Ex Liverpool and Tottenham striker Paul Walsh opens up about alcohol problems

  • 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.



“Changing a difficult situation isn't always possible. So, accept what you cannot change and focus on the things you do have control over - such as regularly connecting with colleagues over video conferencing or online meetings.

Use music

“Put on headphones to listen to music can have many benefits, such as helping you relax and focus on something away from work and the outside world. Turn off rolling news and social media platforms such as Twitter, and just check in once a day. Stretch your legs and take a walk, even just to the garden, the kitchen or another room in your house before returning to your desk. Moving around and changing your environment, even slightly, can clear your mind and re-energise you.”

Coping with panic

Dr Donna Grant, consultant psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Chelmsford, offers some tips to help cope with panic at this time:

“Observe your thoughts and tell yourself that your mind is reacting to these thoughts and anxiety. These feelings are

normal - it's just the body's alarm system doing its job when it doesn't need to.

“Learn to control your breathing. People often hyperventilate during a panic attack. This means taking deeper breaths than normal which results in you feeling short of breath, causing a feeling of dizziness, disorientation and chest pains. By learning to slow your breathing down, you can help prevent the uncomfortable physical symptoms and stop the panic cycle. Try to get a slower and more stable breathing rhythm by breathing in for three seconds, holding your breath for two seconds, and then breathing out for three seconds. As you breathe, ensure that your stomach expands as you take each breath as this helps to ensure the breathing isn't shallow, which can add to the problem.

Learn to use positive coping statements

“When you are feeling anxious and panicky it can be helpful to have 'coping statements' which can be used to remind you that panic is not dangerous and isn't harmful.

Such statements could be:

- Panic is simply high levels of anxiety

- By remembering these symptoms are nothing more than anxiety, I can prevent further symptoms occurring

- My anxiety and panic will pass naturally given time. It doesn't last forever

Reminding yourself of these facts can help to prevent further panic cycles happening.

Keep a journal

Pamela Roberts, a Priory psychotherapist based at Priory’s Woking Hospital, adds that for those who might be self-isolating: “Ensure you are working in a well-ventilated room and following basic self-care, so healthy eating, sleep, lots of hydration, and try to keep to a routine. Set up a ‘buddy group’ with family or friends and regularly check in online or with Facetime.

“If you feel low, journaling can be a helpful way to unload emotions. Go with the flow. Tell yourself ‘what I am doing is enough’. Be good to yourself. If you have slept badly, accept you'll be in a low, more anxious mood. Your energy will be low. Try and relax and focus on positive things knowing that every effort is being made globally to bring this situation to a close, but it will take time. Being able to relax will help you through. When you're tense you tend to dwell on things and make them worse. If you are able, get into your garden and get daily doses of sunshine. Maybe look at some free online courses offered by the Open University. The mental health charity Mind has some very useful advice on self-isolating and your mental health. For support with grief, anxiety, or mental wellbeing, you can call or text an organisation like the Samaritans, or you can access therapy online with a trained therapist.”


Priory expert Steve Clarke, a psychotherapist and hospital director at the Priory¹s Life Works Hospital in Woking, Surrey, explains EMT: ‘Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) - Repetitive finger tapping can sometimes help to release negative emotions such as anxiety. It has been called a psychological version of acupuncture in that it involves making contact with a number of acupuncture points. The specific points to tap are the end-points of the major meridians (meridians are believed to be channels of subtle energy which flow through our body). So, whilst focusing on your negative emotion you tap on a meridian point (collarbone, under the arm and top of the head ­ try to avoid the face at these times) three to seven times, repeating your negative thought in your head. After each emotion, take a deep breath and exhale. Continue this until you feel calmer and relieved. When you feel more relieved, repeat the technique whilst you tap through a positive round, repeating more uplifting phrases.”


Dr Bijlani says: “Make time for a nourishing lunch with adequate hydration. Food and drink can greatly affect your physical and mental health. Stop working at the usual time you would if you had travelled to your office and then try and fit in some social calls to friends or family before you prepare your evening meal. Avoid drinking too much alcohol or eating unhealthy foods out of boredom. Try and keep to boundaries such as only drinking alcoholic beverages in limited quantities at the weekend. Having to spend endless time each day in our homes with others under the lockdown situation is certainly going to affect our relationships with them, regardless of whether they are our loved family members or not. Emotions can be “infectious” and if those around us aren’t able to keep calm and cope well, we could end up getting stressed, fed up, irritable or low ourselves. It’s important for each of us, where we can, to take responsibility for our own health so that we can help keep up a reasonable level of optimism and engender a healthy environment in our homes which we share with others. Try and do some things together, such as sharing the preparation and eating of meals and daily walks together while also maintaining respectful boundaries and giving each other space apart for private time alone. Work as a healthy community. Try and be sensitive, flexible and forgiving without losing your own sense of self or identity. The best way to keep your mood swings under control is to look after yourself by keeping to your usual routine of sleep, diet, exercise and other activities. If you have been prescribed medication for your mental health, then take it as advised.”

About Priory and MEDIAN

Priory is the UK’s leading independent provider of mental health services. We treat more than 70 conditions, including depression, anxiety, addictions and eating disorders, as well as children’s mental health, across our nationwide network of sites. We also support autistic adults and adults with a learning disability, Prader-Willi Syndrome and brain injuries, as well as older people, within our specialist residential care and supported living facilities – helping as many people as possible to live their lives.

Priory is part of the MEDIAN Group, one of Europe’s leading providers of high quality mental health and rehabilitation services. The MEDIAN Group comprises 290 facilities with 5,000 beds caring for 28,000 people in the UK, 120 facilities with 20,000 beds caring for around 250,000 patients in Germany, and 15 facilities with 2,000 beds caring for 13,000 people in Spain, with more than 29,000 employees overall.

Need more information?

Email the press office at: [email protected]