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FA must avoid a moral crusade against Gascoigne

Despite the calls, England's coach should not make an example of his troubled midfielder, says Glenn Moore
It used to be harmless japes - false breasts, belching, silly haircuts. Not that funny really, but not very threatening either. Then came darker tales, the binges on food and alcohol, the mild paranoia, the occasional aggressive reaction to an over-intrusive member of the paparazzi.

Still, the damage was largely self-inflicted and the latter incidents were understandable, even for a man who appeared to court publicity while feeling imprisoned by it. Now the tragi-comedy of Paul Gascoigne has sunk to new depths. Or rather, returned to them. That Gascoigne beats his wife, as has been alleged - and not denied - is not new. He confessed to repeatedly doing so a couple of years ago when she was still Sheryl Kyle.

The latest revelation has prompted a chorus of voices calling for Gascoigne to be dropped from the England squad to be named on Friday for the game in Georgia next Saturday. Yet there was no such outcry the first time. Surely it is no less reprehensible to beat up a girlfriend than a wife.

The difference is in the timing. These allegations come when there is a new mood abroad. Politicians are scrambling to be seen as good Christians while few hearts have not been touched by the Snowdrop appeal and Frances Lawrence's call for a new moral order. Dropping Gascoigne, goes the cry, would strengthen this movement by setting an example to violent men everywhere.

Yet it would be wrong for the Football Association to be drawn into a moral crusade. Gascoigne has not been charged with any offence, let alone convicted. If Mrs Gascoigne or the police take matters further the situation changes, but it is not the FA's place to play judge and jury.

And would dropping him help anyone? Violent partners tend to take their lead from what they have observed of their own families in childhood, and from their social milieux, rather than from their heroes. Setting an example only works when rational behaviour is involved; preventing partner-battering requires expert treatment of the individuals concerned not well-meaning gestures.

That Gascoigne himself needs help is self-evident and has been for years. But he also needs to play football - more so than most players. Being part of the England squad, under the guidance of Glenn Hoddle, will be far more beneficial than sitting alone in his Scottish mansion dwelling on his thoughts. Gascoigne has taken the first step in asking Beechy Colclough, a confidant to Paul Merson and Elton John among others, for help. Now Hoddle, and his peers, can help him find the strength to take things further.

If the England team is to be picked on morality why stop at Gascoigne? Friday's squad is likely to contain a convicted drunk-driver who may well be captain, a player in constant trouble with the football authorities who was accused of breaking a fellow professional's nose barely a week ago, another who once trashed a hotel room on England duty, a recovering addict, and a number of alleged philanderers. Football reflects society.

Some believe it can also shape it but, even if that were true, it cannot do so alone. We have a Government which has been embroiled in sleaze for years, a Royal family stained by adultery and a rock industry whose icons are drug-taking drunks. Even the church has suffered a series of high- profile scandals. How much influence can a game of football have in that company?

If Hoddle drops Gascoigne it should be because he believes his mental state is not right, or because of his fading powers as a footballer, not because he is told to by the chattering classes.

Suzanne Moore,

Tabloid, page 2