Paul McGrath

Some thoughts generated by this short but extremely revealing interview in the Telegraph with the former Republic of Ireland defender Paul McGrath.

You can build up a frightening and heartbreaking checklist from it in moments:

  1. Heavy drinking built into his life by his mid-20s
  2. Resorting to drinking Domestos and bleach
  3. At least four suicide attempts
  4. Illegal drug use
  5. Drink-driving charges
  6. Arrested on at least one occasion

Of course, there is nothing specific to football in any of this. This behaviour is a common anglophone response to a life that generates emotion and feeling that can’t be bourne otherwise.

In footballing terms, though, this is the flipside to my complaint about media coverage of sports psychology. Because whether or not you think psychotherapy or psychiatry any good, this is the sort of situation they exist to help with.

Given the nature of the situation, I wonder how it is that columnists making that typical white flapping coats category error, can bring themselves to do so in that giggling, playground tone? Or how, after they’ve done so, they can urge this or that troubled player to “tackle your demons?”

Little wonder then that the likes of McGrath and Gascoigne – warm, smart men as well as fantastic players – can go through the whole of their (truncated) careers without receiving anything resembling proper help.

When it’s hooliganism, or racism, or cheating, or financial corruption, football columnists by and large acknowledge the seriousness of the problem and reflect it in their writing. It’s not so when an important player runs into real personal problems. Ian Ridley and Simon Barnes are exceptions to a depressing rule, one that Sol Campbell’s recent treatment shows no sign of going away any time soon.

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