A couple of months ago, in one of his last interviews, George Best told Men's Health magazine, 'I've made a lot of mistakes, but mistakes are good if you learn from them.' Wise words. Sadly, as his second liver would have testified, George wasn't the best of learners. On the contrary, he lumbered through his life, post-football, peppering the tabloids with one predictable humiliation after another. Not surprising then, given the latest fall to disgrace of Paul Gascoigne, that this week the papers were full of 'Gazza is the new Best' stories. On Wednesday, he told the Mirror, 'I'm not like [Best]. I see counsellors about problems and I've got my alcoholism under control.'
It's tragic really. Another braindead fist-flinging gobshite with the self-awareness of a boiled egg destined to be hailed 'a flawed genius' simply because he was better than most other men at controlling a football. But where did it go wrong for Gazza? Let's take a trip down memory lane with our special Gazza 'Fog on the' Timeline.
* Paul John "George and Ringo" Gascoigne is born fists-first in a working-class slum in Gateshead. As soon as he is out of his mam's belly, he begins weeping like an open sore and gurning like a Brazilian lemon farmer. Doctors assure his shocked mother he will grow out of it.
* A young Gazza meets and befriends Jimmy Gardner, the little boy who lives next door to his gran. Jimmy charms Gazza with his now infamous 'Five Bellies'; Gazza charms Jimmy by punching him hard in his bellies, then gurning.
* Gazza plays his first team debut for Newcastle United and begins to gain a reputation for practical jokes, casual violence and gurning.
* Gazza receives his first red card for punching someone in the face.
* After receiving a second caution which would have meant him missing the World Cup final in Italy, Gazza shows his sensitive side by weeping like a little boy. He is subsequently worshiped by the media who invent something called 'Gazzamania'. Gazza, not really understanding, thinks it's real.
* Gazza leaves his second team Spurs for Lazio where he grows fat, hurts his knee, swears a lot and takes a year off.
* George Best takes an impish alcoholic potshot at Gazza, saying, 'He wears a No. 10 jersey. I thought it was his position, but it turns out to be his IQ.' Gazza gurns but admits later that he doesn't actually get it.
* Gazza joins Rangers where he is repeatedly reprimanded for making 'sectarian gestures' to the crowd.
* Gazza marries Sheryl Kyle. A few months later Sheryl is photographed with a black eye, dislocated fingers and her arm in a sling; he admits to repeatedly beating her. He also receives a five-match ban for violent conduct on the pitch. He stops gurning.
* After leaving Rangers for Middlesborough, Gazza goes out drinking with his friends, Five Bellies and David Cheek; Cheek is found dead next to Five Bellies in the morning; the cause of death is found to be 'acute alcoholic intoxication'. Gazza grants Sheryl a quickie divorce and admits he has a drink problem. After spending some time in a psychiatric hospital for help with his stress and drinking, Gazza claims he is 'a changed man' and is photographed drunk with Chris Evans and Danny Baker.
* Gazza breaks his arm smashing it into Aston Villa midfielder George Boateng and is given a free transfer to Everton.
* At the insistence of his boss, Gazza goes into rehab in Arizona. When he comes out he claims he is 'a changed man'.
* Gazza leaves Everton - who wouldn't actually let him onto the pitch - for Burnley, where he manages six matches. During the World Cup in the Far East, Gascoigne debuts as an ITV pundit and can hardly string two words together. He admits to running up a £9,000 drinks bill over three weeks. Joins Chinese team Gansu Tianma in July but leaves after four games, moaning about SARS.
* Gazza features in a documentary about his ADD, OCD and Tourette's.
* Gazza releases his autobiography and declares that he wants to do his therapy in public. He goes on Richard and Judy and tells the same story about his alleged OCD eight times.
* Gazza's manager at his new team Boston United says that Gazza has turned down an offer to appear on 'I'm a Celebrity....' because 'he doesn't need the money as he is already a wealthy man.'
* Gazza tells the News of the World, 'I turned them down because
I deserve to be paid more than [£200,000]. I'm not being big-
headed but I know I'd be a star in the jungle. My bottom line is
half a million and I'd be worth every penny. I know the British
public want to see me do it.'
* appears on Sky television and is happy to inform his fans that
his life 'is a lot better than it was two years ago when I was
drinking.' In the same interview the piss-artist formerly known
as Gazza announces that from now on he shall be known as 'G8'.
The name is a symbolic distancing from his wayward past, although
he also chose it 'because it sounds like "great".' It doesn't.
* Gazza registers a web domain in his new name. He has big plans for G8. But he may need some time.
* Gazza drops out of 'Strictly Ice Dancing' after getting a bit tired during the training, and is then hospitalised with pneumonia. When he is released, he moves into a flat next to a chip shop with Five Bellies.
* Gazza admits to falling off the wagon but is confident that it is merely a temporary relapse. He tells the Daily Mirror, 'The trick is to get up in the morning and get right back on the path again.' He then gets up in the morning and has a drink.
* After claiming to have broken his neck which he then cures with a sticking plaster because he is hard as nails, Gazza takes over at Kettering Town.
* Gazza is fired from Kettering Town for 37 'alcohol-related incidents' in 39 days. He refutes the accusations that he has been drinking, except that once to toast the passing of his hero George Best. And another time when he had a glass of wine to console himself after a defeat. He then rants to reporters about how he is 'Paul Gascoigne the footballer', 'the next Brian Clough', a genius and a millionaire. He offers to buy Kettering and insists he will continue to attend games. Later he is arrested for allegedly assaulting a photographer in Liverpool after giving a talk at a fundraiser for drug and alcohol rehabilitation, but is released on bail. The next day he tells reporters, 'I'm not going back [to Kettering], but I'd like to stay in football. For now,' he adds, but without the gurn, 'I'm just going to have a laugh."
Phew. And he's not yet turned 40, the age at which, by all accounts - except perhaps Yoko Ono's - life begins. It's frightening to think what Paul Gascoigne might get up to next, but whatever it is, we sincerely hope that he sorts himself out soon and stops making a nuisance of himself, for everybody's sake. Or else he really will become another George Best and no matter how much gruesome nonsense he gets up to in his private life, he will still be treated like a hero when he finally drinks himself to death. And that would never do.