An Evening with Paul Merson
Last night at the Holiday Inn on Lincoln’s Brayford Wharf, a lucky seventy people shared the same room as Arsenal legend Paul Merson. The ex-England footballer spoke of his career, his World Cup penalty, living with Paul Gascoigne and his problems with gambling. One of that lucky seventy was YJA’s Kobe Tong.
Becoming a professional footballer was always a dream for Paul Merson, who insisted he had ‘the best job in the world’. The current Sky pundit spoke of how much he owes his dad for joining Arsenal in his youth, as a boyhood Chelsea fan. Arsenal went onto to be Merson’s home for 12 years, scoring an incredible 99 goals, just one short of his century.
At Highbury, Merson had his most successful period in football winning 2 League titles, as well as an FA Cup, League Cup, Community Shield and European Cup Winner’s Cup.
Perhaps the greatest moment during his Gunners era had to be the infamous ‘Michael Thomas’ game at Anfield in 1989. Needing a 2-0 win away at Liverpool on the last day of the season to pip them to the title, Arsenal pulled off their very own ‘Aguero’ moment.
Merson spoke of that Liverpool squad being the ‘best club side’ he ever faced, with legends Bruce Grobelaar, Ian Rush and John Barnes all lining up for the Merseyside team. However, despite Liverpool being unbeaten for three months, Michael Thomas’ late goal saw Arsenal pull of the seemingly impossible 2-0 victory.
As many of the listeners expected, the post-game celebrations were incredible in a time where many players would openly drink before and after matches. The pacey winger also gave an incite on some of the amazing players he played with at the Gunners. Dennis Bergkamp remains quoted as the ‘best player I’ve ever played with’, despite being a little bit ‘boring’.
Merson’s Arsenal career did end, however, in 1997 in a decision the now 46 year old says he still ‘regrets’. Having been offered a new contract at Arsenal, Merson spectacularly gave into his childhood hero Bryan Robson by joining Middlesborough in the Championship.
In his short spell up North, Merson struggled with his gambling and homesickness, telling of the madness of sharing a home with Paul ‘Gazza’ Gascoigne. Middlesborough did get promoted that season with ‘Mers’ scoring 12 goals from midfield. That summer he became the only player in England’s 1998 World Cup squad not playing in the Premier League.
Appearances at the World Cup in France proved sparse, until the famous game against Argentina in St Etienne. After the sending off of David Beckham, Merson played the second half and extra time as the game finished 2-2. Despite having missed a penalty for ‘Boro in dramatic fashion only months earlier, Merson told of his incredible confidence after being told by manager Glenn Hoddle that ‘he will not miss’.
Hoddle was correct, despite having to respot the ball in an agonizing wait, Merson approached the ball with pace, shooting to the keeper’s right. Argentina’s shot stopper Carlos Roa got hands to the strike, but could only parry the ball into the roof of the net. However, misses from Paul Ince and David Batty saw the Three Lions and Merson crash out of the World Cup at the round of 16 stage.
That fateful evening in France proved one of the Arsenal legend’s last appearances for his country. Over seven years Merson amassed 21 caps, scoring three goals, against: Czechoslovakia, Switzerland and the Czech Republic.
After missing his family too much up north, the six-foot winger signed a deal at Aston Villa, where he played four seasons. It proved the player’s last hoorah in the Premier League, scoring 59 goals in the competition between 1992-2002.
The following year saw a move back down to the Championship for a year with Harry Redknapp at Portsmouth. Whilst trophies may have flooded in at Arsenal, Merson proudly states that Portsmouth’s emphatic run to the title that season is his ‘biggest achievement in football’, due to how unexpected an achievement it was at the time. That sole season saw ‘Mers’ captain the side to victory with an impressive 12 goals.
Paul Merson ended his football career in 2006 at the age of 37 after spells at Walsall and conference side Tamworth. During this period Merson briefly experienced a taste of management at Walsall, stating that people ‘don’t realize how hard it really is’. As player-manager for two years, Merson was eventually sacked, openly admitting that he ‘deserved to be’.
Nowadays, Merson works as a pundit for Sky Sports and with who he regards a ‘TV legend’ in Jeff Stelling on the highly acclaimed Gillette Soccer Saturday. His gambling addiction is a thing of the past and Merson loves his job at Sky as well as his fellow legendary colleagues.
Paul Merson, an England an Arsenal legend as well as a fantastic person I was very lucky to meet.
With thanks to: http://www.seeitnowsports.com
Kobe, YJA Sports Correspondent
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