be on show. 

He laughed and said: ‘They’re caps — you wear them on your head.’ He hugged me and planted a kiss on top of my head, still laughing.

So that day at Wembley was a real eye-opener. Stephen Gerrard was the star of the show but seemed more interested in meeting Pete. I sat next to Sir Bobby Charlton at lunch. I was an NHS manager, so it was all new to me.

The couple, who moved in together in the summer of 2012, on their wedding day in 2016

The couple, who moved in together in the summer of 2012, on their wedding day in 2016

In my life as Pete’s girlfriend, I often found myself sitting in a plush, red leather seat in the Royal Box at Wembley — then the next morning I would be back in my black plastic NHS office chair.

Our relationship moved quickly. After our first few dates, we found ourselves missing each other. Pete’s visits to my home in Essex grew longer. He loved the nearby coast, especially Mersea Island, where we have now made our home. In the summer of 2012 he moved in.

I was determined to make life lovely for Pete. Though he was charming, even on our first date I sensed an unhappiness about him I couldn’t put my finger on.

A few days before he moved in, he called at 2am, sounding very down. I could hear the emptiness in his voice. I thought it was because he missed me. In reality, he’d had a day of heavy losses.

As I learned about Pete’s life, I realised how much he’d sacrificed for his success. In his playing days, Christmas, Bank Holidays and birthdays were filled with training and matches. 

On the first of his birthdays we spent as a couple, I took him for lunch and gave him an Armani watch. His eyes welled up with tears at the realisation that someone cared for him.

But after a couple of months of living together, I started to notice a shiftiness to Pete’s behaviour. He would often go out of the room to be on his phone. 

It crossed my mind that he was seeing another woman. It made me suspicious. If he was watching TV, he would quickly change the channel if I walked into the room. The remote control was never far from his hands.

Peter Shilton (top) pictured with fellow star keeper Ray Clemence of Liverpool in 1979

Peter Shilton (top) pictured with fellow star keeper Ray Clemence of Liverpool in 1979

I was sure something was going on. One day, I asked if I could borrow his phone as mine wasn’t charged up. I quickly sifted through his call history. One number cropped up time and time again. I wrote it down and rang it.

It was a gambling company. At that moment everything fell into place. Pete was gambling. It would still take a while to uncover the staggering extent of his addiction. For now, I was just confused as to why he wanted to hide it.

We went to a Chinese restaurant. I had noticed that if we went out for lunch, he would sometimes become jittery and want to get home. I decided to be frank, so I said: ‘Pete, I don’t know anything about football but I’ve been to Newmarket races. Do you like betting on the horses?’

He admitted he liked a flutter. I said: ‘You don’t have to sneak around and watch the horse racing behind my back. You can do it in front of me.’

He seemed relieved. For once, he didn’t rush our lunch. I thought the problem was solved.

But now Pete had relaxed a little and was less secretive, I started to see the extent of his gambling. If he wasn’t working, his time and attention centred on horse racing. If I asked about it, he would block me. 

I wondered if I was reading too much into it all but my gut feeling kept shouting ‘ADDICTION’. 

I knew a bit about addiction from having worked in a Special Care Baby Unit, caring for mothers with addictions whose newborn babies had to be weaned off drugs like heroin and alcohol. A baby born addicted is devastating to see. Tiny babies go through terrible withdrawal symptoms.

It never occurred to me to link gambling with that kind of substance addiction until later, when I saw Pete going through physical withdrawal once he’d stopped gambling — unable to concentrate, night sweats, insomnia — as if he were a heroin addict.

There was to be more drama before that, though. Right then, for my own sanity, I had to uncover the truth. So I turned detective to find out how bad Pete’s gambling was.

His laptop was password-protected so I couldn’t log on to it. Late one evening, I tiptoed very quietly down the stairs. The lounge is open-plan so I could see into it. Bingo! 

There was Pete watching a race with his laptop open. I could see he was on a gambling site. I then looked at the TV and he was watching a live horse race in Australia. Suddenly, I realised there was a whole new world of betting I hadn’t known about, where Pete could gamble on races anywhere in the world, at any time.

I tiptoed back to bed, realising I had been completely naive. At that time I didn’t have a smartphone of my own, or a home computer. Private use of my NHS computer at work was strictly forbidden.

My mission was to get into Pete’s laptop and have a good look at his betting account. Luckily, after a while the laptop started going wrong, so I suggested we could buy a better replacement between us and both use it. 

He couldn’t really not agree — because what reason could he give for not wanting to share a laptop? Begrudgingly, he did. 

So our new laptop was set up and I thought: ‘Great, now I’ll know the full story.’ How wrong I was. The betting icon was set up on the homepage but it was heavily password-protected.

Cracking the password was an impossible mission. I admit I tried several times, which led to it being locked. I was still no closer to knowing the extent of Pete’s problems but I wasn’t going to quit.

A year after we met, we went out for Sunday lunch. As we passed Colchester Town Hall, Pete walked up the steps, pulling me gently with him. He went down on one knee and said: ‘Will you marry me?’ I was shocked but immediately answered: ‘Yes, of course.’

We had lunch at a lovely Italian restaurant with a nice bottle of wine to celebrate. I was on cloud nine. But at the same time I knew this would be a very long engagement — there was no way I was getting married while the addiction was in our lives.

Pete’s gambling could seriously affect my own financial stability and that scared me. I understood that the minute we were husband and wife, I would be liable for any debts Pete had run up.

I had been taught the value of money by my parents. In my career, I had seen what addiction can do to people. Although I was in love with Pete, I wouldn’t allow myself to be swept away.

The wedding was obviously going to cost a lot of money and Pete’s dream was to take me to Barbados on honeymoon. 

I used our discussions about this to remind him we had to get sorted out financially. We were playing a game of cat and mouse. With the joint laptop, I thought I would be able to trace his online betting history but he quickly learnt how to cover his tracks and delete the details.

There is a saying that a gambling addict will ‘pound for a pound’, meaning they will go to any lengths to get hold of money. I told Pete I had got rid of my Barclaycard (I hadn’t). I kept my bank account separate and all my financial details secret. I lied and told him I didn’t have any savings.

Pete was more relaxed at the start of each month but often looked grey and withdrawn by the end, in line with his financial pattern. I once saw him watch a race, fixated, his breathing heavy and laboured. I began to worry about his health. I honestly believe gambling addicts are at higher risk of strokes and heart attacks.

Pete’s behaviour started to affect me. I had a stressful job and was living with a man with a now-obvious addiction. 

With the added pressure that he was famous, I couldn’t talk to family or friends. I couldn’t talk to Pete’s GP, the bank or the betting company he used either because of data protection.

I’d often lie in bed and cry, not just for myself but for him. How could this amazing world legend be in this situation? He was never going to admit he was a chronic gambler and I wondered where it would all end. My deepest fear was the thought that he might take his own life. That terrified me.

Then Pete went to India and I opened that bank statement. Reality hit me and I understood just how seriously he needed help.

I knew Pete’s username — I’d seen it one day when his laptop was open — and I emailed the betting company he was using. I made them aware of Pete’s addiction and begged for help. I even gave them his user ID so they would know exactly who I was talking about. 

They emailed back to tell me that, due to data protection, they couldn’t discuss the problem with me and suggested I contact Gamblers Anonymous.

I hadn’t intended to confront Pete when he returned from India but I really couldn’t hold it in, so I calmly told him what I’d found. He was, quite rightly, furious with me for opening his post — but I think really it was because I had finally cracked his secret world. 

He turned it round to me being in the wrong for interfering in his business, but I had opened the fortress door.

About a month later, we had a terrible experience. I was in my early 40s and had thought I was starting the menopause. I woke up one night with severe abdominal pain. 

Pete helped me to the bathroom, where I suffered a miscarriage. While waiting for the paramedics, Pete was amazing, keeping me calm, kissing and holding me.

For the next three days, he nursed me day and night. He didn’t leave me alone and, strangely enough, I noticed he didn’t gamble. I knew then that he could quit — for me. From our sad loss I gained hope.

That said, the 12 months leading up to Pete finally quitting in 2015 did become intolerable. 

By Christmas 2014 he was starting to look gaunt and ill. By this time, iPhones were all the rage, so he no longer needed the laptop. Everything he needed to be able to gamble was on his phone. I couldn’t seem to get him engaged in anything else. He was showing signs of real mental illness.

When I took him away for a New Year’s break, he behaved intolerably. He eventually admitted that New Year’s Day is one of the biggest days of the year for horse racing: as he saw it, I had interrupted his pattern of betting.

I wept on the way home. It was the first time I had cried over his gambling in front of him.

Yet I kept reminding myself it was the illness, not the man, causing me pain. I doubled my efforts to get Pete back. I started to use the word ‘lose’ in conversation. I was now at war with the betting companies. Every time they whispered ‘win’ in Pete’s ear, I’d be there to say ‘lose’.

I knew I had to be calm. I kept pushing the positives and hoped he was getting a mental picture of how happily we could live without gambling. Applying pressure would make the illness worse.

But two months into the new year, Pete was still obsessed with the horse racing. It was starting to affect my own well-being and I began to withdraw emotionally. 

I started to look up smaller houses for sale, leaving the web pages open on the laptop in the hope he would see them and worry that I was preparing to move out. In my desperation I thought that maybe, if he thought he was losing me, he might just see sense.

Very calmly, I said I wanted to spend a few nights in the spare room. He looked sad and said: ‘OK.’ It broke my heart to hurt him but I could see the addiction had brought him to his lowest point.

The next morning, Pete was in the lounge. He looked ghastly. He hadn’t slept a wink. He said: ‘I need to talk to you. If I don’t quit gambling, your next move will be out the front door. I can’t let that happen. I’m going to quit but I know I’m going to need your help.’

We stood there holding each other so tightly, crying. Pete towered over me and I felt his weight fall into me, as though 45 years of strain left his body. We were both forced down on the sofa by the weight of his relief — both in floods of tears. It was one of the greatest moments of my life. I knew, at that moment, he was going to stop.

The vile betting companies had lost. And I had won.

Adapted from Saved: Overcoming A 45-year Gambling Addiction, by Peter Shilton and Steph Shilton, published by Ad Lib on September 16 at £20. 

© Peter Shilton and Steph Shilton 2021. To order a copy for £18 (offer valid until September 12, 2021; UK P&P free on orders over £20), visit mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3308 9193.   


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