Paul Gascoigne and lessons from the Big Boss Man.

5 Feb

Good Morning,

In the early 80’s I started a “real” job for the very first time as a 22 year old who had just been let loose on the world.

Prior to then, I had tried my hand at the usual gamut of part time student jobs– shoe shops, selling T shirts, cafe/bar work, cleaning lavvies,selling TV’s from the back of a van,organising bus trips, selling holidays, election polling officer, working in car parks… and probably a few other things that I can’t remember.

However, it was only when I walked into an office in Glasgow City Centre, booted and suited, on 5th September 1983 that I considered myself to have a serious proper job as opposed to a job which was no more than a way of me making a few quid which would allow me to go out for a pint or two.

Obviously, I was the most junior member of a professional staff, green behind the ears in respect of so many things, including the internal dynamics of an office and the interpersonal relationships that exist between people who share the same work space.

Despite my lowly position, I very quickly struck up a relationship with the “Big Boss” of the company– so much so that I was his trainee as opposed to the firm’s trainee — a situation, which, on occasion, would lead to some others complaining that I got away with murder or with the most outrageous acts of behaviour without serious retribution.

Over the course of the coming decades, my relationship with that ” Big Boss” would change, with me eventually becoming his assistant, then his partner, and eventually his employer in terms of a strict working relationship. However, the employee/employer relationship was far less important to me ( and him ) than our personal relationship which was one of great friends with him always acting as my mentor in many respects— and as the years went by, my occasionally acting as his mentor or sounding board. I am proud to say that when he married in later years I stood as his best man.

However, way back at the start, I had been in the office for no more than a few weeks– maybe a couple of months— when news reached me that my “Big Boss”– with whom I was getting on famously in my new job— was in fact an alcoholic!

This news came to me by way of someone else for whom I had a great regard, but I recall that my initial feelings were of resentment. This could not be true– could it? I felt angry towards the person who had made this suggestion. How dare they suggest such a thing— how dare they besmirch the reputation of the guy I was working with and who had been good enough to give me a chance of progression. I was livid.

I had no in depth knowledge of alcoholism and alcoholics and my initial instinct was to conclude that to brand someone as an alcoholic was to blight their character and mark them out as someone who was in some way “lesser” than those of us who do not suffer from a drink or any other kind of addiction.

So I was annoyed when it was suggested that this guy, who I had come to admire greatly, was a member of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Yet, it took only an hour or two to figure out that what I had been told was in fact correct. Not only that, when I stopped and thought about it, what I had actually been told was that the Big Boss was ” A good guy– he does a lot of good work through Alcoholics Anonymous….” — and it was only then that I finally understood that I was not only being told that the man who I was working for was an Alcoholic– so was the person telling me!!!!

Very quickly after that, I gathered my courage together and within a few days I marched into the Big Boss’s office, closed the door and waited for him to finish his phone call or whatever he was doing. He eventually focused on me and said something along the lines of:

” What’s up? You look troubled!”

” Are you an alcoholic?” I blurted out

” Yes– why do you ask?” was his very calm reply to such a piece of total impertinence.

“I just wanted to know”

” Has someone said something to you?” he asked with a degree of concern on his face.

” Just a passing comment from someone I know” I replied and I went on to explain about the comment from the other party who had said ” He’s a good guy and does a lot of good work through AA”.

… and that was the start of an altogether different type of apprenticeship to the one I thought I had signed up for.

Over the course of years- decades even– I am now very proud to say that I have had regular contact with what must by this time be hundreds if not thousands of alcoholics and sufferers of other addictions including the hardest of drugs. In that time, I have learned that someone who has the courage to just sit in front of you- especially when they do not know you at all well– and say ” I am an alcoholic”  is someone who has to be admired and given respect without qualification.

I have always learned something from every AA member that I have had the privilege to become closely acquainted with. I have heard their tales of ” rock bottom”, of how they hurt themselves, their families and their loved ones through and because of their addiction or addictions. I have heard tales of marriage break up, extreme hardship, attempted suicide– and a million and one other things which I personally could simply not imagine or countenance.

Of course, there are those occasions when someone has not been strong enough to recover. I have lost friends and relatives to alcohol addiction. I have seen their light go out and the spark that these folk undoubtedly had diminish, fade and die– and each and every time the effect is like a kick in the ribs which every now and then comes back to kick you harder when you come across an old photo, or visit a place which brings back memories.

Sometimes– those moments are really hard to take.

Yet for each of those times– there are other occasions when you bump into someone who has made it, who has beaten the problem or who is in the course of making it. Personally I find that inspiring– it gives me a spring in my step and makes the day worthwhile– no matter what else it may bring.

There is no organisation or association that I admire more than the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous. I believe, earnestly, that everyone should have an occasional look at the twelve steps of AA as it is a coda and a set of guide rules that apply whether you have a drink problem or not.

Equally the serenity prayer of the fellowship is something worth remembering regularly.

My Big Boss man once told me that any kind of addict was among ” the vulnerable” in society– and that it was the duty of the rest of us to simply keep an eye out for the vulnerable– especially if we ourselves are not vulnerable– in the addiction sense at least.

One friend I know has told me that over the years I have participated in numerous AA meetings without ever knowing it! As far as I know I have never been to an AA meeting in my life and genuinely have no idea what meetings he has been talking about. I just happen to have met quite a lot of folk who have been and still are alcoholics– and many of these have become friends– but I have always considered those meetings to be business or social meetings– I never thought of them as being any part of the recovery process. Yet I accept and believe that they do play such a part.

After more than 30 years of being sober my friend and former boss took the view that he was still recovering and still one of the vulnerable in society. He explained that just because you no longer drink does not mean to say that the doubts, insecurities and failings that made you depend on alcohol in the first place have disappeared. It is just that you, yourself, have become stronger and able to cope without resorting to the bottle.

My friend introduced me to another recovering alcoholic– a truly remarkable man who was far more of a campaigning alcoholic. He dedicated his life to trying to help those with a drug or a drink addiction. In so doing he would ruffle the feathers of authority and literally shame certain organisations into putting their shoulder to the wheel in an attempt to improve the facilities for addicts of all sorts in the 80’s. He was relentless in his pursuit of facilities, training, help and resources which would allow those who genuinely wanted to recover to do so.

Whilst never as close to this other man as my former boss– here was someone else whom I admired hugely– even though I had more than the occasional huge fight with him about what he was trying to do at times. He was so headstrong he could easily get himself into some trouble and could not see why others would not and could not  accept what he was doing.

This man had a great phrase which he used to rely on- a phrase which he both practised and preached:

To comfort the disturbed you have to go and disturb the comfortable!

And by God did he disturb the comfortable?

The photographs of Paul Gascoigne printed earlier this week should disturb those of us who are comfortable. There, right before us, is someone who is not a footballer, or a celebrity, or someone living the highlife.

No– there right before our eyes is the disturbed, the vulnerable, the weak– and if you like– the drunk or alcoholic who is out of control– despite himself.

What’s worse, is that Gascoigne in any condition at all is someone from whom and on the back of whom others can make money by simply getting him to turn up and collect an appearance fee.

He will be met with the “hail fellow well met treatment” and all sorts of pressure to cram in this appearance or that in places and under circumstances which are perhaps not best suited to someone of his temperament and his vulnerability.

All for a buck which he will drink– and some more bucks which will line someone else’s pockets.

With no offence to anyone connected to Paul Gascoigne, I ask is that the best that can be done? Is that in Paul’s own best interest?

I couldn’t care less which strip Gascoigne played in many a year ago– I could name dozens of footballers, actors, authors, celebrities and so on who have been where Gazza is just now— and more importantly I could name many more ordinary folk who will not have access to the resources or friends with money who can spirit them away to private clinics in California.

Whilst I think that such a move will be good for Gascoigne– what about the ordinary guy or gal who is in the same position– who is lost, and who just can’t cope without that drink to help them see the day through?

Well, while it is true that they will never recover unless they themselves hit that rock bottom place, it is also the case that any such decision once reached will be far more likely to be successful if those ordinary Joe’s are given some encouragement that they can make it– they can get through it and will be the better for it.

That is the secret of Alcoholics Anonymous– letting others know that they are not alone, they they can beat it, that they can get support from complete strangers when friends and loved ones– often long suffering friends and loved ones— have decided to walk away– at least for the moment.

Many years after I had my initial discussion with my Big Boss Man, A man sat in front of me for interview  in the hope that he would gain a job. Something instinctively told me he was a recovering alcoholic. The chap concerned was older than I was, had been an alcoholic for a decade or more and had reached his rock bottom and was now sober for 9 months. He was, however, in my view at least, extremely vulnerable. He had lost high paying jobs before. He was thousands of miles away from his family and had no money. Even if he received a weekly salary he would remain vulnerable in money terms as he was paying back debts. His clothes were not new, and he simply looked like a guy in trouble.

As the decision whether to employ him or not was mine and mine alone I had no hesitation in giving him the job whilst explaining that if he let me and himself down he would get no second chances and he would be out the door as quick as a flash.

Well– he never did let me down– and I am pretty sure that he didn’t let himself down either.

A number of years later, I attended the same fella’s wedding  reception one evening. I think by then he had moved on and was working elsewhere.

Anyway, whilst milling about at the reception, the groom introduced me to his father who had travelled from the other side of the world to see his son getting married. He had remained in the country that he thought of as home  when the boy had flown to Scotland in search of…………. well in search of himself maybe.

The chap I had employed introduced me to his dad by telling him my name–

” Dad- this is—— ——-“.

At the time, I never noticed that he did not explain who I was or how I knew his son at all. Apparently he didn’t have to, because dad knew exactly who I was.

Well, “Dad” looked me in the eye, took my hand in both of his and said ” It is a pleasure to meet you– and can I just say Thankyou so much!”.

Now- to be honest– I am a bit of a bozo– I had no idea what the man was thanking me for and I am sure I honestly looked at him as if he was a clown when I said something like ” I have no idea what you are thanking me for– I haven’t done anything… yet!”. ( there was a possibility that I might have sung a song later or something ).

Then, of course, it clicked– I understood what I was being thanked for without anything else being said.

I had simply given son a chance– shown a little faith and maybe taken a bit of a professional risk in employing someone on the way to recovery– and for that his dad was making it clear he wanted to say “Thanks”.

I cannot express what that look and that “thanks” meant to me.. and still does all these years later– though I have no idea where the man I employed is these days or what he is doing. In a way i was doing nothing other than honouring what I had been taught by the Big Boss during my years of apprenticeship– there was no point in learning what he taught without putting it into practice.

The point is that for the alcoholic– and the family and friends of the alcoholic— there is always hope. Even in the worst case scenarios where it looks like the person concerned will never be able to beat the bottle– there is always hope— and many who appear to their nearest and dearest to be doomed to failure can make it if they are strong enough at the very bottom of the cycle, and there is some encouragement and hope injected by someone– somewhere.

I hope Paul Gascoigne recovers and finds his way.

I hope anyone fighting the battle who happens to read this daft blog finds something in it that makes that fight a little easier.

I hope anyone reading this who has to put up with an alcoholic or a drug addict– and all the pain and suffering that they bring to others– and who is tempted to turn on their heel and walk away– I hope that something I have said above strikes a chord and maybe makes them reconsider and seek help from al anon or whoever.

There is always hope

I should also explain that I was minded to set out all of these thoughts by something that happened a couple of years ago now. I was browsing a well known football blog when someone I didn’t know at all made a long post about how he was a recovering alcoholic and how he was now sober for just about a year.

The post was all about how different he was when sober, how he connected with his son when sober as opposed to drunk, about his past failings and failures and how each day was a triumph and a victory.

I say, without hesitation, that this was the finest piece of writing that I have ever read on any blog anywhere. To me it was inspirational– absolutely and totally inspirational and took me back to all those years ago when I was told that my friend – the Big Boss man — was an alcoholic— and I somehow felt that such a situation was something to be afraid of, or wary of, or disappointed in.

How wrong I was.

I have kept that blog on my computer– and every now and then I have a wee read of it just to remind me.

The last time that a relative stranger sat in front of me and said something like

” Hello- I’m an alcoholic”——– was all of maybe……….. ten days ago!

It was just thrown into the conversation and no big fuss was made of it.

The person concerned had clearly been sober for sometime and was just stating a fact in the passing.

I wonder if he could read the expression on my face while I said nothing of any significance in reply?

Underneath I was secretly saying to myself:

” Hello— I am proud to know you.”


The Serenity prayer of Alcoholics Anonymous.

The Serenity Prayer

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
As it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
If I surrender to His Will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with Him
Forever and ever in the next.



Tomorrow I will go back to talking about Boxers, Football, Bampots and Cowboys—- honest.



26 Responses to “Paul Gascoigne and lessons from the Big Boss Man.”

  1. zoyler February 5, 2013 at 6:59 pm #

    Just to say thank you for such a wonderful piece! One of my best friends has been a recovering alcoholic for over 35 years, He drank out two business and was a mean drunk who you did not want to meet when he was on the bottle but with the help of his long suffering wipe and AA he turned himself around, reared a great family and is terrific craic and the life and soul of every party. He still goes to his meetings and will travel any distance to mentor others. You are right – there is always hope!

    • Brogan Rogan Trevino and Hogan February 5, 2013 at 8:18 pm #


      That is typial of many people in AA who have been sober for decades. Never forget where they have been and who they once were– and so it is all part of the rehabilitation— to put something back in to the system. I have met some of the brightest, funniest, nicest and most caring people– all of whom were members of AA and I stress again that it is me who has learned from them and their experiences. And do you know the really great thing from my perspective? ( being really selfish about it )

      —– I am still learning after 30 years.

  2. David McDowell February 5, 2013 at 7:22 pm #

    I’m not one for reading but I started to read this and couldn’t stop , what a great piece and can I say I have a gambling problem which I’m dealing with at the moment. I go to regular meetings and meet some amazing and inspiring people in a far unhappier place than me. I sincerely hope everyone reads this “BIG BOSS” post, it will help as well as inspire.

  3. Woodpecker February 5, 2013 at 8:17 pm #

    Superb piece of writing. Neither over- nor understated.

    I am sure that many people can identify with the sentiments expressed.

    Would like to read the other blog that is referred to.

  4. Estorilbhoy February 5, 2013 at 8:26 pm #

    Excellent piece and very thought provoking, many thanks.

  5. Anto Owens February 5, 2013 at 8:50 pm #

    Excellent piece so well written, I have just spent the day in a community low threshold service for people with addictions and the homeless as part of a work placement programme as i am studying part time to be an addictions counsellor ( a mature!! student) I was feeling unsure of myself this evening and questioning whether I wanted to continue studies to get into this kind of work! having read your blog I am now re assured. Thank you. I really do believe that life has a way of pointing you in the direction you are meant to be in and reading your piece may be just such a reminder for me tonight. I would normally have been out at an exercise class tonight but just didn’t feel like going and instead I logged onto CQN and found your piece. Thanks again.

  6. John February 5, 2013 at 8:59 pm #

    I hope anyone fighting the battle who happens to read this daft blog finds something in it that makes that fight a little easier.

    I just have, thank you.

    I follow your blogs through our shared passion at Paradise, however, this one has far and away left the biggest impression.
    I too am getting a daily reprieve through the workings of AA. No words can cover the gratitude I have for the fellowship and the people in it. Words like this from someone out with that fellowship simply provide strength and hope for people like me on their journey. Amazingly refreshing. I wish you well and thanks again for your post.

  7. dan063 February 5, 2013 at 9:05 pm #

    Thank you for sharing that. Lovely to read.

  8. Carl31 (@C4rl31) February 5, 2013 at 9:09 pm #

    My mother is an alcoholic.
    She has been dry for so long that I seldom think about it.
    I guess its about 22 years now.

    Every now and then I happen to be visiting and theres yellow flowers there from my sister, and mum’s shed a tear of happiness because it means something between them.
    That happens a fair bit less now than it used to, maybe because of the passage of time.
    For that and other things, my mum makes me proud all the time.

    I can relate to the vulnerability aspect that you mention. No details, but a few things happened to my mum in a row to do with bereavement, accident, and life issues generally that must have placed a heavy strain and burden on her (that I didn’t realise then due to the youthful lack of interpersonal awareness and general life knowledge). No one is born an alcoholic – thinking back, I can see what may have edged her far enough into vulnerability in her life.

    Good piece BRTH, thanks

  9. Damian667-The neighbour of the beast February 5, 2013 at 9:35 pm #


  10. bawsman February 5, 2013 at 9:37 pm #

    BRTH, you are a good and talented man, thank you for that.

  11. ARRANMOREBHOY LXV11 February 5, 2013 at 9:47 pm #

    Thank you.. Helping people through their black hour! An hour will pass I learned. Such support in your article.

  12. auchinstarry February 5, 2013 at 10:59 pm #

    Thank you for this article. I am an alcoholic, and have learned to say that without fear, without embarrassment and without doubt. So much ground you covered it is pointless attempting to add anything. Except to say ……If Booze is costing you more than money do something about it. Thanks again.

  13. Sean Sweeney February 5, 2013 at 10:59 pm #

    Far from being a “daft blog” this is as poignant a piece of writing as I have had the pleasure of reading.

    In my opinion this is a subject that affects the vast majority of us in so many different ways. You bring a very fresh and clear perspective

    Well done and thank you.

  14. Thomas February 5, 2013 at 11:35 pm #

    Amen to that, my dad is ‘Tommy The Welder’ 36 years sober, I love him for a hundred reasons.
    He wanted to stop, he admitted he had a problem and at that point many strong hands pulled him up, especially Dan!!

  15. Humble Pie February 6, 2013 at 2:41 am #

    A fantastic and inspirational piece of work BRTH. It should be a lesson to us all on the importance of empathy with our fellow man. Paul Gascoigne is as much a victim of the corporate, media-driven corruption in football as anyone. I too wish him well on his journey.

  16. kitalba February 6, 2013 at 8:55 am #

    Just wanted to say if elected authority – as a collective – had but just an honest ounce of the compassion that you have in bundles for the frail, the sick and the vulnerable… then the plight of the less fortunate might be a little less intimidating and encumbered.

    I believe humanity is the food of the soul, and further, humanity begets humanity. Your compassion is evident and your long walk with the less fortunate ones has proved to be an inspiration to many and much more than a forlorn candle. I’m sure Vanessa Riddle and family, along with many others, would proudly and happily endorse – keep it lit mate, never let it go out.

  17. kitalba February 6, 2013 at 8:57 am #

    Meant to add, rather than write a book mate, stand for election.

  18. Sinne Fianna Fáil (@ALL_EYE_AM) February 6, 2013 at 10:14 am #

    “Our very lives, as ex-problem drinkers, depend upon our constant thought of others and how we may help meet their needs” (page 20)

  19. James wallace February 6, 2013 at 11:35 am #

    I have the good fortune to meet and know many people iny life, but the people who have touched my life the most were all alcholics.

    Thinking back I always wondered why this was the fact, I came to realise they are most honest people you could wish to know. They have faced the darkness and have been honest with themselves (the hardest thing to be truly honest with yourself) and accepted their situation and want to deal with it in best way they can.

    This kind of attitude should be celebrated and admired and the pearls of wisdom I have gleaned from my life have all come from the lips of a recovering alcoholic. Never leave a vunerable person to themselves but also listen to what they have to say, it might just help you be a better person as well.

    Wonderful piece if writing which hand my in tears a wee times with the memories it evoked. Thank you for sharing.

  20. BrushwoodGulch February 6, 2013 at 1:57 pm #

    I’m sure most people know of someone who has/had an addiction problem. Socially, there is still a stigma attached. However, your piece goes a little way to breaking that down. I confess to shedding a tear reading the line when the guys father was thanking you. When it comes to departing this dear place, I would love to know I have made some contribution by experiencing a moment like that – truly humbling.

  21. Mhark67 February 6, 2013 at 4:31 pm #

    Cheers and thanks for sharing this

  22. BJMAC67 (@bjmac67) February 10, 2013 at 9:41 am #

    Great piece BRTH.

    Keep it simple 😉

  23. Patrick Connolly February 14, 2013 at 3:10 pm #

    An absolutely wonderful, articulate piece of literature. As a struggling alcoholic who is attending many meetings, would you consider allowing this piece to be published by “Roundabout” a magazine that allows those who cannot, through ill health or hospitalisation, attend meetings? The magazine is naturally free and a lifeline to these individuals.

    • Brogan Rogan Trevino and Hogan February 14, 2013 at 3:49 pm #


      I have no problem with that at all– go right ahead. I also have the original post that I referred to which is far more inspiring to be honest– in my opinion. Glad to help.

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