AN English football star has told how playing Fortnite for up to 16 HOURS a day threatens to end his relationship – and his career.
The EFL player admits to sometimes missing training because of his marathon Xbox sessions.
He is now worried his girlfriend will leave him and his club will ditch him because of his gaming addiction.
And he says there are many more in the sport just like him.
SunSport was put in touch with the player by his psychotherapist Steve Pope, who is a specialist in addiction, depression and anxiety.
The pro has asked to remain anonymous for fear of damaging his reputation in the game.
But he hopes by speaking out he will raise awareness about an addiction which has been described as a “silent epidemic” in football.
The ace’s account is likely to resonate with dozens of his fellow professionals, who also while away their free time on consoles.
Dele Alli, who yesterday announced a partnership with a gaming chair company on Instagram, Harry Kane and Mesut Ozil are among the Premier League stars known to be fans of Fortnite.
But the anonymous EFL player, who is out of contract in the summer, insists gaming has become a “massive problem”.
And SunSport has learned the PFA have been contacted by clubs who are concerned about the gaming habits of some of their players.
On his own experience, he revealed: “When I get back from training, the first thing I do is turn the Xbox on to play Fortnite.
“I play for about eight to ten hours a day, but I once played 16 hours non-stop the day before a match.
“When we have away matches and we travel by coach, I am gaming from the moment we leave and then I carry on in my hotel room at night.
“It is quite normal for me to stay up playing until two o’clock or three o’clock in the morning.
“I get a lot of eye strain, I am tired the next day and I miss training sometimes.
“When I started missing training, that was when I knew I needed help as I was getting in trouble from my club.
I know they play for a lot of hours because I play Fortnite with them – as well as with players from other clubs
“This has been going on for about a year now.
“If I get told to come off the game, I am sometimes quite aggressive. I have mood swings.
“If I keep gaming, I worry that it could potentially finish my career.
“It is also affecting my relationship with my girlfriend because I play on the Xbox instead of seeing her.
He added: “I think some of my team-mates need help as well.
“About 50 per cent of our squad are into gaming.
“And I know they play for a lot of hours because I play Fortnite with them – as well as with players from other clubs.”
The EFL pro says he got into Fortnite after seeing Prem heroes like Dele playing it, and he enjoys its competitiveness and speed.
In the shooter game’s battle royale mode, 100 players fight to be the last person standing and can play solo, as a duo or in squads.
It has around 250 million players worldwide and was popular with the England squad at last summer’s World Cup.
Research by The Sun found that, between them, Tottenham trio Kane, Dele and Kieran Trippier clocked up 1,137 matches during their time in Russia.
Don’t suffer in silence – the help is there
PFA members who want support for addictions can email firstname.lastname@example.org
Members of the public can visit www.videogameaddiction.co.uk or call their helpline on 08000 886 686.
With matches lasting 20 minutes on average, that meant they spent up to 379 hours playing Fortnite.
While data also showed how Dele played 23 matches the day before England’s semi-final defeat to Croatia – approximately more than seven hours on the game.
A leading sports physician recently suggested Arsenal forward Ozil’s frequent back problems could be because he spends too much time on Fortnite.
Ingo Frobose, a professor for prevention and rehabilitation at the German Sport University Cologne, said: “It could be the cause of Ozil’s back problems because a competitive athlete feels the consequences of hours of inactivity much faster than a non-athlete.”
And Dr Mark Griffiths from Nottingham Trent University says excessive gaming can cause visual and auditory hallucinations, wrist pain, elbow pain and tenosynovitis.
A number of high-profile sports stars in America have also recently spoken about the mental effects of being addicted to Fortnite.
And former world snooker champion Neil Robertson also confessed to a problem in 2017.
Jeff Whitley, a player welfare officer at the PFA, told SunSport: “Some clubs have rung up and asked us to go and speak to their players specifically about gaming addictions.
“Some lads aren’t setting sensible boundaries.
“They are going back to their digs after training and playing from two in the afternoon to two in the morning and it is having an impact on their mental health.”
The player who has confided in SunSport is one of five pros from both England and Scotland currently seeing gaming addiction expert Pope.
Pope, who used to be the club psychotherapist at Fleetwood, told SunSport: “Over the last few years, we have probably treated more than 20 footballers for this problem alone.
“But that is just the tip of the iceberg. They are all at it.
“It is the biggest scourge of our times. It’s a silent epidemic because footballers can’t be tested for it.
“I don’t think clubs realise what a big problem this is and the debilitating effect excessive gaming has on a player’s psyche.
“They wouldn’t let a footballer have a bottle of vodka in their hotel room the night before a game, so why would they let him loose with an Xbox?
“Footballers have an addictive personality because that’s what makes them good at their job.
“From an early age at academies, they are conditioned to work for a high, whether that is making a great pass or scoring a great goal. That is the work-for high.
“The brain likes that feeling, likes that elation, likes that rush.
“But if they are not getting that high from football, they are getting it from something else – alcohol, drugs, gambling or gaming. That is the lazy high.
“Footballers are trained to be competitive and with the kind of games they are playing, Fortnite or Fifa, they are continually in a competition. It’s a follow on from playing football.
“The trouble is they are playing the games all night and use up all their happy chemicals so their brain is imbalanced.
“So come the match the following day, they are as flat as a pancake. They are a jangled wreck, trying to clear their head.
“When I worked in-house at Fleetwood, we banned game stations the night before matches.
“I would walk the hotel corridors at night time nicking PlayStations and Xboxes to stop them using them.”
Pope added: “If it’s a national problem, which gaming is, then why shouldn’t it affect footballers who have hours and hours to kill on planes, trains and coaches, and then sit in hotel rooms by themselves?
“For footballers, the real appeal about computer games is that, unlike with other addictions, they can’t be tested for it.
“It is a problem that needs to be outed to save players’ careers.”