- Paul Walsh describes his struggles with addiction
- Discusses the “drink culture” in football during the 1980s
- Paul spoke to former cricketer Luke Sutton, who is also in recovery, on Priory Healthcare’s ‘Sporting Highs and Lows’ podcast
- Paul now volunteers at a Priory centre helping people in addiction treatment
Former Liverpool and Tottenham striker Paul Walsh has opened up about his struggles with alcohol, on a podcast with former professional cricketer Luke Sutton. Walsh, who played for the club in the 1980s and was later a popular face on Sky’s Soccer Saturday, has now been in recovery for four and a half years, and has been volunteering to help others with similar struggles at the Priory Manor Clinic in Southampton for the past three.
Paul’s struggles with alcohol began as early as his late teens, continuing when he was a young professional player in the 1980s. “There was a drink culture in football at that time, so it was allowed, if you like”, he explains. “I was fighting with people, falling out with people…masking my poor performance with girls and nights out.”
Despite his lifestyle, he was able to build a successful career at Liverpool, before moving to Spurs in 1988. However, by this point alcohol was taking its toll on his undoubted talent; “I had a period at Spurs where I drunk-drove all over the place, I couldn’t go to training on a Monday.” Walsh added that he was already “in drink and mess around mode” when he joined the club, and he didn’t make the most of “a good chance”.
Speaking to former cricketer Luke Sutton, who is also in recovery, Paul reflected on how he ended up struggling with addiction. “The early influences in my life had a bearing on my thinking”, he said, and he shared the story of his first ever drink. As a child of around 14, his Sunday football manager took the team on a trip to the Munich Olympic stadium. He then took them to a bierkeller in the city, and brought them a large stein glass each. “We’re all drinking it, thinking we’re grownups and I’m getting it down me as quick as I can”, says Walsh, but the drink made him sick, and it “nearly spoilt the trip”. Despite this potentially off-putting experience, he “couldn't wait to get in the pub at sixteen”.
In the deeply personal podcast, Walsh explains how, as time progressed, alcohol began playing a larger and larger role in his life; “All my insecurities and fears, when I had a few beers, went out the window….drink was a solution to me, it became a solution right the way through”. The pressures of competing in elite sport are immense, and Walsh found that he needed drink more and more, just to carry on; “I couldn’t sleep after a game, so I used to drink my head to sleep.”
After his playing career ended, he reinvented himself as a TV pundit and a football agent. However, alcohol continued to have its hold on him, and put increasing pressure on his relationship with his family. Things came to a head at his father’s eightieth birthday party; “As we stood outside the restaurant I turned round and smashed my son in the face. We had a scuffle, knocked my mum over”
“The next day when I got my head off the pillow I felt suicidal… I was sick and tired of feeling sick and tired.” The next weekend he took his children to an England veterans game at Upton Park, but after what had happened there was a “horrible atmosphere”, and that was when he decided he never wanted to drink again.
He eventually sought help with the AA. “I have to do a lot of meetings, I still do at least five a week” explains Walsh, who has been in recovery for four and a half years. “I constantly have to say the same things to remind this thick head what it’s like if it’s left alone untreated.”
Recovering from addiction is a tough path to follow, but it is working for Paul. “Both my kids have come back to me, mostly, my wife and I are happier”, he says. “It’s never going to be perfect. I still try to make amends because of my guilt”.
As part of his recovery he does “prison service”, which involves running meetings for prison inmates who are in recovery from addiction. “I’m not trying to make excuses for why they’re there” explains Walsh, continuing “they’ve had much worse situations than me…. I come out of there quite humble and quite grateful.”
Priory’s new ‘Sporting Highs and Lows’ podcast will be exploring the links between addiction, mental health and sport. It will feature guests from across the world of sport, sharing their experiences of mental health and addiction challenges and outlining the role professional sport plays to drive this.
Notes to editors
About Priory Group
The Priory Group is the leading provider of behavioural care in the UK, caring for around 30,000 people a year for conditions including depression, anxiety, drugs and alcohol addiction, eating disorders and self-harming. The Group is organised into four divisions – healthcare, education and children’s services, adult care and the Middle East.