Paul Merson confronts Razor Ruddock over drinking habits in 2020
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England and Arsenal legend Paul Merson won everything possible to win in English football during a scintillating career. He lifted the Premier League with the Gunners, captained Aston Villa, won promotion to the Premier League with Portsmouth and was capped 21 times by the Three Lions. He has also lost more than £7million to gambling in a life troubled by addiction. Merson fronts a new BBC documentary called Paul Merson: Football, Gambling & Me, which airs tonight at 9pm on BBC One.
In the film, the football icon sets out to understand why his life has been so blighted by gambling and asks if enough is being done to prevent others from befalling the same fate.
However, this is not the first time he has opened up about his demons.
During the second series of Harry’s Heroes: Euro Having a Laugh, which aired in 2019, Merson spoke about the impacts substance abuse and gambling had had on his own life.
He confided in former Arsenal team-mate David Seaman, and told him that he voluntarily attends Alcoholics Anonymous.
He has been sober for three years now.
Harry’s Heroes brought a squad of former England stars together to try and get them fit for one last hurrah against a team of German legends.
Merson was left devastated when he learned that Neil ‘Razor’ Ruddock, a former England team-mate and friend since the age of 16, was experiencing heart troubles.
Following a boozy night with fellow England legends, Merson confronted Razor in an interaction that was caught on film. It had emerged shortly beforehand that the popular defender had had a pacemaker fitted.
Razor responded to Merson’s plea to control his drinking: “Don’t shout at me Merse because I’ll get the hump with you.”
Merson replied “you can have the hump with me” before he was interrupted.
Razor raised his voice and said: “I’ll get the hump and I’ll chuck you out of the f***ing door.”
Razor told his friend to “f*** off” and stormed out. The pair immediately reconciled, and Razor later thanked Merson for his support.
Merson told the Daily Star last year: “When I confronted ‘Razor’ Ruddock on Harry’s Heroes about his drinking, I honestly thought he was going to rip my head off!
“But I’ve known him since we were 16 on England duty. He’s my mate and I had to say something.
“We spoke straight afterwards off camera to clear the air and we’ve spoken since as well. When I did it, I thought: ‘Should I have done this? It’s not really any of my business.’”
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Merson explained he saw similarities with his own troubles in Razor.
He continued: “He was just like me. I couldn’t see a way out and it led me to some dark places.
“When he started talking about his heart and how he’s in the pub drinking all the time I thought: ‘Somebody’s got to say something.’
“I’d have been gutted if I hadn’t.”
Recalling his own experiences, Merson said you “don’t see a way out” when regularly drunk.
He opened up on his addiction troubles last month on talkSPORT Breakfast.
He recalled hating himself “with a passion”, and how he would turn to alcohol and the bookmakers to escape.
Merson said: “The only time I was relieved was when I had nothing left. When I got down to zero and I had no money, it was like ‘I don’t have to do this anymore’.”
He explained that when playing an away fixture at Charlton Athletic for Aston Villa, he was sitting in his hotel room alone and wanted to break his own fingers to stop himself from picking the phone up and gambling.
Merson’s wife now gives him an allowance for fuel and basic shopping after he relapsed on his gambling during lockdown.
He does not have a wallet and a software has been installed on his phone that blocks access to gambling sites.
After gambling away the deposit on a house amid fears over loss of earnings, Merson is now back on the road to recovery.
In tonight’s documentary, Merson plays golf with three other former footballers also recovering from gambling addiction.
Merson, Keith Gillespie, John Hartson and Scott Davies have lost more than £15m between them.
Paul Merson: Football, Gambling & Me airs on BBC One tonight at 9pm. It will also be available on BBC iPlayer.
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