Gascoigne signs up for drink counselling

Glory on the pitch, grief off it - England star seeks professional help
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The Independent Online
PAUL Gascoigne is to see a counsellor specialising in alcoholism following the attack on his wife Sheryl last weekend that left her with a bruised face and four dislocated fingers.

The England footballer was so shocked by his behaviour, which followed an evening of drinking, that he made contact with Beechy Colclough, who has treated a number of celebrities for addictive illnesses, including Elton John and Michael Jackson.

The news comes after a week that saw the most talented and controversial English player of his generation in trouble on the pitch as well as off it. On Wednesday he was sent off for a petulant foul while playing for Glasgow Rangers against Ajax of Amsterdam.

The two incidents, which have outraged women's groups and football followers alike, are the latest in a long line that have sullied what should have been a glittering career. From rupturing knee ligaments in a crazy tackle during the FA Cup Final of 1991 to a public drinking binge in Hong Kong before the Euro 96 tournament, Gascoigne seems to have courted adverse publicity.

Alcohol appears to have been a consistent problem. The former England manager, Graham Taylor, once referred to his "refuelling habits". Now he may have come to what recovering alcoholics refer to as rock bottom - a point at which they realise they must do something about their problem.

When Gascoigne meets Mr Colclough - himself a recovering alcoholic - he will learn that alcoholism is an illness rather than a moral issue or weakness. He will hear, also, that the only cure is abstinence, one day at a time.

Should Gascoigne get into recovery, he will join fellow footballers Paul Merson and Tony Adams, as well as celebrities such as Eric Clapton and Sir Anthony Hopkins. Fame will be a problem, and it may be that rather than attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, which could turn into media circuses, Gascoigne could be urged to book into a treatment centre for six to eight weeks.

That would cause short-term problems with an England match in Georgia in three weeks' time - from which many critics have called for him to be omitted, anyway - but would certainly be of long-term benefit.

Yesterday he had support from the England coach, Glenn Hoddle: "Anything I can do that's helpful to Paul and his family at this time, I will seek to do." As for Gascoigne's international future, he said: "Any football decision involving England I will take at the right time when I'm aware of all the circumstances."

Whatever happens, Gascoigne has taken an important step by seeking help from a professional expert, rather than the advice of yes-men and hangers- on.

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