Paul Merson has left Harry’s Heroes viewers in tears after breaking down when he revealed he is ‘struggling badly’ with a relapse of his gambling addiction.
The 50-year-old midfielder, who has also now gone back to Alcoholics Anonymous, notoriously lost £7million on alcohol, drugs and gambling in the 1990s.
Merson, who played for clubs including Arsenal, Aston Villa and Portsmouth, told producers on the ITV documentary he was ‘struggling badly’ with life, adding: ‘Life’s fallen apart – gambling.
‘I’ve just completely lost control, I’ve completely, again. I’m digging a hole – I can’t get out of it. It’s the worst addiction in the world.’
His honesty triggered an emotional reaction from viewers, one of whom wrote: ‘Ahh who else just wants to hug him. The raw emotion was painful to watch.’
An emotional Paul Merson wiped away tears in ITV documentary Harry’s Heroes: The Full English, which aired yesterday
Merson at a 1995 press conference at London’s Park Court Hotel where he confessed to his addictions. On the right is FA spokesman David Davies
His honesty triggered an emotional reaction from viewers, one of whom wrote: ‘Ahh who else just wants to hug him. The raw emotion was painful to watch’
The married father-of-six said his life ‘should be like, two lovely kids, a lovely wife and my life should be good – and it’s literally going like that, and I mean quickly and worryingly’.
Siân Patrick praised Merson’s bravery, tweeting: ‘Loving #Harrysfullenglish again tonight. Paul Merson has some guts to break down like that on the programme & reveal his gambling addiction.’
Ian Roberts wrote: ‘Feel for Paul Merson there. Credit to him for facing his demons head on.’
Che McCarthy said: ’Whatever you think of his football or his punditry, have to hope Paul Merson can get on the straight and narrow.’
Another viewer praised Merson for showing to others ‘they’re not alone’.
Joanne Green: ‘In light of recent events Paul Merson speaking out will help so many men and women you’re not alone.’
Others said Merson’s honesty had helped show others who are struggling that they are not alone
Siobhan Enwright said: ‘My heart goes out to Paul Merson – any sort of addiction is hard but I think gambling must be the worst as it’s the easiest to hide.’
Gary B wrote: ‘It’s been hard to Paul Merson go through all his gambling struggles again. I hope The Magic Man is pulling through strong.’
And another viewer added: ‘Confess I wasn’t expecting much from #HarrysFullEnglish when I stumbled on it yesterday, but it’s been a revelation.
‘Huge credit to all involved & to #PaulMerson in particular. Clearly going through hell at times. Takes a brave person to confront their demons, esp. on camera.’
Merson, who is most famous for his time with Arsenal where he scored 78 goals in 327 games, placed his first bet at the age of 16 with his Gunners pay packet.
The Sky Sports Soccer Saturday pundit revealed that he was still being given credit and being allowed to bet by bookmakers despite his well-publicised addictions.
The former Arsenal player has had a host of addictions. He is pictured doing a drinking celebration after an FA Cup win against Tottenham Hotspur on April 4, 1993
Merson is pictured with his now ex-wife Lorraine and their sons Charlie, Ben and Sam at home in St Albans, Hertfordshire, in 1995. Sam is now a footballer for St Albans City FC
The new ITV show will see Harry Redknapp (pictured) try to get former players back to fitness
How Paul Merson has fought additions for three decades
Paul Merson enjoyed a glittering football career and is still admired by Arsenal fans after scoring 78 goals in 327 games for the club.
But he has faced a troubled personal life, fighting a well-documented addiction to gambling, alcohol and drugs for three decades which drove him to brink of suicide.
Merson, who has been married three times and has six children, had claimed in 2003 to have won his battles with alcohol and cocaine.
But he admitted he was still plagued by his gambling problem, and narrowly avoided losing his home five years later after falling behind with his mortgage payments.
In his 2012 memoir, How Not To Be A Professional Footballer, revealed he had lost some £7million to bookmakers over the years.
In the 1989/90 season at Arsenal, he was banned from Highbury for two weeks amid reports of drinking and gambling debts.
In November 1994, he confessed he had a cocaine habit. He entered an addiction unit and was released six weeks later on the condition he attended outpatient therapy and support groups.
The Football Association later said cocaine was not his main problem – it was drinking and gambling.
In February 2012, he was given a 14-month-driving ban after pleading guilty to drink-driving following a motorway crash.
Merson crashed his Mercedes ML350 into a 38-tonne lorry after falling asleep at the wheel on the M40 near Warwick in October 2011.
The attacking midfielder made 21 appearances for England and represented his country at Euro 1992 and World Cup 1998.
He also played domestically for Brentford, Middlesbrough, Aston Villa, Portsmouth and Walsall.
He described his urge to bet as ‘relentless’ and highlighted that he wagered money on sports such as football, snooker, cricket and basketball.
He added: ‘It’s so tiring it’s unbelievable. Mentally draining, just sitting there, thinking where am I going to get more money to do this?
‘It’s like…it’s literally like a crack addict. It is like a crack addict. Exactly like that.
‘But, with crack, you couldn’t spend that kind of money on crack, it’s impossible. Impossible.’
Separately, he also revealed he was back at Alcoholics Anonymous, telling the Daily Star: ‘I am back at AA. I have been going for nine weeks and my life is better.
‘I had a meltdown but it was for the good. Being an addict is hard. It’s something you have got for the rest of your life.’
Pictured: (back row, from left) Manager Harry Redknapp, Lee Sharpe, Steve Howey, Mark Wright, David Seaman, Chris Waddle, Neil ‘Razor’ Ruddock, Mark Chamberlain, John Barnes (front row, from left), Paul Merson, Robbie Fowler, Matt Le Tissier, Rob Lee and Ray Parlour
Merson is now a pundit on Sky Sports Soccer Saturday. This image shows his reaction to Manchester City dramatically winning the Premier League title against QPR in May 2012
The former footballer once told how he squandered £20,000 in a single weekend and saw his first marriage break down in 1996 because of his addiction.
Harry’s Heroes charts 13 former England footballer trying to get back to fitness under ex-Tottenham Hotspur boss Harry Redknapp.
During the show Merson misses a training camp abroad due to a relapse and is filmed meeting former Southend United and Peterborough United striker Drewe Broughton, who has also battled addiction issues.
David Seaman (left) and Merson (right) both appear on ITV’s Harry’s Heroes: The Full English
Merson is pictured in April 1993 with the League Cup and man of the match trophy at Wembley