How Not To Be A Professional Footballer, by Paul Merson

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The Independent Culture

Paul Merson may have been one of the sharpest forwards in the box, but on this evidence he's never been one of the sharpest knives in the box.

He won 21 England caps during a playing career that spanned 12 years with Arsenal, during which he earned two League titles plus FA Cup, League Cup and Cup-Winners' Cup medals. He then went to a variety of clubs, ending up as player-manager of Walsall. But his life off the pitch was, in his own words, a "pissed-up mess".

Addicted to booze and gambling, and to cocaine for 10 months, he often went straight to training having been up all night bingeing, and confesses to "spunking £7 million at the bookies". After a brief apology at the beginning to "some of the people I've hurt and let down", who presumably include his two ex-wives and five children, though they hardly get a mention in the book, it's straight into the antics described in the dust-jacket blurb as "hilarious".

If your idea of hilarity is sitting in a darkened hotel room contemplating breaking your fingers to prevent yourself phoning in another bet, or depositing turds in team-mates' pillowcases while on tour, your sides will split. If you enjoy accounts of hotel-room trashings and pre-match masturbation – described with tedious repetition as "waxing the dolphin" – look no further. Just don't expect much in the way of self-analysis or contrition.

"Merse" is currently a regular on Sky's Soccer Saturday results programme and says he's enjoying it. He admits to occasional alcohol relapses and still gambles, but claims to have it under control. Let's hope he's right, for despite his upbeat bluster the overall impression by the end is one of sadness for a seemingly lost soul.

Published in hardback by HarperSport, £16.99

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