Paul Gascoigne; ‘Gazza’ to the masses. Born in 1967 in the town of Dunston in the North East of England. Gifted footballer. Loveable joker. Tearful clown. Addict. Domestic abuser. Mentally ill.
The life and times of this man have been the very definition of a roller coaster ride.
One of the most successful periods of his playing career was when he was with Rangers in Scotland. Between 1995 & 1998 he won a couple of league titles, a footballer of the year crown and was adored by the Ibrox faithful. On the other side of the ledger, there was a five match ban after a red card for violent conduct and a £20,000 fine (and a death threat from the IRA) following a goal celebration where he mimed playing a flute (symbolic of the flute-playing of Orange Order marchers) during a match against bitter rivals, Celtic.
This coming Sunday, the Scottish Football Hall of Fame are holding their Annual Inductees Dinner – Gazza was in line to join the list of legends until:
‘Further to consultation with the chair and members of the Scottish Football Hall of Fame committee, due to a number of factors including ongoing enquiries, and concerns over the state of Paul’s health, it has been decided to withdraw the nomination of Paul Gascoigne at this time from this year’s nomination process.’
The updated decision came last Thursday, a day after World Mental Health Day, and is widely reported to have followed pressure exerted by members of the Scottish Football Association who threatened to boycott the dinner if Gazza was inducted, pressure based on his well-documented personal issues and behaviour, rather than his football achievements. Gazza has been in and out of rehab over the last 20 years and been sectioned under the UK’s Mental Health Act numerous times. He’s been arrested for drink driving, drug possession and has admitted domestic abuse.
Despite the rap sheet, I and many others feel the decision to withdraw his nomination was wrong. Rather than celebrating his career, they have turned their back on him because of the personal issues, the things that makes them feel uncomfortable. They have brought disappointment and additional pressures upon a mentally ill man rather than embracing the positives of his abilities on the pitch.
I read and watched a lot about Mental Health last week. If you have an hour to spare, look up the new documentary on YouTube from former Liverpool footballer Jason McAteer; it’s powerful stuff. Our own Susie Bates talked candidly about the mental pressures she and other cricketers face on the International merry go round. NZ Rugby’s Headfirst programme continues to make strides. I’ve been lucky enough to sit in a room and listen to Sir John Kirwan talk about his story and his journey to wellness – if you ever get the chance to do that, take it.
The Gazza story shows me that although awareness and education around Mental Health is improving, it’s far from perfect. If you’re tempted to say, ‘yeah, well, that’s Scotland, we’re doing ok’, don’t be complacent, the stats don’t back it up. If you think, ‘Gazza didn’t deserve the Hall of Fame, he’s been a dick too many times’, then I see where you’re coming from, but in that case, why line up the award, only to take it away? It was the wrong decision and we need fewer of those when it comes to Mental Health.
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