FORMER World Cup star Paul Gascoigne avoided jail today despite being caught driving while more than four times the legal alcohol limit.
The troubled 43-year-old ex-England midfielder was given an eight week sentence, suspended for a year, when he appeared at Newcastle Magistrates' Court after he was arrested in the city's Jesmond suburb when officers spotted him driving an MG erratically.
He was found to have 142mg of alcohol in 100ml of breath - the limit is 35mg - when he was tested shortly after 2.45pm on Friday, October 8.
Gascoigne admitted drink-driving at a hearing in October and was warned then that he could be jailed.
On that occasion, District Judge Stephen Earl told him that 12 weeks in jail was a possibility, given the circumstances.
The former Newcastle United, Spurs, Lazio, Rangers, Middlesbrough and Everton player was due to be sentenced last month but failed to appear as he had checked himself into a rehab clinic on the South Coast.
A separate drink-drive charge, which Gascoigne denies, will be heard next week at Northerallerton Magistrates' Court.
Gascoigne was also banned from driving for three years today and given an alcohol treatment order.
Gascoigne did not talk to reporters during a five-minute walk through the city centre which ended in a snowy car park and into a car driven by his solicitor Stephen Andrews.
Well-wishers shouted encouragement to him, including the call "Toon Army never surrenders", and he signed autographs for a couple of fans as he was pursued on foot by around 20 photographers, cameramen and reporters.
Outside court, Mr Andrews said his client was relieved and that it was a "good result".
The judge said the seriousness of the offence crossed the custody threshold , but he was passing a suspended sentence after hearing Gascoigne was responding well to treatment at the Providence Project clinic.
"You are not heavily convicted and you have nothing currently on your record of a similar nature," he said.
Gascoigne looked gaunt and worried as the 15-minute hearing progressed, but relaxed visibly when Mr Andrews explained to him that the judge was not minded to jail him immediately, and a thin smile passed over his lips.
The court was told Gascoigne was undergoing a 12-week anti-drink programme in Dorset and he has seven weeks and five days more to complete.
He attends Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings in the evenings and is back at the centre by 9.30pm.
The player gave his father's address in Dunston, Gateshead, when asked by the court clerk, but the district judge was told he plans to move permanently to the South Coast.
Mr Andrews said: "The long-term plan is to find him accommodation in that area.
"The talk now is of an extensive and elongated period of support while not actually under the roof of the Providence Project, but certainly within easy reach, given the continued support they would propose to offer."
He said the rehab bosses have noticed a "massive shift" in Gascoigne's attitude towards treatment.
"Previously, it has been on his terms," he told the court. "He's gone in, he has used it as he saw fit and of course relapsed because he has not done the full programme.
"This time it has been on their terms."
Gascoigne, so thin that his gold watch was loose on his wrist, appeared nervous as the judge read a report.
Judge Earl believed a 12-week sentence, with a third off as credit for a guilty plea, was appropriate. And he suspended the sentence in recognition of his early progress in rehab.
"I am sure some will disagree with me," the judge said.
He warned the player that if he reoffends in the next 12 months, the suspended eight-week jail term will be triggered.
The player was ordered to pay 85 costs, will be subject to a 12-month supervision order and must undertake a six-month drink programme after rehab.
Gascoigne, in a pinstripe suit, white shirt and no tie, smiled when the judge, talking hypothetically about the player attempting to drive while banned, said: "He's not a man who can easily pass off without notice, I suspect."
Judge Earl told Gascoigne: "I hope not to see you again."
Gascoigne thanked the judge as he left.
Once he stepped out on to a football pitch to be greeted by thousands of fans. Now he followed in the footsteps of thugs, thieves and common criminals. Only his shiny shoes and the gold watch on his left hand marked the life he once had.
In court six he became Paul Gascoigne - he was no longer 'Gazza', the former Newcastle United and England superstar.
He walked into court past no fewer than 20 journalists and sat down to hear his fate - Christmas in a prison cell or a rehab centre toasting on a wine glass filled with water.
Frail and strikingly thin he sat bolt upright in his baggy pin-stripped suit, eyes fixed on the judge.
The gold watch on his left hand was loose.
In the hot and cramped courtroom, he nervously touched his balding head and played with the gold bracelet on his right hand, his forehead sweating.
The tension broke when Gascoigne's solicitor Stephen Andrews turned round and explained to him that District Judge Stephen Earl was discussing a suspended sentence.
A smile spread across his face and he suddenly became relaxed, if a little bit cocky.
For the first time he crossed his legs and turned around with ease to see the crowds in the wings.
He stood up to hear Judge Earl return his sentence - pulling up his oversized trousers on the way.
"Thank you very much," he said to the judge, before he left the court, followed by a group of reporters.