Tuesday, 17 March 2009
I'm sure most football fans who saw the poignant and revealing interview with Paul Gascoigne on Monday will have felt both pity and sadness for the former footballer who had it all.
Gazza looked weary beyond his 40 years as he revealed his deep depression and his attempts to commit suicide. It was so nearly a tragic culmination of over 25 years of alcoholism and depression.
As a player he had it all, the best of his generation. And his down to earth, cheeky chappy persona meant that fans quickly warmed to him. Even as his personal problems began to grow and the front page headlines outnumbered the back, his antics on the pitch - some of which were the work of a football genius - glossed over any darker sides to his personality (though admittedly some of the allegations, particularly involving an alleged assault on his former wife Cheryl, are inexcusable no matter how talented a footballer he was).
For a while his body could cope with the damage he was inflicting on it. Many footballers of his generation, Tony Adams for example, had a long standing drink problem but still delivered on the pitch.
But as Gazza's body got older, and modern footballers got fitter, the loveable Geordie couldn't cope with that double whammy.
It was sad to see him, in the later years of his career, desperately trying to re-create his glory days when his legs clearly had gone. His final footballing days saw him turn out for a Chinese second division village side. As far away from his native North-East or the bright lights of Rome as you could get.
It is perhaps only now becoming apparent just how big a chasm football had filled in his life, helping him to escape the demons that have haunted him since he was a child.
Since retirement he has continued in the same downward spiral and reached the point where the only way he thought he could escape was to overdose on sleeping pills, saved only by a phone call to the police by a concerned sister.
I sincerely hope this is a tale that has a happy ending, but given the events of recent years I have a bad feeling it won't. The one positive I hope we can take from Gazza'a plight is that it highlights the problems alcohol addiction and mental health issues can cause - and not just for former footballers.
Just like Jade Goody's illness has brought cancer into sharp focus, particularly amongst the young, I hope Gazza's tale will inspire some people who have similar problems to seek help.
In meantime I'm sure you will join me in wishing Gazza a speedy recovery.