Yesterday, after weeks of living on a downward spiral, Paul Gascoigne boarded a plane to Phoenix in a last-ditch attempt to save himself from himself. The troubled former England star, with the help of some wealthy friends, bought a ticket that would take Gazza to a rehabilitation centre in the USA to help him conquer his ongoing problems with alcohol. It was only a matter of time before the wheels total came off and friends realised that they had to act fast after Gascoigne broke down in tears during a charity event in Northampton last week. Gascoigne had hit rock bottom and he could no longer deny the help of the people around him that wanted to help. It’s yet another sorry story about a professional footballer who struggled to deal with his own genius and the entourage that came with it. Several have gone before but very few have pulled themselves out of the pits of despair found when fame meets excess in the form of drugs, gambling and booze. Gascoigne is widely regarded as one of the greatest players every produced by the UK so his latest’s problems will upset many.
Gascoigne’s illness runs deeper that this. In his 2006 book, the former Newcastle, Tottenham, Lazio and Rangers midfielder admitted that he suffered from a variety of mental issues which has driven him to drink obsessively and eat badly throughout his entire career. The media limelight that followed him through his winding journey from the England to Italy to Scotland and then back to England hardly helped as the star was harassed and cornered wherever he went. This is not to say that the media was to blame, nor any other person involved, but his heighten sense of insecurity, coupled with his extreme loneliness only added to this pressure forced him down the path where he had very little control. At 45 years old, having retired nearly 10 years ago in May 2004, Gascoigne has struggled through life. Ambitions to coach fell by the wayside and ambitious to manage were unfounded. Jobs at Kettering Town and Algarve United have come and gone whilst Gazza has been overlooked for more than his fair share of managerial positions over the years, mostly down to concerns over his condition and well-being. Gascoigne is a shadow of his former self, looking weak and ill over the past few years, having lost too much weight for him to be healthy.
So if he had so obviously been in poor condition, why had no one tried to help him is the main question on most people’s lips and the truth is frightening. Several attempts to help Gascoigne have been made over the years, not only by friends and family but by the PFA as well, who wanted to encourage Gascoigne to stop drinking in order for him to coach young players and transfer some of his knowledge and skill to them. But all attempts were turned down, not because Gascoigne was stubborn but failed to accept he had a problem. Patients with mental illness like Gascoigne refuse to accept the truth and blame others, often turning to drugs and booze to heal the pain he was feeling. But it appears as though he has turned a corner and accepted he needs help. In a prepared statement by his management company, they acknowledged his problem as did Gascoigne and the help he needed:
“Alcoholic Paul Gascoigne has been experiencing a tough time of late. He has been asking for help and has willingly been admitted to a treatment centre in America. He has complex issues that are being dealt with by professionals. Paul has been extremely touched and overwhelmed by the generous offers of help and support over the past few days. He is motivated to fully understand and control his addiction problem under guidance.”
Gascoigne is in the best place he can be right now as he starts a long road back from alcoholism. Having checked in to the Priory once before for a similar issue and come out well on the other side, there is hope that Gascoigne can get better and soon. It’s not very often that a player like Gazza comes along and to watch him in a match, as I did on many occasions, was something special. He knew how to change the game, how to predict the match detail by detail and be able to step it up when needed. Not only was he a great player but he was, and still is a, but he was a joker off the pitch as well, known for his pranks, crazy interviews and banter. The Gascoigne of yester year still exists deep within this player but only he has the ability to release it and restart his life once again.