When the Reading U18s stroll into a meeting room on the second floor of the Select Car Leasing Stadium, they bring a boisterous energy with them.

After all, it is Friday afternoon, training is done for the week and these young men are ready to muck about and enjoy themselves - not necessarily sit quietly and listen.

Yet just moments later, an intense silence grips the room. This is the power Scott Davies holds.                                                 

“I’m now 33 years old,” he starts. “When I was playing football, I was at this club, I went on to be a pro for 11 years. People probably looked at my life and thought ‘he lives a nice life because he drives a nice car, has a nice watch.’ But inside I was struggling with a gambling problem I didn’t speak about for ten and a half years. 

“In 2014 I dropped out of the game, nobody would touch me and that’s where gambling had taken me. In 2015 after being out of the game for a year I found myself stood in my kitchen at home self-harming. I had a knife in my hand, I was cutting my wrists, cutting my chest thinking ‘what on earth am I doing with my life?’ 

“So I ended up getting some help for it, I went to rehab in 2015.”

Now, seven years on from that painful memory, Davies’ life barely resembles his former one and in the areas it does, it shines for how far he’s come. A fractured relationship with his family has been repaired and he’s even playing football again - and this time actually enjoying it.

But the focus of Davies’ life is exactly what may have stalled any potential recovery: talking. Or as is so often the case with young men: not talking.

The former Royal plays for National League South side Slough Town. Primarily though he travels up and down the country working for Epic Risk Management, providing talks and educational workshops to explore and communicate the dangers of gambling addiction through lived experiences.

The silence that quickly came over the young Reading players present is common: Davies is relatable and honest, making this talk far from any sort of ‘lecture’.

Reading Chronicle: Scott Davies in action for Reading against Chelsea.Scott Davies in action for Reading against Chelsea.

“From my lived experience and my involvement in football I always get the engagement and I get the respect from players and management teams. I can honestly say now, hand on heart, that not one person has ever said a word in my sessions and for me that speaks volumes because I know as a young footballer you always get a few who want to clown about in sessions. But we’ve never had that. 

“I think what we’re talking about is real, it’s close to the bone, it’s hard-hitting. And because I’ve been in their shoes it’s relatable. And I think that’s where I’m very fortunate. That I’ve got that string to my bow where players can relate to me.” 

Of course, in this particular room in this particular area of the world, it hits even closer to home. Berkshire. The Madejski Stadium. This is where Davies made his name.

“At the age of 14 I was playing for Wycombe Wanderers,” he explains. “I remember walking home from school one day and my dad called me and said ‘I’ve had Reading Football Club on the phone, they want to take you on trial’. 

“Fast forward a few months, I got bought for 50,000 at the age of 14. I remember sort of bowling into school the next day, told every single girl in the playground because it made me feel good. But that changed my mindset in Year 11. I thought ‘I’m going to go on and be a superstar footballer, make millions of pounds playing football’”

Reading Chronicle: Scott Davies playing for Reading at the Madejski Stadium.Scott Davies playing for Reading at the Madejski Stadium.

The problem that would consume Davies’ life started at age 16 when he moved into digs, living on his own with a host family. Boredom and loneliness drove Davies into his local Coral bookmakers’. A few minutes and a spin on the roulette wheel saw his 50-pound weekly wage disappear.

“I’d spin it, I’d lose it, I’d walk out the shop and ring my mum ‘I’ve made a mistake, I’ve bought another pair of trainers.’ I never told her the truth that I was gambling. 

“She transferred me money and as soon as that money hit the bank account I’d go straight back into the shop thinking ‘I need to make my money back’. I’d lose hers, wake up the following morning and think ‘how am I going to get into training?’ I couldn’t afford the £1.20 bus to get into town to meet the mini-bus. I used to walk three and a half hours to get there. 

“Some days I would turn my phone off, put it face down and I’d turn it on again in the afternoon and there’d be messages from my manager, physio, teammates. And I was just ignoring them. Even though it was just 50 quid it started affecting my professionalism.”

Despite the growing off-the-pitch issues, Davies' talent was very real and at 17 he signed his first professional contract with Reading and started training with Steve Coppell’s Premier League Royals.

Nerves and anxiety about going up against these current and future Royals legends saw Davies find solace in the same place he always seemed to: the bookmakers’. So often, Davies coped with negative emotions by gambling. He tells a story from later in his career when a move to Leeds United fell through and he responded by losing £23.5k, the most he ever lost in one day day.

Questions over Davies’ professionalism led Coppell to send him out on loan to Aldershot in the National League where he flourished, scoring 11 goals while helping his temporary club to promotion. The following season, he returned to Alershot on loan, this time coming up with 14 goals in League Two. 

But even that impressive burst onto the scene was tinged with the dark forces in the background of his life.

“I’d shoot from everywhere,” he explains.

“I used to back myself to score first. I was 16/1, for every pound you put on you get 16 in profit. For every 100 pound I used to put on, I got 1600. I used to score first quite regularly. So I’d play in a way that was quite selfish. I wasn’t passing to my teammates anywhere near the edge of the box, I was going to get my shots off.

“The FA could still ban me today. But they realise they want me to go and tell stories like this.”

Returning to RG2 the next season under Brendan Rodgers, Davies was truly living his lifelong dream. In pre-season he scored a free-kick against Chelsea before starting on opening day against Nottingham Forest at the Madejski. It got even better as he was awarded Man of the Match.

The following week he was playing in front of nearly 40,000 fans at Newcastle. In his second - and final - home game saw him awarded Man of the Match again. 

But while his teammates were arriving early and leaving late, Davies was frequently the first to depart the training ground. A conversation with manager Brendan Rodgers did little to change his attitude and when he was caught lying about a dentist appointment to leave early yet again, his Reading career was over.

A loan to Wycombe kept him in football and he dropped down to League Two Crawley Town at the end of the season when his Royals contract expired.

Looking back he has no complaints. In his own words he “didn’t deserve to be a professional footballer at this club.”

While Crawley were desperate to sign Davies, things quickly imploded. An argument with the manager in pre-season set the tone and when he had problems paying a £1500 speeding fine, Davies responded in the way that was natural to him.

“I told my dad I’d paid the £1500 fine and I hadn’t. When the bailiffs knocked on the door my dad had to pay it then and there for me. I said to my dad ‘when I get paid at the end of the month, I’ll give it to you.’ But I had £500 left in my bank account and I thought, ‘I know what I can do.’

“I put my £500 on my own team to lose that Saturday. I played centre-midfield away for Crawley against Cheltenham in League Two. At half-time I got taken off with two other lads at 3-0 down. At five to five I looked at my betting account and saw £2000. I thought, ‘that was easy, I can do this every week.’

“I look back now and think ‘what was I doing?’ I found myself sleeping in my car after training because I couldn’t afford to go home.

“I spent every single penny at the bookmakers, had no fuel in my car, couldn’t ring my mum or dad because they’d know I’d been gambling. So you just go and find a lay-by to park in - that’s the kind of thing I was doing.”

Still though, Davies didn’t, or couldn’t, change.

“At the end of my first season at Crawley we got promoted to League One. I was meant to go away and do three or four runs per week, go to the gym three of four times per week. We had this whole training programme that we got given. I sat in a chair at BetFred for six-eight weeks. I didn’t kick one football, I didn’t go on one run.

“I walked into training and the first thing one of my teammates said was ‘Look at the state of you.’ I didn’t see it myself. I had put on two stone and two pounds. The manager said ‘you’re never playing for this club ever again.’ 

Off the back of a promotion where I played the last 14 games, I should have gone in flying. And that’s why I want you to know; that gambling doesn’t just affect your finances.”

Halfway through the season, Crawley paid Davies more than £30k just to leave the club and shortly after he was given one final chance in professional football with Oxford United.

“I signed for one more club, Oxford United. Chris Wilder was the manager. He sat me down and said ‘I’ve tried to sign you for the last two years, I’ve finally got ya, let’s get the show on the road.’

“However, in October that year I wasn’t right up here. I was going to bed crying, waking up crying. I was putting my boots on in the morning thinking ‘I don’t want to play football, I don’t want to be around that environment’

“When I told my doctor all this, she prescribed me antidepressants. And I asked ‘I’m taking these tablets do I have to tell my employers?’ She said ‘I would advise that you do.’ I said ‘In that case I don’t want them.’ I thought ‘my manager’s not going to pick me to play in front of 10,000 if I’m taking antidepressants. Looking back, it’s a big regret.”

“At the end of that season I got released, my professional career was finally over at the age of 26 and I deserved to be out of the game.”

Davies waited for a call but the only one that arrived came from Dunstable Town. Meanwhile he spent his life doing as always did: gambling. Until the lowest moment.

“On the 8th of June, 2015 my whole life changed. I was stood in the bookmakers’, I turned around and saw my mum in the door in floods of tears.

“I went home that night and my dad rung me and said ‘this needs to stop.’ That triggered something in me where I thought ‘the only way this can stop is if I’m not here anymore.’ I went for a walk, sat on top of a bridge and thought about things. I went home and sat in the dark for the day and then started to cook some food. There was this rage and anger that came over me and I started to self-harm.

“For the first time in my life I was scared. I went over to my mum, showed her what I’d done. Within three and a half weeks I’d checked into rehab. On the 21st day my parents came to see me, I hadn’t seen them in three weeks. My dad turned around to me and said ‘if you gamble again we’re going to disown you, it’s as simple as that.’ I remember breaking down in this room thinking ‘how are people I love more than than anything else in the world tell me they’re going to disown me?’ Something that started out as a little bit of fun turned into a problem and into an addiction. I’d completely lost control of it. It can happen so quickly.

“When I came out, I had to rebuild my life. My mum said to me ‘I feel like I’ve got my son back. I haven’t known you for ten and a half years.’ I was like mum ‘don’t be stupid, I’ve been here the whole time.’ She said ‘what does your sister do for work?’ I just said I don’t know. I didn’t speak to my family for a long time. Through addiction, family is usually the first thing you lose and the hardest thing to get back. Fortunately, mine stood by me.”

Scott Davies hasn’t placed a bet in six-and-a-half years. He’s happily married, has rebuilt the trust with his family, loves his football and has “the best job in the world.” His story is desperately sad, it’s impossible to feel otherwise. But more than that he’s an example. An example of how far someone can come. And an example of the power of talking.

Davies doesn’t feel regret, knowing he can’t change the past. But he’s honest with himself and others. That means recognising the many things he did wrong during his addiction.

“This is my most enjoyable session of the year,” he says after the U18s have vacated the room. “I look at those lads, and that’s me 16/17 years ago. I would do anything to be them again and give it another shot and do things properly. I’m sure I would have done better. I see some of my old teammates playing in the Premier League, World Cups, European Championships, and I’m so happy for them. I’m not a bitter person, I’m not regretful. But I just wish at times I would have done things properly and given myself a better chance. 

“When I was younger I was like a sponge. I soaked up all my problems and didn’t release until I was older. And that for me was a problem.

“It’s really difficult to get through life and it’s really difficult to get through life in football. It’s a macho environment, people don’t talk about their problems, they bottle them up and get on with it. 

“I take my worries everywhere I go, even now, but the difference is now I talk to people about them. I’m not just by myself anymore.

“I let it go on too long and that’s my biggest biggest regret. It’s not the money I lost, not the £250,000 and £60-70,000 of my parents. It’s not the career I lost, it’s not the way I treated people. It’s that I let it go on too long, everything else would hae been taken care of. Letting things build up before I said anything.

“It (talking about his addiction) was the most overwhelming sense of relief that I can ever have in my life. I was lucky I had the mum and dad have, they immediately were like ‘let’s get you some help.’ And it was almost like a problem shared is a problem solved. Now I’ll talk to my family about anything, I won’t lie to them because it took a long time to rebuild that trust which I understand.

“Football is now my release, rather than gambling. That’s what gives me the rush and the buzz. Back in the day that had completely flipped.”

Davies’ presence is also a real and raw example of how the football environment is learning and growing. His talk was part of a series of classes and workshops Reading have their academy players take up in addition to their football training. 

Meanwhile, Davies also speaks with management and first teams on his travels.

“I don’t think you can make players into robots,” Davies says. “I think what you can learn from my mistakes is that some people need to go and experience it for themselves. I’m not anti-gambling, anti-alcohol. These young people are still young people, their friends might be drinking, gambling. Let these young people make their own mistakes and decisions, as long as they remain in control of what they’re doing. 

“I think it’s more of an open and honest floor now, whereas back in the day… I felt there was no way I could say anything. 

“We never had any education sessions when we were younger. Not one person came and spoke to us about gambling, drugs, alcohol. It was just ‘concentrate on your football.’ Now that people are going in and talking about these problems is only a good thing.”