7 July 1997: Merson transferred to Middlesbrough

By Tony Attwood


Paul Charles Merson played 289 league matches for Arsenal , plus 29 FA cup matches, and 38 League Cup matches, plus 22 European games.

His football career started with Arsenal in 1986/7 and finished with Tamworth and Welshpool in 2006/7, although he did make three appearances for Whitton Athletic in 2011/12.

His one loan spell in his early days with Arsenal was with Brentford who were managed by the Double winning captain of 1971, Frank McLintock.

Paul Merson’s first Arsenal match was on 22 November 1986 against Manchester City working under George Graham who oversaw his early development season by season.

By the time of the two George Graham league winning seasons he was a regular in the side and in 1989 was voted Young Player of the Year.  He made his England début on 11 September 1991 against Germany in a friendly.

He was also part of the unique Cup Double side of 1993, and won the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1994.   However, at that moment of the height of his career, he also took the very brave and dramatic step of openly admitting in a televised press conference to his multiple addictions, and went into rehabilitation.  He returned just prior to the end of the George Graham reign but did play in the second consecutive Cup Winners’ Cup Final in 1995 after Graham had left.

Merson continued to play in the one Rioch season.  He then had one season under Arsene Wenger before being transferred to Middlesbrough on 7 July 1997.

At the time of the transfer, Mr Wenger said that when a good offer comes along for a player (£5m, the largest fee ever paid by a non-top league club), sometimes you have to accept it.  However, it should be noted that this transfer window was also the summer when Arsenal purchased Marc Overmars and Emmanuel Petit so it was clear that Merson was going to struggle to find a role in the team.

Arsene Wenger was criticised at the time for the sale of Merson, and four defeats in six games between 1 November and 13 December 1997 caused further negative reporting in the press, with Arsenal being sixth in the league.

However although Arsenal slipped 12 points behind the leaders, we did recover in the second part of the season to win the league.

Reports at the time suggested that Arsene Wenger had offered a new two-year deal to Merson prior to his leaving, and on 10 November 2014 Merson stated that Wenger “begged me to stay”.  Middlesbrough however were reported to have offered double the salary – and obviously more chances of playing than at Arsenal, with Wenger expanding the Arsenal squad considerably.

While Arsenal won the league, Merson’s Middlesbrough came second in the second division league in 1997/8 and won promotion, but in the summer of 1998 Merson was said to have accused Middlesbrough of being a club wrapped up in a drinking and gambling culture, although he denied this.

From 1998 to 2002 Merson played for Aston Villa during which period the club came 6th and 8th, and lost the 2000 FA Cup final, and he played between 21 and 38 league games each season.

Then in 2002 he signed for Portsmouth and played for them just for the 2002/3 season, when the club gained promotion to the Premiership, playing 45 league games in the league.

There was then the move to Walsall in 2003 but here Merson missed a little of the season with a period in February spent in a clinic in the United States.  However, he did make 34 appearances out of a possible 46 for the club that season, as they finished 22nd and were relegated.  During this final spell, Merson was made player-manager of the club and he continued in the role the following season.

Walsall went on to finish 14th in the following season, but numerous media reports of his private life and his addictions distracted from the achievement and on 6 February 2006 he was sacked, and moved briefly to Tamworth where he played one game.  He retired from playing on 9 March 2006, although on 28 March 2012 played for Welshpool Town along with two other Sky Sports pundits.  Welshpool lost 4-1 and opted not to repeat the affair.

In 2011 Paul Merson published, “How not to be a professional footballer” which received very positive reviews.

Then when in 2020 Phil Thompson, Charlie Nicholas and Matt Le Tissier were sacked by Sky Sports from their Saturday afternoon show, Merson was the one regular from the show to be given a new contract,

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