Paul Merson knows his story will be appealing to fans of Arsenal, Middlesbrough, Aston Villa, Portsmouth, Walsall and viewers of Soccer Saturday.
Yet his real target audience is anyone struggling with the illness of addiction.
This is a man who ,when lifting the title, was going home to a house without a carpet because he couldn’t afford to decorate. When called up for England he was going round his parents’ house just to eat. All because of gambling.
If one person picks up this book and it supports them with their illness, then it’s, in his own words, the best thing Paul Merson has done in his life.
Our ex-midfielder has always stressed what helped him the most in recovery is talking and going to meetings.
That option was taken away from him during Lockdown which caused a relapse. This is a great education for how Covid impacted alcoholics.
Even though most readers will be aware of his personal demons, there’s still a perception that an ex-footballer and TV Pundit wouldn’t have the worries of your average person in the street.
Readers have written that to me.
In reality the Pandemic was the catalyst of the 53-year-old losing everything, including all the money he and his wife had saved to buy a new house.
You might assume that gambling (which seems to be his most serious of vices) arose when he became wealthy. In reality it’s been an issue his whole life.
In what you can only hope young footballers will read as a warning sign, Paul Merson reflects on earning so much money so young that he wasn’t bothered how much he lost. To him his salary wasn’t something he had earnt, like his parents who worked 9-5 jobs. He admits to feeling privileged to be paid such a wage for kicking a ball around 2 hours a day that therefore if he lost money, it wasn’t money he had worked hard for.
In his own life he finds when he’s tempted to relapse, he finds it easier to speak to those he’s met in meetings rather than his actual friends. He finds it more worthwhile to share his experience with those who can relate to his problems. Which I guess is what he wants this autobiography to be to readers?
This project could also be therapeutic for anyone struggling with anxiety or depression. It’s almost chilling to learn that Paul Merson never liked the taste of alcohol, he simply liked what being drunk turned him into.
Without it, he felt shy, quiet, insecure, constantly worrying, and thought he was an awful person who wanted to be someone else. He taught himself he needed to be under the influence to be the version of himself he liked and/or thought others wanted to be around.
In an era where society has a better understanding of Mental Health, I hope anyone who feels that way realises through Paul’s story that there are better ways to cope.
Whenever I read memoirs from ex-gunners, I can’t help but see the contrast when they speak about the ‘Arsenal Way’. Doing his apprenticeship, Pat Rice would stress that even if your job was laundry or scrubbing the baths, everything had to be perfect. That now you are part of the Arsenal Family, every department has to be done with class.
You can’t help but sadly question if that’s the case in 2021?
Deep down we know that answer.
Equally how many have the bravery to demand the ball and not be afraid to get something wrong which was Merson’s trademark.
That is why Paul Merson adds that Arsenal cared about the personality they were buying, not just the talent.
Even though I was aware that gambling was one of his addictions, it’s crazy to find out the amounts and frequency he would bet.
That, though, was the consequence of depression. In the nineties there wasn’t the awareness that there is now where it’s encouraged for people to talk about how they feel.
I have never been addicted to alcohol, drugs or gambling but his outlook on depression resonated.
Just like addiction, depression is an illness, it doesn’t make you weak, or a bad person, people might hate the impact it has but still love you.
Sobriety is the same philosophy as mentally feeling well, don’t try and promise you will be okay forever, just take one day at a time.
As ‘Hooked’ stresses, talking to someone if you feel low shouldn’t be judged, it’s in fact the best medicine.
Even if this platform is a comfort to you, please reach out if you’re struggling.
Meanwhile the world should continue to try and be kinder to one another.
The figures in this country show during lockdown there was a dramatic increase in calls to helplines supporting those struggling with mental health.
In his own words, if one person reads Paul Merson’s truth and relates, or even if it helps a friend or family member understand what their loved one is dealing with, then that’s his biggest achievement.
On behalf of everyone at JustArsenal I wish Paul Merson all the best…