Janet Street-Porter: We won't be happy until Gazza is dead

Surely the kind way to treat Paul Gascoigne would be to leave him in peace
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The Independent Online

This morning Paul Gascoigne must be wondering what to do with himself. He's out of a job and being followed by journalists everywhere. He'll be wondering whether to have a drink or not, talking to his therapist, feeling low and confused. The same people who spent the last week building George Best up into a male version of Princess Diana are now preparing to turn their full attention on Gazza.

If you read any of Hunter Davies' excellent biography, you'll know just how raw and vulnerable Paul Gascoigne is. Now he's said to be planning a second volume, together with his therapist and Hunter. The latest debacle, which saw him part company with Kettering Town football club after just 39 days, is bound to sell more books and just add to the legend.

Football arouses strong passions, but it is also a ruthless sport, discarding people while they are still in their twenties, without any qualifications or life skills. It rewards them handsomely but does not offer a stable environment in which these skilled young men can develop any expertise other than kicking a ball. Time and time again we read of loutish behaviour off the pitch, speeding offences in top-of-the-range cars, trips to clubs where drugs are taken, sex in back rooms with women only too eager to sell their version of the experience for wads of cash.

Wayne Rooney's girlfriend is so determined to present a different picture of him that she actually told a magazine this week that his favourite food is lettuce! Rooney is a classic example of an undereducated player with more money than his girlfriend can ever spend and absolutely no life plan. He lurches from one tabloid horror story to the next.

Last week, the Newcastle United player Lee Bowyer reached an out-of-court settlement for £170,000 with the Asian student he was acquitted of assaulting in an alleged incident in Leeds City centre in January 2000. Although the terms of the settlement ensure that neither side can comment and there is no admission of guilt, the sum of money paid by Bowyer is considerable.

At the original trial his then team-mate, Jonathan Woodgate, was convicted of affray and sentenced to 100 hours of community service.

Although Bowyer has dealt with the civil case brought by Sarfraz Najeib and his older brother Shahzad, he is not out of the woods yet ­ he's been accused of driving at 112 miles an hour in a 70 miles an hour zone and is due back in court on 16 January to face a hearing over fighting on the pitch with his team-mate Kieron Dyer. If found guilty Bowyer could face a custodial sentence of up to six months, and he is seeking a judicial review of the decision to prosecute him.

Bowyer has spent a considerable amount of time and money on lawyers fees over the last few years, as the first trial over the alleged attack in Leeds was halted when comments attributed to the father of one of the alleged victims were printed in a newspaper while the jury were considering their verdicts. All of this, and Bowyer is only 28 years old.

A few days ago we were regaled with the news that the 25- year-old captain of Chelsea, John Terry, who earns £80,000 a week, had been spending £5,000 a week in betting shops, visiting one particular establishment near the team's training ground five times in 10 days, carrying wads of cash. Football will always attract excessive behaviour, and millions of us tune in regularly to the highly successful television series Footballers Wives, in which the writers have great difficulty in coming up with story-lines which are not mirror images of the real world. In fact, Footballers Wives started out as a witty satire and is now only too horribly true.

The British public have a huge appetite for kicking someone while they're down ­ which is why Gazza's biography went straight to the top of the book charts and stayed there week in and week out. When George Best became more and more embarrassing, hitting his women, cheating on them and selling stories down at the pub to anyone who would shell out £50, it was our appetite for muck that paid for his addiction and his eventual death. We colluded in his downfall, I am quite clear about that.

And when Best was hooked up to a life-support machine we sent him flowers and poems, we called him "brave" and filled acres of newsprint and hours of television with utter tosh about what a deeply flawed but talented man he was. Fact: George Best was a pathetic man who chucked away a transplanted liver, wasted his talent, offered no sort of role model for the young whatsoever, was a lousy father and hopeless husband. In short, just the kind of man football and its (largely male) chroniclers need to keep their industry going.

Sometimes I think that we won't be happy until Gazza is dead. His crime seems to be that he is fragile, undereducated, like Best ­ an alcoholic and his career has more or less reached rock bottom. We've already claimed one victim with Best, now Gazza is next on the block. He can only earn money by writing about his shortcomings as he's too old and too fat to play his favourite game, and certainly lacks any people skills to exploit as a manager.

In short, Gazza is on the scrap heap after the 27-year-old businessman who owns Kettering accused him of 37 different drinking incidents during his brief reign as manager. On Monday night things came to a head in Liverpool when Gascoigne allegedly attacked a photographer after attending a charity evening which (ironically) raised funds for alcoholics and drug users. He subsequently spent the night in a police cell.

The blanket coverage of George Best's funeral over last weekend was nauseating in the extreme and quite inappropriate. Even the BBC seemed to be treating the event as a state funeral rather than the demise of a drunk. The idea that the people of Northern Ireland would consider him a national hero is not only pathetic, but just not worthy of their fine country and rich culture. It was as if Best could not help himself, that he was in the grip of events out of his control. The fact is, he just couldn't say no. He was blessed with glamour and talent and he chucked it away. Now Gazza is doing exactly the same, and we're hanging on every word.

He's told us about beating his wife. He's talked about his drinking. He's written about his compulsive behaviour. He's spent years seeing a therapist, he's been in and out of rehab like a yo-yo. What on earth do we want from him now? Surely the kind way to treat Gascoigne would be to leave him in peace. And we can only hope that the young and talented see the warning signs ahead. Or perhaps they think they'll be able to make even more money from their memoirs. It figures.