MIDWAY : Gazza’s grief

When the police pulled Paul Gascoigne out of the bath in which he was trying to drown himself on Sunday afternoon, he was crying. It is almost two decades since the image of Gazza’s tears caught the public imagination to such a degree that it could be said to have kick-started the renaissance of English football, a phenomenon which reaches its ceremonial climax in Moscow later this month. Now his latest bout of weeping marks another stage in the terrible decline of a man who once held the status of the nation’s favourite clown.

Gascoigne stopped being funny even before he stopped being a real footballer. If his comic turn wasn’t terminated by various indiscretions into the microphones of TV, it ended for good and all back in 1996 with a now famous tabloid front page headline: Gazza beats Sheryl black and blue.

Now the 40-year-old ex-footballer spent this particular Saturday afternoon first having his hair dyed red at a local salon and then, shaving it all off. Invited to leave the hotel that night

after fire alarms were said to have been activated when he smoked in his room, he moved to the Mandarin Oriental, less than a mile away, where his demands for cocaine on room service caused a certain amount of disruption.

This time he took a short walk down Sloane Street to the Millennium Hotel. Behaving erratically, he checked in with a bottle of gin in his hand and was soon calling down for

more. Staff were alarmed when, having ordered a steak, he rang down again to tell them to cancel the steak but to send up the steak knife. The police were called, found him trying to submerge himself in an overflowing bath, and took him to hospital.

Is it really too late now, after so many trips in and out of rehab, for this flawed, chaotic figure to accept help and guidance from the right quarter? Can no one offer him a home, in both the concrete and the spiritual senses, where he might maintain a constructive link with the game he loves while being absolved from the deadly requirement, imposed by himself as much as by the outside world, to be Gazza? If it is true that nothing can be done, that there is no effective therapy for his madness, then one day soon the tears will be ours.