Bereaved couple’s moving message on gambling addiction as Leeds football club remembers their son

To the outside world, Lewis Keogh seemed to have it all.

Good looks, charm and an easy smile. A well-paid job, a company BMW and a smart flat. And, most importantly, friends and family who thought he was a diamond, one in a million.

Lewis Keogh with his niece Mia.

Lewis Keogh with his niece Mia.

But, away from work and his busy social scene, when he locked his door and, alone at home, fired up his laptop, Lewis was in turmoil – he had become addicted to gambling.

He kept his habit a secret from everyone who knew him until, in 2013, he suddenly and shockingly took his own life at the age of 34.

Heartbreakingly, his suicide note included the words ‘addiction is cruel’.

Now, with players at his old amateur football club in Leeds preparing to pay tribute this weekend to their former team-mate and friend, Lewis’s parents, Peter and Sadie, have spoken about their lasting grief – and their fight to make sure no other family suffers the same terrible loss.

Peter told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “The more we do, the more we realise that we can only scratch the surface.

“This nation of ours is about to be overcome. The amount of people who get involved in gambling, and how it is impacting on families – I see it day in, day out.

“It’s a huge crisis waiting to happen to all of us and I don’t think I am scaremongering in the slightest when I say that.”

Originally from County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland, Lewis did a degree in sports science at Teesside University and, after a short spell back at home, moved to Leeds.

He spent nine years in the city and, at the time of his death, was working as a facilities manager and living in Burley.

Single but with no shortage of girlfriends, he was a proud uncle and spoke to his family by phone four or five times a week.

Peter, a 71-year-old retired education publisher, said: “It’s very easy to hide your problems if you’re talking to someone on the phone.

“We thought everything was normal, we got on very well.

“We knew he had a few debts but he spent so much time heading off for a mad weekend with the boys and going here, there and everywhere, I just thought, well, that’s where he’s spending his money.”

It was not until after Lewis died that Peter and Sadie discovered that he had in fact run up debts of £50,000 through credit cards and bank loans as he fed an addiction that had held him in its grip for six or seven years.

He is thought to have made occasional visits to a casino but, in the main, gambled on internet roulette and poker games.

Sadie, 72, said: “I’m not angry with Lewis, he was obviously too ashamed to tell us and couldn’t cope on his own.

“His suicide note emphasised that the debt was nothing to do with it.

“Suicide is a direct result of gambling addiction, not the debt.

“He said ‘addiction is cruel’, he didn’t say he couldn’t cope because of his debt.

“We need to get that through to people. It’s addiction and what it does to your head and what it does to your brain, it’s like being on crack cocaine.”

Peter and Sadie, who have two other sons, Justin, 45, and Richard, 43, have channelled their grief into a determination to help other addicts and are currently working with a charity called Gambling With Lives.

They want to see a drastic reduction in the amount of advertising by gambling companies on TV and are calling on banks to carry out more checks on people’s backgrounds and well-being before lending them money or approving credit cards.

The couple are also demanding better treatment for those who seek help, saying that too often a GP will prescribe “tablets for stress or something” when what an addict actually needs is “a lot of very specific counselling from a very well trained counsellor”.

Their pain will never go away but, in their darkest hours, they are comforted by memories of a son whose popularity was underlined by the huge turnout for his funeral at Cottingley crematorium in Leeds.

Sadie said: “There must have been four or five hundred people there, the people at the crematorium said they had never seen anything like it in their lives.

“People from his work, people from his football club, his friends from Ireland – he was just so popular with everyone. He was the life and the soul of the party.”

“Every day is a mixture of huge grief and huge anger,” added Peter.

“It never gets easier. There isn’t a day when I don’t wake up and think about it. As a parent, you will always say, ‘I should have known’.”

Football had an important role in Lewis’s life and, for much of his time in Leeds, he was involved with amateur club Headingley AFC.

He was a player, committee member and reserve side manager who showed serious commitment on the pitch and made a similarly indefatigable contribution to building team spirit on social occasions.

The club holds an annual fundraising day in his memory, with the most recent edition being staged in support of Gambling With Lives.

The connections between the charity and the football club have now led to Gambling With Lives becoming Headingley’s first-team sponsor.

And today the side will proudly wear their new sponsored kit for the first time, in a West Yorkshire Premier Division game against Whitkirk Wanderers.

Headingley chairman Callum Butcher said: “We miss Lewis terribly and, by holding our annual memorial day, we celebrate everything he stood for.

“We are delighted to have linked up with Gambling With Lives, it has given us new impetus to spread the message and educate young men across West Yorkshire about the dangers of gambling.”

Callum also thanked ex-player Gavin Johnstone and his furniture business Johnstone Interiors for helping make the sponsorship link-up possible.

Sheffield-based Gambling With Lives was founded by Liz and Charles Ritchie after their 24-year-old son, Jack, took his own life in 2017.

Charles told the YEP: “Jack was a normal, bright, happy and popular young man with a great future ahead of him. His only problem was his addiction to gambling.”