What Is Moneybags Football Doing to Save Gazza? – by Rob Atkinson


Gazza in his heyday

Sometimes in your football-supporting life, you see a player in the opposition ranks who is simply different gravy. Partisanship or no, you just have to acknowledge genius when you see it and, if you’ve any appreciation at all for the Beautiful Game, you simply applaud talent and ability the like of which we see all too rarely.

As a Leeds United fan, I’ve had this bittersweet experience uncomfortably often. Bitter, because – let’s face it – you’re there above all to see the white shirts prevail, and some pesky genius in the other camp can be a big problem. But sweet, because we all know, deep down, that this is what football is all about; a talent that eclipses more mundane performers and makes your soul sing for what this game can be.

I’ve seen a few of these over the years at Elland Road. Johan Cruyff, so recently taken from us, lit up my first evening match at Elland Road in 1975, albeit in a losing cause. Sadly, I never saw George Best play (and he spent most games against Leeds in Paul Reaney‘s back pocket anyway) – but I did see a man who could match him for talent and for that mystical ability to take a game away from you. Sadly, he also matches the late George for the tendency to self destruct. And, if the current situation isn’t checked sooner rather than later, we shall tragically see Paul Gascoigne – Gazza of blessed daft-as-a-brush memory – follow Georgie Best into a needlessly early grave.


Troubled Gazza now – road to disaster?

There isn’t much doubt that Gazza’s potentially fatal weakness for the booze makes him the lead author of his own misfortune. It’s also true to say that anyone in that downward spiral of addictive behaviour really needs to find, if possible, the willpower to break out of the prison they’re building for themselves. But that’s frequently easier said than done, and some of the brightest stars, the most transcendent genius performers, are eggshell personalities, lacking the intrinsic strength and resilience to fight the demons inside their own skulls. In that situation, outside care and intervention is needed; somebody needs to help. So who can, or should, help Gazza?

The former star is not without support. He has friends in the game, people who stay in touch with him and worry about him. But I can’t help feeling that the wider entity of football in this country could be seen to be doing more, for Gazza, and for less illustrious but comparable cases. The tragedy of Best is still clear in the memory, but there have been others who used to bask in the sunshine of fame and worship from the terraces who, once their star fell, found the world a bleak and friendless place they simply wanted to quit. Hughie Gallacher, like Gazza a former Newcastle star, was another who felt lonely and hopeless enough to walk, in a boozy stupor, in front of a train in 1957, rather than face what his life had become after football.

The thing about Gazza is that the current, wealth-laden state of the game he entered as a chubby lad in the early eighties owes much to the way he lit up the Italia ’90 World Cup. That tournament, with Gascoigne’s flashes of genius and iconic tears, did much to redeem the game of football from what had been a decade of disaster in the 1980s. Football, ably assisted by the Geordie genius, recovered from virtual social unacceptability to become once more the game everyone was talking about. Everyone wanted a piece of soccer, and its stars. And no star shone brighter in the football firmament than Paul “Gazza” Gascoigne.

Such was the new appeal and cachet of football that it was judged ripe for rebranding in this country. It became A Whole New Ball Game as Murdoch and Sky bought the TV rights to a massive chunk of it and, 25 years on, the money is still rolling in unabated. A lot of that is down to that period of Gazzamania in the early 90s, and that – as much as anything beyond common humanity – is the reason why football, and the likes of Tottenham Hotspur, Newcastle United, Rangers and Everton in particular, must be seen to be doing more to help.

So money-stuffed is the game that was once a working-class opera, that ticket prices have become almost incidental to club income at the top level. And yet still, the matchgoing public pays through the nose. They, too, have a right to see some of their money devoted to former stars fallen on hard times or, indeed, in danger of complete dissolution. Surely any Spurs or Newcastle fan would feel it appropriate for their club, served so well back in the day by a man now in crisis, to step in and provide real help, a safe environment and a solid support network for somebody in such imminent danger of sinking out of sight.

Everyone knows that there’s only so much you can do for a person seemingly plummeting towards self-destruction. But the duty to try as hard as possible, to do as much as possible, remains, whatever the chances of success. Especially for someone like Gazza, who gave so much pleasure in his heyday, who made so many smile or laugh with his hare-brained nuttiness, who helped so much to enable the rude health of the game today by the display of his peerless genius for clubs and country.

It’s not too late to save Gazza, surely. But it may well soon be. Over to you, football.

20 responses to “What Is Moneybags Football Doing to Save Gazza? – by Rob Atkinson

  1. The money in the games causes these problems, applies to other sports. But otherwise i have no sympathy with gazza , best, end of the dAy, they made the choice, fair enough, give anyone a second chance, both did, but chose not to change. So thats their problem not mine or anyone else.


  2. Iv’e met Paul Gascoigne twice – not a nice bloke, rude and unwelcoming maybe he was having a bad day. Like A Wilson I have no sympathy for him either. He will probably die in a drunken binge.


  3. Very good article well penned Rob .

    I had the pleasure of getting to know Gazza through my business then when I was in the n east .

    He’s s lovely lad , too easily led though and easily manipulated by people using him sadly .
    He’s not the sharpest tool in the box( said with affection)

    Many genuine people have tried to help and the football authorities have done their bit in the past, I know that.

    It’s very very sad and I truly believe it may be too late .

    I sincerely hope not Rob .

    David Shapiro


  4. Alex Wilkinson

    Sadly alcoholism is not something you can cure with money; in fact there is no cure as such. Abstinence is the key to recovery along with ongoing support which is actually available to anyone who asks for it through the AA network. Not to underestimate this terrible disease but many, including myself have been able to enjoy ongoing recovery with support which is essential. The financial support given to Gazza has so far only enabled him to drop back into celebrity opportunities which are dangerous for recovering alcoholics. There are many successes from famous people; Jimmy Greaves has remained sober for decades but he would tell you money can’t buy sobriety. So, it’s in Gazza’s own power to remain sober and no one knows that better than himself. He has a choice; drink or die !


  5. I believe it was ballet. Hard not to sympathise with Paul Gascoigne who appears to have suffered the curse of having a gift without the resources to cope with the life it opened up for him.


  6. It is sad to see any person dropping to the depths Gazza has. However, with everything he did for his sport you would think someone or some organisation would help get him the support and continued supported he needs. His situation has no quick fix and it will be a long hard road ahead. I hope he finds the help he needs before it really is too late. Yes initially it was his choice A Wilson, but now he is dependent and without professional support and help he feels he has no choice.


  7. Leeds4alongtime

    Have to admit I felt sorry for George Best with the lack of support, but Gazza is just taking the Piss? I don’t wish him any ill but there’s only one person going to sort that out when all around are trying to help?

    Why should the ‘moneybags’ worry about him?

    I would imagine the money he got from starring on the front page of the sun today will keep him going for a few more weeks (beer wise, that is).


    • What a load of crap Leeds4alongtime. How can you have sympathy for Best and not Gascoigne. Do you think he gets money for appearing on the front page of a red top when they are showing what a state he is in. The tabloids have played their part in destroying the life of Paul Gascoigne since he hit the headlines at Italia 90. He has had a troubled life from a young age. Seeing his best mates brother killed directly in front of him when he was looking after him left him with many demons. He was troubled well before hitting the big time and unfortunately, a lot of his so called mates, let him down badly. We see nothing of five-bellies anymore. He got his meal ticket, enjoyed the highlife of living on the coat tails of Gazza but now he is nowhere to be seen. I will admit, he has done a few things that I cannot have any smpathy with him for but the guy was a footballing god and amongst the best this country has ever produced. It is such a shame to see him going the way he is going. He has an addiction. Nobody makes such a big thing out of any of these ex players with gambling addictions but because it is drink, it is seen totally differently. All the best Gazza, I really hope he can get some help but sadly, I do feel he will never be able to change.


  8. He’s had more support than most in his situation have ever had. It is now down to him, (my sister is the same). First thing needed is for them to want help. If not, then no one in the world can do anything for them.


  9. Iain Simmonds

    Why wouldn’t we help a legend , if he was an
    Art painting we would pay millions .
    The best I have ever seen !!!!


  10. How people can call someone with a illness that I s what it Is he needs to be incarcerated for a good period of time say 12 months if that as not worked then forget it


  11. An excellently written article – a joy to read.

    Don’t agree with you though.

    Hundreds have tried to help Gazza and failed. His home address is a rehab clinic. Under supervision he can get himself straightened out, the left to his own devices he wanders off again.

    If you want Gazza permanently sober then he has to be under permanent supervision.

    As with a number of the posters above I have no sympathy for those who blame their entire predicament on “an addictive personality”.

    It would be nice of the other unfortunates out there were given half of the attention, support and opportunities that Gazza has had.

    Where are his family and friends during this time?

    Move on – lets try to save a hundred who want to be saved rather than one who doesnt.


  12. oldcomrade

    Sadly Gazza can only be helped if he accepts he needs help and is able to take that help on board. The game gave him the fame, and riches , but as we know , the professional sportsmans time at the top is limited either by age or perhaps injury . It’s how you adapt to life after fame that counts. In some notable cases ie Besty and Gazza they can’t hack it. Gazzas pals and colleagues have gone down the financial help track, and professionals at rehab have tried with the mental and alcoholism problems he has, to no avail. Let’s hope Gazza can sort his life out but i’m afraid that after the highs of his footballing career, and lets be fair, he was one of the best, things arn’t looking very promising.l don’t think for one minute that Gazza is a lost cause but whatever happens it’s got to start with him accepting the help being offered


    • But it’s really important to remember that help towards acceptance is an important early stage of therapy. Gazza and others have to be reached out to. The modern game owes him more than it can ever repay and, if he CAN be saved, the benefits of that in terms of waking up other victims of alcohol abuse will ripple outwards. High profile victims help others simply by being helped to recovery – that’s simply a fact.


  13. Paul O'Toole

    Empathy not sympathy, gestures not words, an arm around the shoulders and an ear to listen, Paul gave us many happy memories and he deserves better. He needs to find his place in the world again without booze. Depression, and alcohol are firm friends that stay around when the money and everyone else leave. Best wishes Gazza


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