Italy derides our football drink culture

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THE CULTURE of heavy drinking in English football is to blame for the present plight of its star in both fields, Paul Gascoigne, according to an Italian sports newspaper.

The Gazzetta dello Sport, one of the country's leading sports newspapers, made the observation after discussion in Italy of the former England midfielder's treatment for alcoholism. Gazza also used to play for the Italian team Lazio.

The Gazzetta pointed to a succession of players who had had a drink problem, including Jimmy Greaves, George Best, Tony Adams and Paul Merson.

"Getting completely sozzled, night after night, is in the culture," the paper said. "Paul Gascoigne is a victim of that 'drink culture'. But in his descent into the hell of alcoholism, he is in distinguished and numerous company.

"In Italy, drunkenness has for centuries been the only socially reprehensible vice. It's not good to be seen staggering about in public. You lose face. But in England and other northern European countries, for different 'cultural' reasons, the habit of raising your right arm too often is not seen as something so unseemly.

"In fact, getting drunk is even seen as a synonym for entertainment ... it is a basic component of Anglo-Saxon machismo."

The comments came as more than 120 England football supporters were arrested in Luxembourg yesterday after disturbances before and during England's 3-0 victory. Fifty were arrested before the match by police who said many were too drunk to stand. Police then broke up an attempt by about 40 fans to force their way into the ground after the kick-off and took them away in handcuffs. Earlier in the day another 30 had been arrested after trouble in the city centre.

Using special powers, police also expelled 50 others after intercepting them at the frontier and train stations.

Meanwhile, Gascoigne's club manager, Bryan Robson, said the star was being treated for "stresses and depression" and will stay in the Marchwood Priory Hospital in Hampshire for "an indefinite period". He pleaded for the footballer to be left alone by the media as he attempts to regain his health.

Robson, speaking at Middlesbrough's Hurworth training ground, said he had spent the weekend with Gascoigne at the drying-out clinic.

"Paul took it on himself, with my help, to go into hospital and take treatment," Robson said. "A lot of people have been talking about alcohol, and alcohol is part of it, but I think what people have got to realise is that Paul has had a lot of stress, a bit of depression and personal problems which he's found difficult to cope with.

"I think it's been a build-up over the last six-month period with all the high media spotlight that he's been in. Paul found it very difficult to cope over the last couple of months and it all came to a head on Friday when he felt he needed help."

In recent months Gascoigne has had to deal with the break-up of his marriage and problems in his playing career. He was dropped from England's squad for the World Cup in France and has been struggling to find fitness. In addition, he was said to have been badly affected by the death of a close friend after a drinking session.

Hoddle's lifeline, page 30