Hearts manager Craig Levein admits he expects Scottish football fans to throw a supportive arm around Kyle Lafferty after the striker went public about his addiction to gambling.
The Northern Ireland internationalist opened up about his personal woes on Tuesday after recently going to the club for help to try and confront his demons.
Lafferty was fined £23,000 by the English FA last August for breaching betting regulations whilst at Norwich City but has conceded that the addiction became serious around 2010 during his time at Rangers.
The 30-year-old, who has scored six goals this season after joining during the summer, is expected to return to training today having been laid low with a sickness bug and could line-up in Saturday’s match at Dundee.
Football supporters are renowned for their lack of compassion when it comes to opposing players but former Scotland manager Levein reckons many will be able to relate to the nature of Lafferty’s issues.
He said: “Kyle has had plenty stick in his career and it just washes over him.
“I think you might be surprised this time. I think many people might sympathise.
“It is not so much a club thing. I can guarantee every supporter will know somebody who has the same sort of problems.
“There will be an empathy there if you have a friend or relation who is an alcoholic, a drug addict or a gambling addict.
“They will know the hurt and misery it can cause.
“I have no doubt there will be some who choose to direct some choice words in Kyle’s direction. But you might be surprised.
“I think it’s society. Every single walk of life has people who are susceptible to having a weakness and getting involved in something.”
Hearts owner Ann Budge has praised Lafferty in a statement for not allowing his off-field problems to affect his performances on the pitch and Levein insists he would never have suspected the the player was addicted to gambling.
He added: “You wouldn’t know. You wouldn’t know because he comes into the dressing room every morning with a big smile on his face; he’s the life and soul of the party. All the time.
“He also works hard on the training ground, he’s a big colourful character.
“He has managed to hide problems which have obviously been very serious.
“He has managed to compartmentalise, if that’s the right word, and put it away for the period when he’s on the training ground or on the pitch.
“I think, if there had been something wrong with his training or in games, you would have said: “Right, what’s wrong with you big man?”
“But, because he’s so effusive every day, you know, you wouldn’t think there was a problem.”
Levein admits former Celtic and Wales striker John Hartson, himself a former gambling addict, has been a huge support to Lafferty.
He added: “Kyle spoke to John Hartson on Monday about whether to go public with it or not.
“Speaking to John just finally gave him that push, I think.
“The meeting with John Hartson on Monday was enlightening for him.
“To hear someone talk through exactly the things he has been through and is going through.
“To see a confident man, who is in a good place in his life, gave Kyle a lot of hope he can achieve that as well.
“So that’s step one done. Go public, let people know, admit to the problem.
“After that, it’s a long road and it will never be something he’s cured of, as such.
“But this will be something he can conquer.
“He’s said he wants to get himself sorted first and then help others.”
Asked about his thoughts on Scotland’s three major domestic competitions all being sponsored by betting companies, Levein added: “It is life. It is like blaming a drinks company for someone being an alcoholic.
“If you succumb to the temptation and get hooked that’s on you.”