Writer: Dan Jones
Date:Friday June 27 2008
Paul Merson joined Aston Villa in 1998 from Middlesborough, signed by John Gregory for £6.75million. Merson was a flamboyant midfielder with exceptional skill, at the end of 2001/02 season, Graham Taylor released him from his contract despite many fans feeling he had another year in him.
The evening kicked off with an introduction from Paul Merson, the audience were asked to donate £5 to former Walsall favourite Darren Wrack`s Testimonial Fund.
A three course meal followed, with party games being played between courses. Prizes to be won included two VIP tickets to a game at Villa Park. A raffle next saw prizes such as a West Ham shirt signed by Kieran Dyer and DVD of Darren Wrack`s greatest Walsall moments.
After the meal the audience were entertained by comedian and impressionist Leslie Gibson, to say the performance went down like a turd in a swimming pool would be somewhat of an understatement. At one point a member of the audience was applauded for asking those who had lost patience with the comedian to show a bit of respect. Despite this a particular highlight of his performance was his impression of Newcastle Manager Kevin Keegan.
An auction took place for signed football shirts, John Terry`s away shirt went for around £250, Ronaldo`s Man Utd shirt went for over £500 and our own Gareth Barry`s England shirt went for £470.
Paul Merson then took to the stage for a Q&A session. First question asked by the audience was "When does the comedian come on?" which was applauded by both the audience and Merson himself. More serious questions included, "Who was the best player you played with and against?" Merson claimed that Dennis Bergkamp was the best player he had played with in his career and that Gareth Southgate was the best player at Villa, he chose Paulo Maldini as he hardest opponent. A member of the audience asked "How bad was Bosko Balaban?" Merson replied "Really f***ing bad", Merson went on to joke that Balaban may have been able to break into the Tamworth team. Merson was asked "Which player was the hardest working in training?" Merson replied "that is the easiest question to answer, by a million miles it had to be Mark Delaney, he trained so hard and what he lacked in skill when he signed from Cardiff he eventually made up for from sheer hard work and determination and he became one the best full backs in the league".
Merson discussed his gambling addiction at great length telling several anecdotes of his highs and lows.
I asked Merson a question too - "Paul, as a former player yourself, what did you make of the comments from David Platt regarding Gareth Barry in the press recently?" Paul replied "I am not too sure what comments Platt made, but Barry has a big decision to make at the moment, he has to sit down and think long and hard about what he is going to do next, it`s a tough decision but one that needs to be made, Platt can have his own opinion but I doubt it will affect the decision Barry needs to make".
JF also supplied a fair few questions before the event as he`d help get the show on the road so to speak, so the lucky sod got all his questions answered without having to get up and ask them and he got a copy of the Paul Merson book signed with a personal message in it. Ain`t he posh!
The one that made most laugh was JF`s question "how hard was it to hang up your boots?" Merson answered 'not hard, I was getting old and fat and my legs gave up on me!`
It was a successful night, money was raised for Darren Wrack`s Testimonial Fund, and fun was had by all. It was nice to have the opportunity to meet Merson and shake hands with the man himself. Now let`s hope Martin O`Neill can sign a player of that sort of calibre, and then we truly will be a force to be reckoned with.
Date:Friday June 27 2008
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