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Tuesday, October 13, 1998 Published at 07:32 GMT 08:32 UK

Gazza's 'brave decision'

Gazza shares a joke with Les Ferdinand of Spurs

A tearful Paul Merson has welcomed the news that his former Middlesbrough and England team-mate Paul Gascoigne has entered a 'drying out' clinic.

Neil Bennett reports for BBC News 24
But Merson scoffed at reports that Gascoigne would be playing again by next weekend and predicted he could be out for six weeks.

Middlesbrough confirmed Gascoigne had entered the clinic, where the former Newcastle and Tottenham star will face intensive counselling.

[ image: Robson:
Robson: "Since Princess Di passed away, Gazza has taken over - he's in the papers every day"
Merson, a recovering alcoholic, left Middlesbrough for Aston Villa earlier this season after claiming a culture of drinking at the club was too much of a temptation to him.

The 30-year-old former Arsenal star broke down in tears on Monday as he told a news conference at England's Bisham Abbey training ground of his own battle with drink.

"I'm really happy for Paul," he said. "It takes a lot to admit that you've had enough and can't stop. But the hard work starts now.

Sports Correspondent Neil Bennett reports on Paul Merson's dramatic press conference
"He's in a great place, it's the best place he could be in and if he can't get better there, then he won't get better.

"Gazza will have been crying all weekend. They support you in the clinic but you feel that you've let everybody down and your self-esteem is really low."

After 10 minutes Merson was unable to go on and was led away with tears welling up in his eyes, after admitting: "I'm sorry, it brings back a lot of memories."

Gascoigne, 31, checked into the Priory clinic in Hampshire last week after injuring his face during a drunken binge in Dublin.

[ image: Paul Merson (right) Quit Boro to
Paul Merson (right) Quit Boro to "avoid temptation"
The incident was the latest in a traumatic year for Gascoigne. He was dropped from the England squad before the World Cup, divorced by wife Sheryl and hit hard by the death from alcoholic poisoning of close friend David Cheek after a night out together.

On Saturday Middlesbrough manager Bryan Robson confirmed Gascoigne was suffering from stress and alcohol problems.

Gazza's friend, journalist Bill Bradshaw: "Paul does not have a strong character"
Robson said: "Gazza has a problem. It's been building up for quite a few years.

"Everybody keeps talking about the drink and it's a little bit of that because he does get down at times."

[ image: It has been an annus horribilis for Gazza]
It has been an annus horribilis for Gazza
Gascoigne, 31, joined Middlesbrough from Glasgow Rangers last season and played a part as they won promotion back to the FA Premier League.

Steve Jacobs, the addiction counsellor who helped Merson and England star Tony Adams overcome drink problems, warned Gascoigne he would be dead by the age of 40 if he did not seek help.

Gordon Taylor, of the Professional Footballers' Association, welcomes Gascoigne's treatment
Mr Jacobs said Gascoigne had rejected help from Adams and Merson and said: "If his behaviour continues as it is the boy's life will progress in one of three ways - he will end up in the gutter, in prison or he will die."

Former England and Newcastle team-mate Chris Waddle called on the media to respect Gascoigne's privacy.

[ image: PFA chairman Gordon Taylor says Gazza has made the right decision]
PFA chairman Gordon Taylor says Gazza has made the right decision
Waddle, now playing for Torquay United, said: "He has so many problems with the divorce and everything seems to build on him.

"And every time it quietens down, people start writing or taking photographs of him - this week we've seen him with a broom in his hand and it gives people headlines," he said.

Waddle said: "Everybody says 'Let's help Gazza sort his problems out and encourage him' but the only way he'll sort himself out is if people leave him alone."

His comments contrasted with the front page of The Sun which offered a crate of Newcastle Brown Ale to the "first reader who spots Gazza having a drink".

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