06 February 2013

Godspeed, Gazza

by Peter Ewart | CRO Contributor

It has been sad to hear in the past few days of Paul Gascoigne back in trouble. At least an element of good news is about, as he is seeking professional help in the US.

There are many clich├ęs that have been trotted out about this great player - tortured soul and flawed genius among them. His brilliance on the park probably worked because he was tinkering on the edge of his sanity. Impossible was nothing.

I had the great privilege of seeing Gazza play a lot of his games for Rangers. An infectious character, he largely led by example and as you know could win games on his own. Sometimes he needed pulled into line, most famously with McCoist having a go on the park to get him kick-started.

His football CV speaks for itself: mention any of Newcastle, Tottenham, Lazio, England and Rangers and each immediately brings to mind memories of his genius on the pitch. Off the pitch was a very different story, always in the press and never far from controversy, a case in point of a superstar struggling in the limelight.

The Rangers set-up in the late 90s, whilst dominated by the joker and massive personality that Gascoigne is, will not have helped someone with a drink problem. That is just a fact.

At what point could/should anyone have tried to help – let alone been able to intervene – at any point in his career? It begs a case for helping pros while they are still playing, but this is the very time their fame and power are at their height and the time they’ll be listening least.

If you have been in close proximity to alcoholism before you’ll know the depths of despair it can drag someone to. Alcohol abuse coupled with depression and mental health issues is an incredibly dangerous mix. It can send people completely off the rails. Feelings of being lost, alone and helpless, with no light at the end of the tunnel. But everyone deserves to see light at the end of that tunnel, and I hope Gazza will be able to.

Anyone who is described as being surrounded by ‘associates’ is already on rocky ground. What is an ‘associate’ other than someone quite happy to hang on the coattails of the fame, success and most importantly money. Real friends were what he needed.

Football could do more to help Gazza – my God football should do more to help Gazza. Look what this guy has given the game, and it is clear that the game means everything to him. But it is an unfortunate reflection on the game that there is no sort of formal support network to help ex-pros in need. That said, help has been forthcoming, but it seems to have been ad-hoc and of course the patient also needs to be willing to take the medicine.

Some ex-pros who have been there before have done so, and that is commendable – look at Tony Adams ‘Sporting Chance’ to help sports people with addiction problems.

Football absolutely should help Gazza, but it needs to be the right sort of help otherwise it becomes a bit of a vicious circle. On one hand I would love to see Rangers (or Newcastle or Spurs) hand Gazza some sort of ambassador role for the club. Yes, it would be difficult, not least to man manage. And it would most likely put him back in the social clubs and supporters events where drink would be everywhere, and everyone would want to buy a legend a drink, so it may do him no favours at all. Maybe coaching would be the way forward but that’s years out; in the immediate future he needs to rescue his life.

That’ll be left to the professionals he is seeking help from. With the assistance of the rather odd trio of Chris Evans, Ronnie Irani and Piers Morgan (fair play to them all for stepping up). It is desperate to see him in the state he is in, clearly in need of help and yet still portrayed as some kind of joke figure in some areas of the media.

We should not give up on him. He deserves peace of mind and hopefully, in time, some practical involvement in football again. I hope that is possible.

Godspeed, Gazza. We’re all rooting for you.