Paul Gascoigne on drink, drugs and nearly signing for Man Utd

The former England footballer talks about the highs and lows of his colourful life and career

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Paul Gascoigne on drink, drugs and nearly signing for Man Utd
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Gazza on his school days

I was practising autographs [in a geography lesson] and the teacher Mr Hepworth said, “What are you doing that for?” And I said, “I am going to be a professional footballer.” He said, “Only one in a million make it” and I said, “I am going to be that one.” I got kicked out of the classroom. 

After the World Cup in 1990, the only thing I could think of was Mr Hepworth. I knew what class he was in so I went to the school and knocked on his door. I looked in his little window and he looked at us and went, “I know.” 

On nearly signing for Manchester United

I was thinking Man U is a massive club, so I thought I’ll go to Man U – they offered us big wages. Alex Ferguson says, “I’m going on holiday, I’ll see you when I get back.” “OK, enjoy your holiday, I’ll sign.” 

And so as I was driving to Manchester I get a phone call from Irving Scholar [chairman of Tottenham]: “Paul, we’ll give you £2,500 a week. Not only that, we’ll buy your dad a house, so I said, “Ma and dad, Spurs are gonna buy us a house, what do you think?” “Sounds good, son.” So I said, “All right then, yes.”

Going a bit further, dad calls up, he says, “Son, what about a car?” and I say, “Irving, listen, what about a car for me dad, BMW private reg?” “Yeah, we’ll give him that as well.” And now I’m like, “Dad they’re giving us that as well.” I can hear my sister in the background: “I want a sunbed,” so they threw that in as well.

On drink and drugs

You think, well, how did I get myself in a state like that? Especially taking cocaine. It was there on a plate and I thought I’d try it and I couldn’t stop. I locked myself in a hotel room for six weeks. I’d probably have about 16 lines of coke in a day. Which is a hell of a lot.

The football is what I lived for, what I woke up for, but that was gone. It’s taken away and you think, “Oh s**t, what now?” My solution was drink and cocaine. I went loopy. The phone calls I made was unbelievable. I remember ringing my dad saying, “Listen, get your stuff, we’re going to play President Clinton and Bush at chess” and I honestly believed it.

I was on four bottles of whisky a day. The worst one was when I went four months without any food or water – not even water – and four bottles of whisky a day. I went to about nine stone. When I went to the treatment centre it took us about three weeks to start drinking water. I thought water was gonna kill us. When you go in hospital they say, “Paul, there’s 10mg of valium to calm you down.” They didn’t know I was on 70mg a day, so I was in the s**t straight away…

On playing the fool

During the World Cup in 1990, England were flying to Napoli and I said, “Can I sit in the cockpit?” And they said yeah. So I said to the captain, “Can I have the controls?” And he said, “OK, no problem,” and I said, “How do you get this plane to go right?” And he showed us this button, just gave it a turn, so I said, “Can I have a go?” and gave it a little turn, and he went, “You can give it a bit more,” and I just went whoosh and this plane must have went about three miles off track. And I s**t meself. You should have seen the pilot’s face while he put it right.

On rehab

I’ve tried for 14 or 15 years to get well and I keep thinking I can beat it man, and I keep trying to beat it and I keep messing up and then I give it another shot.

And sometimes when I’m in Bournemouth [where he is currently being treated at the Providence Treatment Centre] people say, “What are you doing in Bournemouth, Paul?” I say, “I had a fight with a can of beer and got beat.”

And I’ll continue to get beat. And if I start drinking again I’ll get beaten again, there’s no doubt about it and I know where I’ll end up and it could be in a coffin and, you know, but I’d rather be cremated because I don’t want to be in a coffin because I suffer from claustrophobia!

I learnt to love myself again – I’ve definitely learnt that. I’ve learnt to realise that some people have problems as well, it’s not just you Paul, it’s not all poor me, poor me, pour me a drink. Other people have got problems.

I think I’ve learnt, I’ve learnt that because of where I’ve been – the treatment centre – I can actually have more fun without a drink than I can with.

On life with Sheryl

What I did [in 1996, he assaulted his ex-wife Sheryl, below with Gascoigne and her children] was disgusting. People don’t know what I went through, what really went on in our marriage. I took alcohol to try to ease the pain, to block it out. But it had the other effect where I did go off the rails.

I still love Sheryl, yeah course I still love her, but I don’t know if I’m in love with her, if you know what that means. I just feel that I’ve got to move on. I could see myself getting married again. I am a good bloke. I’m a nice bloke, I’m kind hearted. 

Paul Gascoigne is the guest on Piers Morgan's Life Stories on ITV1 at 9:45pm on Saturday 12 November

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