Mercurial drunk.

Two words that have followed Paul Gascoigne, one of our nation’s most talented footballers ever, throughout his life.

A genius on the pitch, with the most sublime of touches and the cutest passing range. A player who could shoot, create chances and beat players more naturally and easily than any other English player since, well....perhaps ever? Off the pitch, he makes as many headlines, and sadly it's almost always for the wrong reasons.

The question is, what should we do with Gazza? There were tabloid revelations last weekend around an assault on a train guard and his ex-wife, published by The Mirror, and further reports on Tuesday claiming he had been hospitalised after another very public relapse.

How long do we as a nation keep on providing chances and support for someone who, if it wasn't for his prodigal talents, we would have thrown on society's scrapheap years ago. I can't be the only one questioning our loyalty as a nation.

Gazza has been drinking in the last chance saloon for a long time and although every now then he'll leave to great applaud and fanfare, each time sadly he returns; and surely sooner rather than later we need to ask: has alcohol completely ruined this once great man, for good?

Everybody knows what he could do on a football pitch. We've all seen the wonder goal for England against Scotland, and the dentist’s chair that followed. We've seen the incredible passing ability, the seemingly God-given ability to do almost anything with a football. 

Feared by opponents and worshipped by the fans, Gazza was a national treasure, and rightly so. One of the greatest players ever to have worn the famous Three Lions shirt, no-one can really dispute that. Although the closest we came to winning anything with him in the side was THAT match against Germany and those 'tears of a clown'.

Let’s be honest, that shouldn't change how highly esteemed we hold him, seeing as nobody since 1966 has won a trophy in England colours either.

Conversely, everyone knows the opposite side to his genius. The drunk.

We've all read about him playing for Everton steaming drunk, and the tongue lashing he received from Walter Smith for this act of lunacy. We've all heard about the extreme binge drinking, his trips to the priory, and perhaps most worryingly the various assault accusations made against him by his ex-wife Cheryl Gascoigne. 

There were other strange incidents too: Turning up to spend an evening with Raoul Moat, his friendship with Jimmy 'Five Bellies', 19 day drinking binges and the list goes on.

The latest Gazza news made the front pages of every newspaper, as is now customary. It could be tabloid nonsense, of course, but sadly we all know there must be at least a modicum of truth to the latest front page chapter of his life. 

A quote from The Mirror states that 'he was filming a tv show about his life after alcohol, when he had his latest relapse' and added 'this will likely be played out in the media'.

Personally, I think that is a real shame; not just that someone is set to profit from the demise of, not just a great footballer, but an actual person, and that Gazza is set to be shamed in front of a nation that once worshipped him, again. But he knows this is the way our media driven world works. He's spoken about it time and time again; he courted the nation’s media during the good times, and he is always going to be followed by them through the bad. I think you could call that dying by the sword.

When you look at Gascoigne now, he is a tiny man, who looks almost nothing like he did during his time as one of the best years of his life. His face is withdrawn and gaunt; his trademark grin is now rarely displayed. Throughout his football career he had problems keeping the weight off, now it looks as if he could be knocked off his feet by a strong wind. 

Although his football career ended before the megabucks days of Sheik Mansour and Roman Abramovich, Gazza was well paid during his playing days. A big money move to Lazio and then back to England, up to Glasgow Rangers in Scotland, and then back down to Everton, before effectively ending his career at Burnley,

Although he did make a short lived comeback, first at Gansu Tianma, in China and then as a lower league player coach with Boston United, followed by a 39 day spell as Kettering town manager, which ended in strange, alcohol related circumstances. 

Undoubtedly, his career would have left him with a healthy retirement fund, and yet his most recent trip into rehab was payed for by current players, and donations from Manchester United amongst other clubs and companies after a media campaign. 

He said on TV recently that he sent a lot of his money to 'old dears who wrote to me to say they couldn't afford Christmas dinner'. A nice thought certainly, but as with the whole Gascoigne enigma it shows a special warmth whilst maintaining an air of naivety and, well, perhaps even a little stupidity.

The issue for me is the alleged assaults on his ex-wife, and anyone else in the firing line when he does fall off the wagon. He's worked hard in his chosen profession and given us, as England fans, special memories, in a way that almost no other England players ever have, and that should not be forgotten. I

If he chooses to follow George Best into an early grave, although I hope that will not happen, then that's his choice. But his demise has been brought upon him by his own actions and as such the consequences should be dealt with personally, and not by those around him.

Richard Thompson sang 'God loves a drunk'. Perhaps he does. We will never know. What we do know is that Paul Gascoigne was a national treasure. He had everything, and although his age means his football days are a long way behind him, he still has enough support and love from his army of adoring fans to do almost anything he likes. 

But how long can his body take the alcohol abuse, and how long can we as a nation continue to help a man who will not help himself. 


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