Daily Archives: 05/07/2013

New Fears for Gazza After Latest “Drunken Assault” Charge

Gazza: Slippery Slope?

Gazza: Slippery Slope?

There are uncomfortable parallels between the slippery slope Paul Gascoigne now finds himself on – a slope he started to slide down at a Wembley Cup Final in 1991 – and the decline and ultimately tragic death of another flawed genius, George Best. It’s not the happiest comparison to make, but perhaps it’s a message that needs to be spoken loudly and repeatedly, directly into the ear of the legendary Gazza, in the hope that he may yet be saved from the process of self-destruction he appears to be unswervingly set on. The news today that he’s been arrested over an incident involving drink and violence is no great surprise – but it IS cause for extreme concern.

Gazza was undoubtedly the finest talent of his generation, but like so many footballers and other artists gifted with supernatural skill of one sort or another, he seems fatally lacking lacking in anything approaching a safe level of common sense. Those identical words could have been written and published in the 1970’s, substituting only the legend of Gazza for the legend of Bestie. The similarities between the two are uncanny, both in terms of raw ability and irrepressible personality when things were going well. Sadly, the tendency towards addiction to factors which are the enemies of health and well-being seems another element ominously common to both.

George Best of course ultimately fell victim to his fatal attraction to booze and died an early and tragic death following the raising of hopes after a liver transplant. George was unable to leave the drink alone even after such a very final warning, and his demise followed as night follows day. There was a time when he had it all, of course – but it’s tempting to believe he might have wished to trade some of those trappings and achievements for a few more healthy years on the planet. Famously, a hotel employee once walked in to witness George surrounded by champagne bottles in his luxury suite, happily relaxing in bed with at least two Miss Worlds and the humble functionary sighed, without any apparent sense of irony, “George, George – where did it all go wrong?” It was funny at the time, as was Best’s quote when asked what he did with his money. “I spent loads on wine, women and song – but quite easy on the song – and the rest I just squandered,” he replied. Again, it’s pithy – but the humour shrivels away to nothing when you remember how he ended up in an early grave.

Is Gazza inevitably headed for a tragically similar fate? His health has been a matter of public concern for some time now, and again he seems totally unable to leave the booze alone despite repeated warnings that he’s drinking his health and possibly his life away. It’s not too difficult to pinpoint the start of Gazza’s descent – rewind back to the FA Cup Final of 1991, Spurs v Forest. A pumped-up Gascoigne had already perpetrated an ugly, early, chest-high foul on Garry Parker of Forest – a challenge which went unpunished by referee Roger Milford, but which could so easily have been a red card. Then, still high as a kite on Cup Final adrenalin, Gazza scythed down Gary Charles to concede a free-kick on the edge of the area. Forest actuallly took the lead from the resultant free-kick as Stuart Pearce hammered home – but the price for Gascoigne was even higher. He had ruptured knee ligaments in fouling Charles, and had to leave the field on a stretcher.

To many minds, he was never quite the same player again, even though his subsequent career still hit some major heights. Who knows what difference an early red card for the first foul might have made? Gazza would have avoided that calamitous injury and perhaps come much closer to fulfilling his outstanding potential – and maybe his life post-football would have been less of a horror show. No blame attaches to Roger Milford for his evident misjudgement – referees have no insight into the future.

Since his retirement, Gazza’s life has been a catalogue of calamity, culminating in this latest arrest and charge of alcohol-fuelled misconduct. That he is still drinking is a worrying signpost to the fate suffered by George Best, and if he fails to conquer this demon, it is difficult to see a bright future for the Clown Prince of the 80’s and 90’s. Daft as a brush, Bobby Robson called him, and there’s little reason to dispute that. But surely someone needs to take Gazza in hand and steer him away from a fate that Bestie could eloquently warn him all about, if only he were alive to do so. Someone, somewhere, has to make sure that history doesn’t repeat itself. Someone has to save Gazza from himself.

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Can Olympic Champion Murray Mint Himself a Wimbledon Winner’s Medal at Last?

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Two breathtaking, heart-quaking performances in this week’s Wimbledon quarter and semi-finals have seen British No. 1 Andy Murray through to the Final on Sunday, a progression many foretold from the start of the tournament, and all the more so following the early exit of both Federer and Nadal.  That formidable pair had loomed threateningly at the start of the Wimbledon Fortnight, promising to be Murray’s nemesis as they had each been on far too many previous occasions.  Their obliging co-operation in bowing out before any such calamity could strike has kept alive the dream of so many British tennis aficionados who have been yearning for a lifetime to see a British lad lift that famous trophy aloft.

Up to last year’s Final, Murray had been regarded by many with a sort of grudging respect which rarely if ever amounted to actual affection.  His slight tendency to taciturnity and the odd throwaway remark about his non-support of the England football team apparently did not endear him to many fireside patriots.  In the pubs and front rooms nationwide, as well as on the internet, you’d see many actively hoping for an early exit for our  only hope of ultimate glory.  Whether or not any of this was fair, it changed radically in a few tear-stained moments after Murray’s Final defeat to Roger Federer last summer. Trying manfully to fulfill his after-match obligation to speak to the crowd, Murray choked up with genuine emotion and palpable distress – and the stony old heart of England melted in a trice.  That iconic moment, together with the somewhat more relaxed and natural demeanour Murray displays since his happy partnership with coach Ivan Lendl began, seems to have converted the majority of the nation into supporters of our Andy. My wife, who is usually the best example of any feminine trait you might care to name, typified this sea-change.  She was a committed disciple before Murray’s first handkerchief was properly bedewed with manly tears, a complete volte-face from her position a mere few moments before when she had been relishing the Scot’s impending defeat.  Women, eh?

The thing is though, it’s not just the women.  Many blokes of my acquaintance and further afield – really, quite blokey blokes – now display positive support for Murray, and wish him well.  Apparently a few raw emotions, wrung from a stoic by the agony of defeat, can seduce even the proud male of the species.  I was a fan before, so I can’t really comment on the phenomenon, other than to observe that it has happened, and maybe just in time to stop the nation scowling sulkily at his ultimate triumph.

After last year’s Wimbledon, and the tears, Murray returned to the same venue shortly afterwards and carried off the Olympic Gold Medal, thrashing Federer in straight sets in a Final that he had reached – interestingly – via his only grass court meeting with Djokovic, his opponent on Sunday.  This also was a straight sets triumph.  An omen there, we may hope?  A first Grand Slam triumph followed too, with victory at the US Open where he beat Djokovic in the final. Another omen?  Murray is now very much “our lad” as he heads for his second consecutive Wimbledon Final on Sunday, and the vast majority will wish him success.

Murray can certainly seal himself in the affections of the nation for good this weekend. His demeanour on-court, and in his dealings with the press, still attracts criticism in certain quarters, but those people should remember that tennis is a game played, more than many others, in the head – the mental demands of a war of attrition over the best of five sets are gruelling at the best of times.  Murray will have learned from last year’s experience, and it seems likely that after his slightly less demanding semi-final, as compared to his quarter, or indeed to the epic semi that Djokovic had to weather, he should be in prime nick, both physically and mentally.  He’ll certainly need to be in order to beat the World No 1 again, and he’ll be aware too that in order to create further history, he now simply has to win the crown.  Last year, he wrote himself a page in the annals of British tennis just by reaching the final.  Now it’s time to take that last, decisive step.

Good luck, Andy Murray – we’re almost all right behind you.

Thatcher Day? No Thanks – Let’s Have a “Heroes Day” Late August Bank Holiday We Can ALL Support

British Heroes Day

British Heroes Day

Britain woke up on Wimbledon Men’s Semi-Final day to one of the dafter ideas of the year – the proposed re-naming of the late August bank holiday as “Margaret Thatcher Day” – shook its collective head incredulously and gaped in frank disbelief that anyone could suggest anything quite so stupidly divisive. Then it sighed with relief as it realised this was just another attention-seeking ploy by one Peter Bone – simply another of those tiresome so-called politicians who define their function by just how best they can publicise their tragically unremarkable careers – and fell instead to wondering whether to have toast or cornflakes for breakfast.

There was never anything to get really upset about, or to take too seriously.  Peter Bone MP has form for this sort of thing, after all.  His record reads a bit like a litany of gibbering lunacy and reactionary stances on issues such as abortion, gay marriage, the death penalty and conscription. He clearly subscribes to the maxim of “there’s no such thing as bad publicity”, and sallies forth on a regular basis, seemingly with one solitary thought in his head: how best to get Peter Bone MP in the news. He’s regularly one of the most enthusiastic expenses claimants, pays his wife top dollar for “secretarial duties” (so he’s big on nepotism too) and has a string of failed businesses and other ventures to his name. He also boasts a consistent record of losing supposedly safe seats in elections, sometimes bucking a national swing to the Tories by actually reducing their vote in the constituency he’s fighting.  All in all – not the sharpest or most useful tool in the box.

So those of us who do not inhabit the lunatic hinterland of the Tory Right can dispose of the latest Bone rant with a derisive sneer and a muffled chortle, and leave the Daily Heil readers to linger lovingly over what is a dead-in-the-water idea right from the start. But it does perhaps raise a legitimate question of the potential dedication of that anonymous late August holiday – many other countries use such occasions to pay tribute to their notable figures, so is it such a bad idea in principle?  Maybe not – so long as we manage to disregard the blithering of Bone and his ilk, and consider instead ideas from the saner end of the spectrum. The fact is that, whoever one might select as a deserving recipient of an honour such as becoming an eponymous bank holiday, the tribute is likely to be divisive to a greater or lesser degree. If you put forward the seemingly obvious name of Winston Churchill, you will hear voices raised by those with an awareness of his role in the General Strike in 1926. Those who espouse a free-market philosophy and howl in horror at the full-employment strategy that underpinned British politics until 1979 will not take kindly to any suggestion that Clement Attlee should be honoured by such a dedication. We’re a nation of many threads – and you can’t please all the people, all the time.

Why not then have a day when people of diverse views and differing affiliations can define their own tributes and make their own dedications – either singly or in smaller or larger groups?  It could be called “Heroes Day” and it would be an occasion for everyone to think of the person who means most to them personally, and commemorate that life and its achievements in the way they consider most fitting. Those who can gather like-minded people together could perhaps organise groups in tribute to a favourite hero or heroine. One group might have their Florence Nightingale Day, another might wish to raise a flag for Arthur Scargill.  Any or all of them could use their hero or heroine to create a local event, or maybe even something on a wider geographical scale.  They could raise funds for an allied cause, and generally do a lot of good.

Heroes Day.  It has a certain ring to it; the inclusive context tends towards the subjective nature of hero-worship, yet there is a patriotic flavour to it as well.  There might of course be a down-side: there will always be individuals or groups who will seek to ignite strife by seeking to glorify the names of those who most would feel are unfit to be remembered or revered.  That could be a knotty problem; the whole concept of a Heroes Day would be for self-expression to have its head and for people to be able to pay tribute as they see fit, and the introduction of any form of censorship would strike a jarringly flat note in that symphony of personal freedom.  It almost brings us back to the ridiculous idea which prompted this article.  Clearly, some careful thought would be needed.

On the whole, though, the idea of a Heroes Day has much to recommend it, and is no more open to abuse than any other such suggestion might be.  To a certain degree, you just have to accept that grown-up people have to be given the latitude to express their views and celebrate their beliefs as they see fit, and the existing laws and by-laws are after all in place already to deal with any extreme manifestations which might crop up.  On the positive side, there could be great benefits which might arise out of the events which could be organised nationwide to celebrate a Heroes Day.  Fund-raising and education spring to mind, cultural events and perhaps even job-creation could be possibilities.  And in these times of gloom, with austerity piling up all about us and threatening to drown us all under it’s murky incoming tide, don’t we need something positive to focus our attention and creativity?  A national holiday, with thousands of individual events dedicated to the whole panoply of heroes, both past and present, a source of pride perhaps comparable to last year’s Olympics and Paralympics, a surge of national well-being in the recognition of who we are and who we have been.  Heroes Day.  I really do think it’s worth considering.  Who would your August Bank Holiday hero or heroine be?