I can’t help wondering when the day will arrive when I wake up to the news that Paul Gascoigne is dead, gone, goodbye, for keeps, forever. The self-righteous who have never had or witnessed others with mental health or addiction issues will say that Gascoigne has merely reaped what he has sewn after a chaotic life of alcohol dependancy, depression and low self-esteem; I see it differently than that, shame on me I suppose.
Gazza is the same age as me and he played football at the same time as me, the only difference was that he was brilliant and I was not. However, there were some similarities, because like my peers and I, Gazza played football for fun and he played football with his heart firmly on his sleeve. Whether it was in the shirt of Newcastle, Spurs or England, Gascoigne was interested in one thing and one thing only and that was to entertain the masses who used football as escapism from the humdrum of a working class life; to watch him play from 1986 until the self-inflicted knee shattering injury in the 1991 FA Cup final, was like watching poetry. Even after 1991 there were glimpses of brilliance among the carnage taking place in his personal life.
I don’t watch England play football now; it is a team full of players who are more interested in their clubs and the regular withdrawal of players through ‘injury’ has devalued it to a ludicrous extent. I really could not give a toss about Ashley Cole, John Terry and Frank Lampard etc. etc. Yet Gascoigne, along with the likes of Stuart Pearce, Terry Butcher, Des Walker and Bryan Robson, made us all feel like he was one of us…He would have crawled ten miles over broken glass to play for his country and despite his reputation, he was never sent off for England in 57 appearances. He never let his country down.
Gascoigne has had a life that has been plagued by attention disorders, nervous ticks, anxiety, panic attacks, seizures and numerous addictions since ever since he was partly responsible for the death of the younger brother of a friend who was run over by a car when he (Gasgoigne) was just ten years old. Call me what you want, but I don’t see Gascoigne as pathetic individual who is getting what he deserves; I see him as a person with a tragic life that was blessed by an extraordinary talent that was manipulated and preyed upon by scavengers and hangers on looking to make a fast buck. Sadly, another one of Gascoigne’s afflictions has been his outrageous generosity.
Many of my friends will have their own favourite memories of Paul Gascoigne, such as the free kick for Spurs against Arsenal in 1991, the outrageous volley versus Scotland at Euro 1996 or the sheer youthful brilliance and tears he brought to that wonderful World Cup campaign in 1990 that had anyone with a sporting heart reaching for the tissues. However, for me, it has to be a World Cup Qualifier against Italy at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome in November 1997.
Gascoigne simply took the ball off the so called superior Italians, kept it, and didn’t let them have it back. It was a performance of maturity and simplistic brilliance in an Italian cauldron which had witnessed fifteen straight victories until that night. England got the 0-0 draw they required to qualify due to the technical excellence of Gascoigne who completed something like 98 of 102 passes he made. Name me an England player who has shown such composure since? His reward? He got dropped for the 1998 World Cup by the son of God, Glenn Hoddle, who must be held partly culpable for taking away the one thing that kept Gazza sane.
Paul Gascoigne has had a life blighted by demons that will, more than likely, create his demise, but in my eyes, he is still the greatest and most passionate football player I have witnessed pulling on an England shirt.