Merson retires from active service

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The former Arsenal and England international Paul Merson has announced his retirement as a player. Merson, 37, had recently joined the Conference side Tamworth after being sacked as Walsall manager.

"I have a lot of memories and things to look back on," he said yesterday. "It goes very quickly. When you are a kid you think you are going to play forever. But it has just caught up with me."

Merson won 21 caps and two championship medals at Arsenal, with whom he began his playing career. He also won FA Cup, League Cup and European Cup Winners' Cup honours at Highbury.

His career was dogged by problems with drugs, gambling and alcohol, but he continued to be successful on the pitch and was bought by Middlesbrough for £4.5m in 1997, helping them to win promotion and reach the League Cup final.

He was a member of the England squad at the 1998 World Cup before joining Aston Villa for £6.75m that September. He won his last cap in November 1999, when he scored in the 2-0 victory over the Czech Republic at Wembley. He joined Portsmouth for one season in 2002, helping them to win Premiership promotion.

He spent nine months at Walsall as a player before taking over from Colin Lee as manager. The Saddlers were relegated to League One before Merson could turn around their fortunes in the 2003-04 season, and after a 14th-place finish last season they were battling to avoid the drop when he was sacked last month.

He played one match for Tamworth, managed by his friend Mark Cooper, but will return in May to play in a testimonial for goalkeeper Scott Bevan, who lost a kidney in a near-fatal playing accident earlier this season.