WHAT does a footballer do when they hang up their boots for the last time? There’s media work, of course, and the often-controversial autobiography. Former Celtic player Tony Cascarino has ticked both those boxes but also had a successful career as a poker player.
Cascarino only played 18 matches for Celtic, and did not enjoy the best of times on the pitch. He went on to play for Chelsea and overseas with Marseille, Nancy and Red Star 93. His professional career ended in 2000, but that was never going to be the last that we would hear of him.
The 1994/95 Ligue 2 season saw him score 31 goals, and their president Bernard Tapie gave him the nickname ‘Tony Goal’. Another 30 goals were claimed the following season before he joined Nancy. His time with that French club saw him score a hat-trick at the age of 37, but his playing career was coming to an end.
It’s not an easy task for sports players when they retire. Cascarino said that “we have so much time on our hands when we finish,” so switching to poker is a good idea. That’s certainly the route that the former Celtic player chose.
There have always been links between footballers and poker. Card games have been popular with footballers for generations, from original poker games on the back of the team bus to playing in big online tournaments.
Tony Cascarino probably wasn’t a player that his teammates felt too confident playing against.
Few would have guessed that in the years to come, he would be winning more than a few pounds in a game played on the way to a match.
“What am I gonna do with myself?” was what Cascarino was thinking after he stopped playing football. He had always enjoyed playing poker but knew if he wanted to play at a higher level, he needed to “go out and learn.”
The former footballer became a semi-professional poker player. Initially, he took part in the ‘Celebrity Poker Club’ show on television. However, in the coming years Cascarino was to become far more than just a celebrity player. The years that have followed have shown that he is the real deal.
It wasn’t easy for him in the early days. Beating hardened professionals is not going to produce success right away. That’s just what happened to Tony Cascarino. He admits to losing around £80,000 in his first year of playing. That “learning curve” has proved to be a worthwhile one though. No wonder he describes it as “the best 80 grand I ever spent.”
Tony Cascarino readily admits that during his football career, he lacked confidence. Would that not affect his poker career? You need to have the confidence to make the decisions that will hopefully win you the next hand.
That hasn’t been the case, though. He knows that “you can get lucky”, and that’s not what happens when trying to score a goal for Celtic or Chelsea.
Cascarino has won over £600,000 in tournament prize money playing a game that he obviously loves a great deal. He has played in the Caribbean Poker Classic and on both the European Poker Tour and the Grosvenor UK Poker Tour. He reached the Grand Final of the latter tour in 2010.
Every poker player dreams of going to Las Vegas and playing in a tournament. He did that in 2006 when playing in the Bellagio Cup. Cascarino was a great success playing football for the Republic of Ireland. Since his retirement, he has also represented his country at the poker table.
Big wins have included winning the GUKPT Grand Final in London 13 years ago, winning £168,800. One hundred eighty-three players took part in that tournament, and at the final table, Cascarino beat off the opposition of players such as Antoine Arnault, World Heads Up Champion Bambos Xanthos and Albert Iversen.
That was the win that delighted him most. Not just because of the huge amount of cash won but for the respect he received from other professionals. “I think I have proved myself now,” he said, adding that he was far more than “just another celebrity poker player.”
Cascarino turned 60 recently. He can look back at a hugely successful career in both football and poker. It’s something that we could well see again in the future, with Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar and Gerald Pique all showing great skills at the poker table.