Monday 20 April ~
People are fascinated by fallen idols, especially when there is a redemptive element to their story, with a plunge to the depths followed by some sort of recovery. A new documentary about the former world heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson has been shown at film festivals recently and will be released in the UK soon. Tyson has behaved so appallingly so often over the last decade or so that even some keen boxing fans I know can't face going to see it. But however mentally damaged Tyson may be, he is also complex and articulate, someone whose interviews can make compelling viewing. That is not a claim that can be made for Britain's best known screwed-up sports star.
I bet that I wasn't the only viewer of Match of the Day 2 last night who had to hit the mute button whenever Paul Gascoigne appeared on screen. Nor will I be the only person who wondered what on earth he was doing there. Every aspect of Gascoigne's decline has been enthusiastically charted by the media over the past couple of years, from drug and drink binges to suicide attempts, almost all of it played out in public.
To an extent, the coverage has reflected the affection that some still have for the best English footballer of his generation. But, while this is never spelled out directly, the newspapers and TV networks who regularly crank out Gazza stories know that they are presenting a freakshow, one that some of their readers and viewers quite enjoy watching. Because not everyone likes Gascoigne or finds his haplessness worthy of sympathy, especially given his history of violence towards those who are, or were, closest to him.
The kindest thing that could be said about Gascoigne's MOTD2 debut, and his appearance on Soccer AM the previous day, is that it was an improvement on his previous television punditry. But it was still painful to witness and it's inconceivable that the BBC would not have expected that to be the case when they booked him. Presumably these latest media appearances are designed to aid in his rehabilitation, giving him a chance to appear in public to simply talk about football rather than once again recite the long list of problems that he is beset by.
But, however keen he is to remain in the limelight, feeding his need for public attention is unlikely to help him. He didn't have coherent things to say about the football matches he watched, at least not enough to justify his presence on the pundit's couch. But that's not what he was there for. Like one of the zoo animals that behave unpredictably on a live children's TV show, he was designed to be a talking point. It's just a question of who was the more degraded by the experience, Paul Gascoigne or the BBC. Brian Gibbs