Former Liverpool forward Craig Bellamy has issued a warning to young footballers about how to be more careful with their finances.
The 43-year-old former Wales international was recently declared bankrupt after being unable to settle a £1,398,071.20 tax bill owed to His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. Once worth millions and able to boast a lavish watch collection, Bellamy now says he feels like he’s living on Death Row. He no longer owns a flash car or his own home, instead he lives in what has been described as a modest flat in Manchester which is rented for him by Burnley Football Club where he is employed as an assistant coach. It’s certainly nothing like the mansion he and his ex-wife sold for just short of £3million in 2018.
Investments in property and businesses tanked and he came massively unstuck as a result of his involvement in a tax avoidance scheme that was targeted by HMRC which affected numerous footballers and celebrities. HMRC clamped down on a number of schemes that took advantage of tax reliefs aimed at boosting investment in the British film industry. Two of the film schemes offered by London firm Ingenious Media for example, had dozens of footballers on their books. Gary Lineker, David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Glen Johnson, Wayne Rooney and England boss Gareth Southgate are all said to have been affected or linked to such schemes. Various legal battles and court action followed.
Commenting on the mess, Bellamy said: “I have been living the last five or six years on Death Row just waiting for someone to put me out. I have been waiting for the cell door to open and someone to say: ‘Today’s the day’. It’s like the feeling of not being able to look forward to anything. All the money I’ve earned, I can’t get a mortgage. Financially, I have no future. The hurt of that. I can’t own anything. Everything’s gone.
“My life has been on hold. I’m not a tax dodger but I have been very naive and the HMRC have been pursuing me for unpaid tax for some time. Everything I have had has been taken from me. If you get the wrong people advising you, it all haemorrhages, it all dwindles. It has got to the point where bankruptcy is a relief. It means I can just live again.
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“I know some people will probably think I have squandered all my money on drinking or gambling or drugs. I haven’t. I can go quiet where you won’t hear from me but I won’t be down the pub. I have never touched drugs since I was a young kid. I don’t gamble. I have never gambled. It doesn’t make any sense to me. But I have gambled on people unfortunately.
“I want this to be a warning to other players. Check everything, make sure the people advising you are regulated. If they are not regulated, it’s the Wild West. Get your stuff audited by independent people, the equivalent of getting a second opinion. I was brought up in a generation of footballers where everything was done for you. Every bill. Wherever I was, the club did everything for me. I think that’s wrong. It makes you too vulnerable.
“It’s good for players to have their own responsibilities because one day the club will not be there. You will finish your career and you will still be a young man and when you finish who’s going to pay your stuff then? You are going to have to learn to survive. You are going to have live in the real world.
“When I was a young player starting out at Norwich, my biggest fear was money. I was always wary of it. I didn’t want to end up with a lot of money but no career. I would give you all the money as long as I could keep my career. I always thought money would be the Devil. It would distract me to a point where I would lose my hunger. It would distract me so I would lose my bite and my ambition to want to get to the top.
“That chase of what everyone perceives to be success is not my chase. I don’t get that chase. Having nice things is nice, but it means nothing. I don’t wake up for that. I don’t wake up for the pursuit of nice things. I never felt like I had money anyway. I could afford nice things but there was no buzz in it. I actually felt like it was more of a pain in the backside, something for people to use you for.
“Wherever you go, you get over-charged. Wherever you went, you got ripped off. People think: ‘It doesn’t matter, he’s got so much of it, he won’t even notice’. People think you’re a walking cashpoint for them. I felt guilty saying ‘no’ when people rang up for help so I never said ‘no’. They don’t ring me now. You don’t hear from them. There was someone I helped get on their feet, he was living with me and then he ripped me off. We were best friends.
“The idea — which I actually think is insane now but when you are a young kid who is hell bent on being a footballer, it seemed sensible — was for me to take care of my football career and for a guy I trusted with my finances to take care of the money. I said: ‘As long as when I finish football, it’s taken care of… you trust me to do the football and I will trust you with everything else.’ It didn’t work out well, put it that way. Not for me, anyway.
“People say footballers should know better but why should I know better? I left school at 15. I felt like such a naive, stupid individual. I didn’t want to drink or gamble but if I’d lost money that way, maybe I could be kinder to myself. If I had done it to myself, then I could get on with fixing it. I don’t trust people because of this. As soon as you do trust someone, this happens. Deep down, I knew things weren’t right but I didn’t want to confront it. I didn’t know how to confront it. I thought: ‘If I have got it wrong here, I’m screwed’.
“I am lucky I know what I’m doing as a coach. I’m OK football-wise. But imagine if I wasn’t. Imagine if I didn’t want to be involved in football. Where would I go? What could I do? What type of life would I have? When you go into a dark depression and you start thinking suicidal thoughts, that’s when it comes. I should have been enjoying my retirement from playing. All the injuries I had had, all the work I had put in…for what? For people you trusted to do that to you?
“I entertained a lot of dark thoughts. But I realised the anger had to go because I was making myself ill. I am grateful I never turned to drink and I had close friends who have been incredible for me. And then Vincent comes up, completely out of the blue. I hadn’t been ready to take anything else on because my health was still not great — the dark thoughts and the dark moments can turn you bad. I wasn’t ready to manage because I had to learn to manage myself first.
“I knew I had to get up and I had to keep working. Keep going, keep working and it will be OK. I knew if I kept working and I stayed with it, something amazing would happen. I have believed in that so much that I have brainwashed myself. And now I know how lucky I am to be at Burnley, to be doing something I love and something I’m good at. And now we are top of the league and I love what I do. And now, after everything, something amazing is happening.”
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