Book Review - Stuck in a Moment - The Ballad of Paul Vaessen
Everyone has their 15 minutes of fame. Paul Vaessen had his in Turin, his last-minute winner taking Arsenal through to the Cup Winners Cup final at Italian giants, Juventus', expense. Simply the stuff of dreams. It should have been the start of something special. Instead, it marked the beginning of a devastating downward spiral from which Vaessen would never recover. Stuck in a moment is his tragic tale.
Title: Stuck in a Moment – The Ballad of Paul Vaessen
Author: Stewart Taylor
Publisher: Pitch Publishing
Stewart Taylor, never met Vaessen, who died just before turning 40, a promising young footballer who had descended into the murky world of drugs, crime and addiction. It should never have ended this way for Vaessen. He was a star at youth level, among the best in his age group. Clubs were fighting over his signature. Arsenal won that battle.
Taylor focuses the book's first half on Vaessen’s rapid rise through the ranks to the Arsenal first team and the glory and adulation that came with the job. Young Vaessen was catapulted to stardom on the back of a goal in the north London derby, then, famously, that winner in northern Italy.
The Juventus game is pivotal. It's covered superbly by Taylor, using the memories from teammates and fans who attended, as well as the experiences of those, such as Vaessen’s family, watching at home. The chapter, and those before it, all build up to Vaessen’s goal, the climactic moment that would define his life.
From that point, Taylor takes us on the tragic journey that transformed Vaessen's destiny. From becoming the victim of the terrace boo-boys, through a career-ending injury, to the much darker world of depression and drugs. As the story progresses and Vaessen’s situation becomes increasingly desperate, Stuck in a Moment becomes a brutal, emotional and hard hitting read.
It is meant to shock; it’s a true story. Taylor’s objectives in this ‘warts and all’ biography is to inform and educate. If one player or person changes their life after reading Vaessen’s story, then it has been worth it. That can be Vaessen's legacy.
The real success of Stuck in a Moment comes from Taylor’s relationship with Paul’s family, friends and ex-teammates. Their contributions are crucial in helping Taylor help us understand Vaessen, his character and what made him who he was and why it all went wrong for him.
Taylor also looks at others at Arsenal who had the world at their feet but for one reason or another drifted out of the game. For some, it ended positively, others not. Their collective experiences highlight a football career's fickle nature and the vulnerability that these young men face, with many failing to make it to the big time.
It is easy to see why Stuck in a Moment is so acclaimed and has won awards. It is a thought-provoking, gripping read that acts as both a warning and a tribute to all who pick it up. It has the strength and impact that will leave Paul Vaessen in your mind long after finishing the book.
The foreword provided by Tony Adams adds real value, as a big name player who can relate to Vaesson’s disease. Adams also talks about the increased level of understanding and help available to footballers these days via many worthy charities, particularly his own Sporting Chance.
Had such resources, along with advances in sports medicine and player movement, existed at the time, Vaessen's life might have taken a better turn. But the game and culture were different in his day. Paul Vaessen was a victim of his era as much as his character. He really was stuck in a moment.