Dubbed the “Clown Prince” of soccer and famously labelled by former England manager Sir Bobby Robson as being “daft as a brush”, former Tottenham, Newcastle, Everton and Lazio star Paul Gascoigne’s battles with drink and drugs have been well documented in the press of late. Health scares and issues with his wife have seldom seen him out of the news since his retirement but while such stories are the fodder for front page gossip-hawkers, I’d instead prefer to concentrate on what Paul Gascoigne became a legend for, playing football.
Born in Dunston, the young Gazza started his career with Newcastle United, progressing through the ranks and making his first team debut in April 1985 against Queens Park Rangers. The following season, the 19 year old Gascoigne began to show the touch, flair and improvisation on the ball, allied with his seemingly boundless energy and sense of fun, to quickly become a darling of the Newcastle fans and very soon, the bigger teams in England at the time were keeping tabs on this talented young showman from the North East.
He joined Tottenham in the summer of 1988, famously turning down Sir Alex Ferguson to team up with Terry Venables at White Hart Lane. It was a partnership that would bear great fruit, not only for Tottenham, but for England too a few short years later. Venables added a great deal of tactical nous to Gazza’s already expansive game and the net result became a midfielder who was certainly one of the finest in Europe, if not the world, at the time. The crowning glory of his time at Tottenham being his incredible free kick in the FA Cup Semi Final against Arsenal, a moment which has become part of Wembley folklore.
Gascoigne drew world attention for his performances with England in the 1990 World Cup finals. Inspiring Bobby Robson’s men to a Semi final place against Germany. During the game his mistimed lunge at Thomas Berthold missed the German defender, who pretended to go down pole-axed. Gascoigne was booked, thus would miss the final if England were to reach it, tears flowed, Gary Lineker mouthed “have a word with him” to the bench. England lost on penalties.
His Italia 1990 showing and form for Spurs earned him a big money move to Lazio, but disaster struck shortly before the move when a dreadful tackle on Gary Charles saw Gascoigne injured during the FA Cup final. Rupturing his cruciate knee ligaments. A years rehabiliation followed before he could make his bow for Lazio in a game that drew as much interest in England as it did Italy.
Injuries dogged his time in Italy, but even so Gazza was a firm favourite with the Lazio fans, who were sorry to see him go in 1995 when he joined Rangers. In Scotland, Gascoigne enjoyed a rennaissance in form, guiding Rangers to the Premier League title and scoring vital goals along the way for Walter Smith’s men and picking up the Player Player and Football Writers player of the year along the way. While at Rangers Gazza played an integral part in England’s Euro 1996 campaign, scoring a fantastic goal against Scotland in the group stages before being just centimetres away from converting an Alan Shearer cross shot in golden goal extra time against Germany in the Semi Final, a game which England, as usual, would go on to lose on penalties.
Gazza’s career petered out somewhat after then as personal issues began to dominate his life. Spells at Middlesbrough and Everton were largely forgettable as Gazza was a shadow of his former self as a player. These were followed by even shorter spells with Burnley, Boston and obscurely Chinese club Giansu Tianma where Gazza played a total of four games, scored two goals but then refused to return to China after a spell in an American clinic.
It’s easy to cast Paul Gascoigne as a nutcase, a player who never fulfilled his potential, who perhaps wasted the talent he had. I’m not sure that is fair. Gazza was the player he was because of the person he was, not in spite of it. Change Gazza into a Gary Lineker figure, you don’t have the same player and I’m not sure that Gazza would have been the player many fans grew to love. He’s had countless problems off the field in his career and after it, but at least he seems now to have found peace, helping old friend Peter Beardsley train the Newcastle Youth team and by taking advice and help when needed with his addictions and problems.
Paul Gascoigne a legend? You’d better believe it.
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