Gascoigne may start match on Sunday


Paul Gascoigne's craving for a game of football, it seems, consumes him more than his hankering for a drink. Barely three weeks after he checked into an alcoholism clinic, with his personal life in turmoil, he is likely to resume his Middlesbrough career against Nottingham Forest at the Riverside Stadium on Sunday.

Gascoigne will continue his treatment at the Marchwood Priory Hospital in south-west London a couple of days a week but this hardly represents the full two-month rehabilitation widely envisaged, and undergone in recent years by his fellow England internationals Tony Adams and Paul Merson.

It was a peaky, slightly pale Gascoigne who, flanked by his manager Bryan Robson faced a battery of television cameras and microphones at Middlesbrough's training ground near Darlington yesterday afternoon and provided the first halting explanation of the traumatic events which followed a prolonged drinking session on a club trip to Dublin.

Unlike Adams and Merson there was no determined pronouncement about alcoholism, no set-piece statement about the dangers of drink. Gascoigne still seems to believe that his monster is an insatiable tabloid media and, in the North-east especially, there remain many eager to encourage him in the view.

"It wasn't just the drink, it was everything," he said. "I was depressed and stressed. When I got back from Ireland the papers were full of me. I kept thinking `Why?' I went to the hospital where I could sort it all out."

Vowing that you will never touch a drop again takes many forms, from the token bemoaning of a morning hangover to the harrowing admissions of alcohol abuse made by Adams and Merson. Gascoigne fell somewhere between the two yesterday - perhaps rightly so - asserting several times that he would give up alcohol but not always looking entirely convinced.

"Have you decided to stop drinking?" he was asked. "If you say so," said Gazza, restlessly. He did not understand why people said he had to recover his form because he had been playing well for Middlesbrough. Was he an alcoholic? "I am not going to go into that," he replied.

Gascoigne remains as loyal as ever to his mates, to the hard-drinking culture that has framed his life and to the conviction that, spared constant media attention, everything would just work out fine.

"I know when I come out of this press conference I am going to get followed for the next two or three months, maybe the next year. It is just a question of dealing with it properly. I went to hospital to learn to deal with the media."

Perhaps Middlesbrough should consider the same process of education. To arrange a formal Gascoigne media conference in the hope that he will now be left alone was a necessary, if forlorn, ploy. To do so for only a few minutes, in an overcrowded room, produced an unnecessarily frenzied atmosphere which only added to his strain.

It remains to be seen whether Gascoigne's release from Marchwood after only 16 days represents a lessening of his resolve or a general recognition that his simple love for playing football can be a positive factor in his recovery.

For the moment we are left with Robson's assertion that Gascoigne has "come on leaps and bounds".

"He is going to have to change his lifestyle to a certain extent," he said, "but that doesn't mean that he can't enjoy himself."

Enjoying himself has recently included a turbulent divorce, the death of a close friend after binge drinking and his omission last summer from England's World Cup squad. On the subject of whether Glenn Hoddle had sought to contact him with a consoling Christian message, Gascoigne was most adamant in his silence.