From a spectator’s viewpoint, the life of a professional footballer with the high wages and short working week provides them with a glitzy, glamorous life full of expensive cars, palatial homes and large amounts of disposable income.
A Significant Issue
In an honest, emotionally challenging and, on occasions, psychologically jarring account, Paul Merson recalls his encounters with gambling, drink and drugs and the wreckage they cause. For over 20 years, Paul Merson was an outstanding midfielder and attacker for England, Arsenal, Aston Villa and Middlesborough. However, he lived a life dominated by personal battles outside the game. Readers will shudder and grimace as he reveals all with the expert support of his co-writer, Rob Bagchi.
Many players lack the life skills, advice and confidence to steer clear of social dangers and questionable wealth managers. They are highly vulnerable to negative influences outside football. Many readers will be aware of the questionable exploits of players such as Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs and Tony Adams. Evidence shows that gambling is a significant
issue affecting the lives of players both active and retired.
We may well ponder just how such a successful individual could be so compulsively drawn to gambling. As a footballer, Merson had an instinct on the field to see the next pass. He could size up game situations instantly. However, away from the game, he failed to realise how his clownish escapades damaged his personal life and left him on the verge of suicide.
He reveals how his first trip into a branch of William Hill at age 16 changed his life. It was like being on a spaceship, he says. Betting shops turned into a haven away from the pressure of professional football. Unfortunately, winnings only allowed him to make an even bigger bet. There was never a question of simply using the money to buy something nice.
This destructive attitude resulted in him running up enormous gambling debts and losing around £7 million overall, and as he sadly concedes, he is still striving to find a coping strategy.
His addictive personality also meant he had terrible problems with alcohol. He drank not only to forget about his gambling debts but also to appear more confident socially. He contrasts the dominance he showed on the pitch to the quiet and reserved demeanour he displayed away from it. Drinking for Paul Merson was like boarding a rocket and giving him a ticket to a different world.
He could easily drink 12 pints and jokes that it was one of the only things he excelled at other than football. However, he admits that he was a terrible drunk, and his behaviour could be a liability. The extent of alcohol abuse within certain clubs is very apparent as the author gives the reader insight into the activities of the “Tuesday” club at Arsenal.
Loneliness and Insecurity
Paul talks about battling personal and emotional trauma, loneliness, insecurity and depression for over 30 years. He
highlights how important it is to open up and talk about your problems and that addiction is the loneliest of places. However, the more you talk about it, the more you remove its power.
He mentions in glowing terms the support he received from key figures in football, such as Terry Venables, Don Howe, Harry Redknapp and Sir Elton John. He emphasises the strength he gained from attending meetings and communicating with others at Alcoholics Anonymous. Paul also notes the tremendous support he received from his parents and his second wife Kate, “the one person who truly understands me”.
The book is an outstanding insight into how addiction to drink, drugs, and particularly gambling decimated a star footballer, sucked away earnings of over £7 million and continues to affect him, even now. The great message from the book is that YOU are the main factor for change. Share your problems and trust your friends and family.
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