Paul Merson is one of English football’s best known characters.
The stylish forward hit the highs with Arsenal and England at a time when he was struggling with off the field gambling, drugs and alcohol addiction.
Viewers of the recent BBC series Fever Pitch: The Rise of the Premier League, or Merson’s new book Hooked, will be no strangers to the former player’s past.
Now Merson wants to better understand why his life has been so badly blighted by gambling and explores the relationship between football and gambling in a one-off documentary.
Here’s a look at Paul Merson: Football, Gambling & Me - and when it airs on the BBC…
Who is Paul Merson?
Born in Harlesden, London, on 20 March 1968, Paul Merson joined Arsenal Football Club as an apprentice in 1984 before making the grade in the first team.
He was an integral player of the success Arsenal enjoyed under George Graham in the late 1980s, winning the League twice, the FA Cup, League Cup and European Cup Winners’ Cup.
Merson stayed at Arsenal for 11 seasons before joining Middlesbrough in 1997 and helping the club gain promotion to the Premier League and the final of the League Cup.
The England international, who was capped 21 times by his country, also had spells at Aston Villa, Portsmouth, and Walsall, where he also served as player-manager.
Who is Paul Merson away from football?
Paul Merson has been married three times and has eight children, including one set of twin girls.
He has three children from his first marriage to Lorraine, a set of twin girls from his second marriage to Louise and three children from his current marriage to wife Kate.
After hanging up his boots, and a brief spell in management, Merson has turned to media work and is now a regular on the Sky Sports Soccer Saturday panel with Jeff Stelling.
What is the Paul Merson documentary about?
Despite the highs on the pitch, Paul Merson endured some lows too.
He has gambled away a fortune over the past 35 years but now wants to better understand why his life has been affected so much by gambling as he continues on his path to recovery.
Merson meets old teammates, including ex Gunner Wes Reid, scientists and psychologists to see if he can understand or at least get close to finding out what caused his addiction.
He also meets ex pros Keith Gillespie, John Hartson and Scott Davies, who between them gambled away £15 million, and visits the families of three men who took their own lives as a result of gambling addiction.
At Imperial College London, he talks to Dr David Erritzoe, a consultant psychiatrist whose team of researchers are mapping the brain, trying to pinpoint the neurobiological basis of gambling addiction so that new treatments can be developed.
All at a time when the government considers whether gambling laws should be reformed.
When does the Paul Merson documentary air?
Paul Merson: Football, Gambling & Me airs on BBC One on 11 October 2021 at 9pm.
It will be available on iPlayer shortly after broadcast.
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