SHORT-LISTED FOR THE 2015 BRITISH SPORTS BOOK AWARDS (BEST NEW WRITER).
LONG-LISTED FOR THE 2014 WILLIAM HILL SPORTS BOOK OF THE YEAR AWARD.
If there’s one certainty in football it is that at some time the final whistle is going to blow. For some players it heralds the beginning of an infinitely more difficult chapter in their lives and some simply find it impossible to cope, replacing one addiction with another. We are all, for example, only too aware of the continuing trials and tribulations of Paul Gascoigne.
Not as well known, however, is the story of Paul Vaessen, perhaps the most powerful and tragic tale of them all. Paul was the Bermondsey boy who rose from working class roots to overnight fame in Turin when in April 1980, as an unknown eighteen-year-old, he scored one of the most dramatic goals in Arsenal’s distinguished history.
Ten years later Gascoigne would, in the same city, shed the first of his very public tears. By then the end had long since come for Paul Vaessen who’d discovered how fragile and fickle the world of football could be. There was the suicide attempt, the injuries, the subsequent loss of form and the merciless barracking by his own fans. Just three years down the line, he was on the scrapheap, discarded by the game he’d devoted his young life to.
Just as his promising career ended prematurely, so too would his life as Paul descended into the only other world he knew - that of drugs. Paul would spend his final days as an unemployable ex-pro, facing the almost certain prospect of amputation, reliving his moment of glory with anybody willing to listen, that one moment which had become the point of reference against which he would measure the remainder of his life, that one moment in which he had become effectively entrapped.
Up until now, Paul Vaessen has been one of football’s dirty secrets. Now, though, for the first time we hear in full Paul’s tale with the aid of those who knew him best: his South London school friends; former team-mates such as Liam Brady, Frank Stapleton, Graham Rix and Brian Talbot; those who followed him into addiction and the family which was consequently torn apart.
The book, which opens with a foreword by Tony Adams, concludes with an examination of Paul’s legacy, a legacy which includes the emotional support now available via the Professional Footballers’ Association in partnership with Adams’s Sporting Chance Clinic.
The sort of support which could well have saved Paul’s life.