James Lawton: It's a bit rich of FA to help Gazza when old pros struggle to make ends meet

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The Independent Football

You might say that the Football Association is merely showing an admirable touch of humanity as it "explores" the possibility of putting Paul Gascoigne on the payroll. But maybe not if you are an old pro who routinely wakes up in agony after giving the best years of your life to football without ever letting anyone down. Then you might say that compassion is good but not at the cost of reality and a decent value system.

Yes, you can bleed for the tragic course of Gazza's career. You can remember the promise of his youth, the thrilling, explicit nature of his great talent, and you can curse all those who clambered on his bandwagon and helped turn it into a handcart to hell.

You can despise all over again the remark of Sir Terry Wogan, who had Gascoigne come into the television studio in the boot of a car, to avoid the mob of paparazzi, and put him on national television when he was supposed to be suffering from fatigue after his starring role in the 1990 World Cup. Wogan's words shriek down the years in all their banality. "Ignore the critics, Paul," he said, "and just make as much money as you can, while you can." Gazza, fixated on celebrity, took that advice. He made the ironically titled record, "Fog on the Tyne". He did special appearances and went on modelling assignments. He starred in television documentaries, acquired a coterie of "celebrities" and he never quite understood that in football you didn't have rehearsals, you just had to go out and do it.

At considerable profit, Gascoigne has written about his mental instability and his addictions, and these are matters deserving of sympathy. But how much and for how long? When does Gascoigne simply submit to sustained treatment to try to get himself right, and leave football, until he is well, to those who are ready to give it all their ability.

What the FA has been involved in this week is a sentimental lunge, which would be fine if it went across the board and included the tracking down of all those other struggling ex-pros who never earned a fraction of Gazza's rewards, but never made a mockery of their gifts.

Heaven knows, they are not so hard to find. You see them all over football, limping into grounds where sometimes they are scarcely recognised and doing little bits for local radio and, if they are lucky, the odd ghosted column to go alongside those of TV presenters and professional football "supporters". A few years ago, at another critical point of Gazza's existence in football, the Professional Footballers' Association saw him as a potential rescuer of wayward football youth. They thought that with his high profile, and well-publicised attempts to rescue something from his playing career, he would be an ideal witness to the dangers of straying from the best professional values.

One PFA member was distinctly unimpressed. It was Peter Beardsley, whose earnest love of the game, and his brilliant performances for Newcastle and Liverpool and England, had earned him not much more than derision in fashionable football circles. His way of speaking was easily mimicked and was guaranteed an uproarious reception in those quarters which saw football as an extension of showbusiness.

Nevertheless, Beardsley put his head above the parapet once more. He wondered why it was that lads who had only been a credit to the game, who understood the meaning of application and professional discipline, were never given such assignments as the one now proposed for Gascoigne. Who really did the rulers of the game want to represent them? Now none of the noises coming from what is left of Gazza's old circle provide much encouragement that he will be able to fashion a more productive life.

Jimmy "Five Bellies" Gardner declares: "More than two years ago, Paul said he was an alcoholic and got help. He admitted he had a couple of brandies before the match on the day when George Best was buried. So what?" So it showed that a man who had been born with genius - he was a classic, inventive midfielder who might have stood comparison with any rival in the history of the game - was no nearer to bringing himself under control.

Of course there is overwhelming sadness, as there will always be when great talent dissipates before your eyes. When, after much doubt, he passed a medical with Lazio, he swept into the lounge of a hotel off the Via Veneto and sat down at a grand piano. He ordered a glass of wine and proceeded to play a vigorous, and not untuneful, version of "Happy Days Are Here Again". They weren't. No more than they will ever be as long as it is forgotten that the only person who can truly help Paul Gascoigne is himself.

That is the fact that for quite bewildering reasons, the FA this week chose to ignore.

If Warren can sell Harrison-Williams, he can sell raincoats in the desert

It is no hardship celebrating Frank Warren's 25th anniversary as a boxing promoter. But for him, the old game would be utterly skeletal in these islands.

Warren is a stayer of impressive nerve, as we have seen often enough... he literally beat the bullet, emerged from ferocious warfare with Don King considerably poorer but still on his feet - how many in boxing can say that? - and also stood up to Mike Tyson eyeball to eyeball. He has treated the defections of such as Naseem Hamed and Ricky Hatton with his version of a philosophical shrug.

Far from the least of his achievements, though, is to fill an arena - apparently he could have done it twice over - with spectators agog for the Audley Harrison-Danny Williams action tonight.

Remember this if you should ever get hold of a consignment of plastic macs and wish to sell them in and around the Sahara.

Harrison-Williams is being described as the most significant British heavyweight fight in 12 years. When you absorb that, weep for the memory of Lennox Lewis and Tommy Farr and Henry Cooper and, when you think about it, Frank Bruno. Consider Harrison's travesty of competitive fighting since he won an Olympic gold five years ago - remember the putrid challenge made to Vitali Klitschko a year ago by a Williams hugely fortunate to confront Mike Tyson when the toughest job was not beating him but identifying a vital sign. And don't forget to call Warren about those plastic macs. We know he will move them for sure.

Referee must be brought to book over Essien horror show

Uefa is prosecuting Michael Essien for something it calls "gross unsporting conduct". Good. The Chelsea midfielder's tackle on Dietmar Hamann was sickeningly calculated and brutal.

But while it is charging Essien, it should also consider two other possibilities. One is to bring in a new charge ... one aimed at referees guilty of "gross incompetence". The credentials of the official who missed the Essien outrage, Herbert Fandel, must now be seriously re-examined before he is put in charge of anything more significant than a kick-about in the back yard.

Also urgently needed is a review of the absurd rule that the football authorities cannot consider retrospective action, after consulting film, if the match officials see an incident and make a decision, however errant.

All the match officials at Stamford Bridge claim not to have seen Essien's career-threatening lunge. So Uefa felt able to act. It is a re-statement of the old scandal that in football only referees cannot, consciously, do wrong.

Television at fault as Flintoff has another late night

The most demanding decision facing the England cricket team in Pakistan in recent days has not been to do with any refurbishing in the one-day series of the Ashes glory spilled so comprehensively in the recent 2-0 Test defeat.

No, the big issue has concerned how late Andrew Flintoff can stay up in order to receive the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award that some time ago became a voting certainty.

If this is confirmed tomorrow night, there can be no questioning the wisdom of the electorate. Flintoff was magnificent as a cricketer and sportsman in the Ashes summer. He had some light-headed moments at the batting crease in Pakistan, and they were a key part of England's downfall, but he did bowl himself silly. That should be another reason, though, for a good night's rest before an international against such formidable opponents. Instead, we hear the presentation is likely to go on until 3am local time.

It is often said sport has become a captive of TV. This Flintoff affair is the latest supporting evidence.

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