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The news no-one wanted to read. Gazza is in a familiar place again: staring into the abyss

By Mark Douglas on Feb 4, 13 12:34 PM


EVERY week, football is full of catastrophe, disaster and tragedy.

It is the nature of the sport that events that unfold over 90 minutes on a patch of grass are framed in those kind of terms. Some times, though, things happen in the football world that jar all of us connected with the game out of the trance and bring us back to reality.

The greatest anxiety that the North East football scene has is that the next time that will happen for us is the death of Paul Gascoigne.

The latest pictures of Gascoigne from a charity talk-in were harrowing: the portrait of a man in a desperate state. His anecdotes were all present and correct but the banshee laughter coming from the audience is that of pity. He looks in trouble and the admission of his agent Terry Baker that he is in need of help and his life is in danger is worrying.

It is surprising, too, for the last time Gascoigne was in the public eye he seemed to be getting better. His message was hope - a hope underlined by the usual brand of Gazza chaos, in all fairness - and it felt like he was approaching the foot hills of salvation at last.

It would be a lie to say that interviewing Paul Gascoigne for the Journal last year was an entirely edifying experience.

The idea was put to me and a colleague from another regional title to promote a forthcoming charity talk-in appearance that the promoter was desperate to shift tickets for. Although sales for Gazza's events in the rest of the country were brisk, the North East seemed less ready to flock to see one of their most famous sons.

The theory was that many didn't want to book tickets because they thought he wouldn't turn up, so it was arranged that Gascoigne would ring and chat - frankly - about his alcoholism, football and any other issue to prove that he could be trusted.

Only Gascoigne didn't ring either of us for weeks. I didn't push it in case something had happened but eventually a call to one of the promoters saw a message relayed to Gascoigne and the phone rang.

"It's Gazza," he said. There followed 40 minutes of a pretty chaotic interview which saw the phone passed around the car he was driving in once, a pretty liberal sprinkling of swear-words, a smattering of unprintable stuff and a whole heap of anecdotes.

But underneath it all, Gascoigne remained absolutely riveting. He does not possess much eloquence but his story was affecting - as was his brutal and at times withering critique of those ready to write him off.

"I'm nearly 45 years of age. For 42 of those years I've had a brilliant life. I am better than I've ever been," he said. But then came the kicker.

"Can I promise I won't drink again? I can't make that promise because none of us know what's going to happen in the future."

This weekend saw football's wider family once again question whether there is more we can do for him. The problem is that many don't seem to realise is that, by his own admission, he is a man with serious and complex mental health issues that lie behind the alcoholism.

They cannot be easily salved, and it appears to be a problem with Gascoigne's strategies when he is at a low that are bringing him so many set-backs. Unless football assigns him someone to look over him 24/7, it is impossible for him to be saved without the man himself finding inner peace.

In the meantime, his thousands of well-wishers in the North East can only hope. The Gascoigne I spoke to was full of life, dreams and blustering defiance - and as he candidly admitted he'd drawn himself back from the edge of the abyss.

That is the only message of hope you can deliver when you see someone in that state: that if he has done it once, he can summon the energy and courage to do so again.

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