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Stuck In A Moment The Ballad of Paul Vaessen By Stewart Taylor

Release date: 26th April, 2018
Publisher: Pitch Publishing

List Price: £12.99
Our Price: £9.76
You Save: £3.23 (24%)
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“I’ve had some dark moments,” a man in his early seventies told me when explaining how he felt during the aftermath of an operation to have his right leg amputated below the knee.

The response may sound predictable, but the words came from a man so renowned for his quick-witted gregariousness and sense of fun that they seemed a bad fit. How could this guy, the life and soul of the party, experience ‘dark moments’? When he added that initial news of his impending amputation had caused him to cry ‘for the first time in more than sixty years’, it was possible to appreciate how low he must have felt.

The anecdote above is true, but the explanation came not from a former professional sportsman whose finely-tuned physical condition was once pivotal to a successful career, but from an ordinary Joe. A friend with whom I was having a drink. So imagine how a former professional footballer, a man who played for Arsenal and scored a career-defining goal against Juventus in Turin to clinch a tight, hard-fought semi-final for the Gunners, must have felt when he received similar news. In his late thirties.

On 24th April 1980, the London Evening Standard reported that Paul Vaessen, “…received the ultimate accolade when his team-mates, many established international stars…stood to applaud him aboard the Arsenal team coach last night.”

Paul Vaessen, an “amiable, curly-haired 18-year-old,” according to the Standard, had grabbed a late winner, a goal that triggered an explosion of joy among Arsenal fans. Yet within three years, a terrible injury forced premature retirement and so began a downward spiral towards manic depression, schizophrenia and, as he faced the probable amputation of his leg, an early, lonely death in a Bristol flat at the age of just 39.

The chapter that offers details of the goal against Juventus is called Hero (Just for one day). “Paul’s time in the spotlight was fleeting,” says author Stewart Taylor, who reminds readers that with fewer than 30 first team appearances under his belt, the youngster was not yet a high-profile international star, though his life was effectively defined by those few seconds in Turin when he nodded in a cross from Graham Rix to give Arsenal a 1-0 win. In later life, Vaessen would relive his moment of glory with anyone willing to listen.

Taylor’s introduction is brutally honest: “This is a sombre tale about the fragility and fickleness of sport, a story without a happy, uplifting ending…” he says, advising prospective readers to avoid it if they’re searching for a joyful conclusion to Vaessen’s story. If Taylor’s warning doesn’t make you want to read this outstanding book, your view of sport, of life, must be observed through the rosiest of tinted glasses.

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