A lot of discussion has been regurgitated this week regarding the somewhat doomed lives of Paul Gascoigne and George Best, fabled and equally tragic footballers, who apparently began their descent into drunken stupors when their careers shut down.
The main difference between the two is that Best stopped playing at the elite levels with Manchester United at only 27 to get “started” as he told Terry Wogan back in the 1980s. Gascoigne had to be dragged kicking and screaming from football at the age of 37 after retiring during a short-lived stint with Boston United in 2004.
It would be fair to imagine Gascoigne did not not know what to turn to when the legs began creaking and the adulation of the adoring masses became a distant cry from yesteryear. And so the drink assumed centre stage.
As his descent into oblivion began, the singer Elvis Presley apparently used to say he required the hero worship of a crowd to make him feel all right. When it all stops, what then? What happens to the ultimate attention-seeker when the public no longer pays attention?
For Gascoigne, it has been a dive into booze-induced despair and a period of time that has seen him twice sectioned under Mental Health legislation. This all comes less than a decade after he was representing Everton in the Premier League.
With time on his hands and no club, team-mates or fans to call his own, he appears to have cut a troubled and distressed figure in his not so splendid isolation, turning to turbo-charged super lager as readily as he once turned opponents as the world-class midfielder he undoubtedly was. It is hardly surprising that matters have taken a turn for the worse in Gazza's life with drink his only reliable companion.
Judging by recent shambolic footage of the Geordie folk hero, hands trembling, slurring his words and crying at a charity dinner in Northampton, Gazza seems hell-bent on following Best’s march to the undergrowth fuelled by a tailwind of alcohol-condoned depression. At the age of only 45, this is all desperately distressing.
His departure from multi-millionaire midfielder representing some of football's most starry clubs in Newcastle United, Tottenham, Lazio, Rangers, Middlesbrough, Everton and England to a man ravaged by the effects of alcohol abuse should be instantly recognisable in British culture. Men like Gazza are scattered all over this hard-drinking land of ours.
The England idol of Italia '90 is obviously an ill man, but help does not seem too plentiful. Some will argue that men like Gazza can't be helped. Whatever else is spouted, the hangers on have long since departed the scene with Gascoigne bankrupt, emotional and desolate.
At least faces from Gazza's celebrity past have responded to the gravity of the situation with a sense of duty. Chris Evans apparently chipped in some dough to get his former drinking pal on a BA flight yesterday bound for a rehab centre in Arizona.
Jimmy “Five Bellies” Gardner, his childhood companion who could not be split from Gazza in the harvest years, apparently visits him now and again. Yet life seems to be the loneliest night of Gazza's week.
Best used to comment that former wives maintained his surname when they left him. It made them noticeable while there was also scope to cash in on the surname.
Gascoigne is similar. Plenty of his nearest and dearest have denounced him for his behaviour yet his stepdaughter Bianca turned up for a cringeworthy audition on The X Factor hanging out of the name last year. She is probably aware that she is only of interest to the wider public because of her stepdad.
Like Best, no matter where you stand on Gazza's apparent penchant for wife-beating amid the maelstrom of alcoholic addiction, it is difficult not to feel heartfelt sympathy because his plight is so visible.
Living in Scotland at the time of Gascoigne's move from Lazio to Rangers in 1995, amusing stories of him were rife.
He was apparently spotted clambering over the locked gates of his house after a night on the sauce hours before Rangers were due to play a pivotal match in the Scottish Premier League. Funny then, but an indication of problems to come later in life. Funny how the jokes wither with time.
Before serial killer Raoul Moat turned a gun on himself during a stand-off with armed police in 2010, Gascoigne was ferried to the scene armed with some chicken, a can of lager and a fishing rod because he mistakenly recalled Moat as an old pal, a bouncer from a nightclub in Newcastle.
Like everything, the booze is fine when the mental compass is operating properly. For Gazza, it does not seem to have been fixed to its foundations for some time.
Despite the best intentions of Gordon Taylor and the PFA, football is no place for a lonely former footballer. It remains a sport ill-equipped to look after its own.
At its highest levels, football throws absurd money at largely uneducated men, who are plucked straight from school before being plunged into an unnatural existence. There is no real grounding on how to handle such nonsensical sums of money or the phony fleeting fanaticism that accompanies the wage packet.
Gascoigne should be pitied. Like we are all only one step away from being homeless, many of us are not too far off turning to the bottle with monotonous regularity. Gascoigne is only exceptional because of who he was and where he fell from.
Many will point out that it is all self-inflicted, and that as a former footballer who beat his wife in the past, he deserves little sympathy or preferential treatment, but this is too simplistic.
There but for the grace of God, go I. Detractors fail to recognise the disease that Gascoigne suffers from, and the defeatist pall which accompanies life as a chronic alcoholic.
Football has failed Gascoigne, but a society which encourages young men to be handed grotesque wages for kicking a ball around should also be sworn in.
If there is something to take from Gascoigne's plight, it is found in the pitfalls of looking back. Living in the past is a dangerous business in a society that does not seem to care for much. One suspects Gazza has spent plenty of time with his gin and lager poring over what he once was.
Without fraternising with a sense of foreboding, his prospects from here on in do not appear heartening.
- Sports & Recreation
- Paul Gascoigne