It was 22nd April 1980, the eve of the European Cup-Winners' Cup
semi-final between Arsenal and Juventus in Turin and Paul Vaessen
had a dream, a dream in which he came off the bench to score the
winning goal, silencing the Stadio Comunale and catapulting himself
to overnight fame. The next day he lived the dream, heading in
Graham Rix's cross with only seconds left to score one of the most
memorable goals in Arsenal's illustrious history. It was Paul's
moment, a moment of supreme elation, a moment he would spend the
rest of his life trying to recapture. Because the dream would soon
turn into a nightmare as, eight months after his exploits in
northern Italy, Paul would suffer the knee injury which would
eventually curtail his career at the age of twenty one. Paul was on
the scrapheap. And he was poorly equipped for life without
football. After a comeback with non-league Fisher Athletic was
aborted, most job offers were too mundane for him to even
contemplate. Nothing could give him anything like the buzz he was
looking for. Nothing, that is, except drugs. Paul would spend most
of the following fifteen years battling drug addiction, eventually
dying alone and anonymously in his Bristol flat in August 2001, a
manic depressive and schizophrenic facing up to the likelihood of
amputation. His knee caused him agony, a constant reminder of what
he'd once been and how high he'd once flown. He told those close to
him that he wouldn't make forty. He was thirty nine when he died.
There were, though, good times along the way, as we hear from
former team-mates such as Liam Brady, Frank Stapleton, Alan
Sunderland, Graham Rix, Brian Talbot, Brian McDermott and Kenny
Sansom. Fellow apprentice, Nicky Law, relives the mischief of the
early years and we meet Paul's school friends, teachers and family.
But this is primarily a sombre tale, a tale of seduction and
abandonment. Tony Adams, who has written the foreword for this
book, is just one of many who have acknowledged the importance and
relevance of this cautionary tale. Every now and then, especially
when Arsenal and Juventus are drawn together in competition, Paul's
name crops up again. And so does that goal, that moment with which
Paul will always be associated. That moment in which Paul Vaessen
will always be stuck.
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