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

Comments (3)
Comment by lukefairweather 2009-04-21 13:11:24

Hi Brian

Why should someone be "degraded" for talking football or discussing their illness with Adrian Chiles? Paul was exercising a free choice to do motd2 and I personally did not find this "painful" or "degrading." I have only admiration for the progress that Paul is making, and thought it good to hear this directly from him, rather than read a sensational soar away version in the red tops. I found the interview to be respectful and tactful and not at all like the degrading side show you describe. You correctly identify this as a strategy for wellness and sanity, so why the sniping?

You thought his punditry below would you know, by your own admission you had the mute button on. Perhaps you had made up your mind in advance and chose to judge an individual with mental illness without giving him the respect that a good listen deserves. As you say, he was the "most gifted footballer of his generation", he didn't want your help, all you had to do was listen. Shame.

Luke Fairweather

Comment by Dr Collins 2009-04-22 10:23:50

I watched the interview with the sound on and I thought it made for very poor television. Why does Gascogine's recovery have to be played out in public? I don't know if he can properly recover if he is also going to be treated as a celebrity through every stage of the process.

Comment by Gauche. 2009-04-24 22:33:26

I watched match of the day two and although I don't think Mr Gascoigne was the most insightful of commentators I did find it interesting to listen to his views on youth development and training.
On visiting youth academies he believed that young players were over coached,individual skills seem to be discouraged.
Whatever you think of Gascoigne the person, someone with as much natural football ability and skill may have a point to make about future footballers.

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