Last summer I heard rumours that Paul Gascoigne was dead. Unlike the rest of the rubbish that circulates the ether, sadly this had the ring of truth. He had been looking more pale and drawn than ever and the stories more bizarre, if that were possible.
Gazza stopped being daft as a brush years ago but the nation kept on laughing. One of the finest footballers of his generation, he’d become a figure of ridicule, easy meat and easy laughs from comedians getting fat on the proceeds of panel shows. In football, mental health problems are taboo. He’d sunk so low that he was denied even his illness. On the contrary, his suffering was exploited by reporters after a story and chairman offering him work.
Mercifully, he’s survived. It’s impossible to know if the empathy from Spurs fans played the tiniest part in keeping him going, but I can’t ever recall such a wave of goodwill towards an ex-Spur. He’s hidden away in Bournemouth, out of rehab but still being supported well, slow progress but steady.
The book is a lavishly illustrated conversation with Paul about his entire career, just turn on the recorder and out streams an engaging, flowing account of his life from the man himself. After a while, close your eyes and you can imagine him in the room, chatting over a cup of tea. This plus the hundreds of colour photos make it a pleasant, welcoming read that tells you about the man’s football career without stretching the reader too far.
The therapy that has played a part of Gascoigne’s rehabilitation enables to him to reflect on what’s gone wrong in an honest, self-aware manner without becoming maudlin or self-indulgent, as is the fate of many other celebrities who have been through the same process.There’s no evaluation, either from an outside voice or from Gascoigne, and nothing about his mental health or his career, if you can call it that, since retirement. This is purely and simply about football. The reader is left to provide the context and whilst many familiar episodes are covered, like the dentist’s chair, escaping the boredom of international tournaments and high jinks at Rangers, there is a refreshing lack of spin or image. This isn’t Gazza – daft as brush, Gazza – the alcoholic or even Gazza – the idiot. It’s just Gazza. He acknowledges in a matter of fact way that he should not have done certain things but what comes over is the total lack of malice in anything that he did. He never had an agenda, a grudge or sought to exact revenge. Most of the time he got into trouble because just the opposite, he never had a plan or thought anything through, but you sense this is why, despite all the things he has got up to, no one in football seems to have a bad word to say about him.
In fact, he comes over as boyish, getting into the same scrapes as a man as he did as a lad. His mind wandering onto other things, football mostly when he should have been studying, losing Kevin’s Keegan’s boot as an apprentice then forgetting his own boots before a crucial game in Euro ‘96. Same response – he can’t tell anyone so it’s a farcical attempt to cover it up, in the case of England playing the entire first half in Sheringham’s spare boots, which were the wrong size.
He confirms what Spurs fans already know, that he played the best football of his career whilst at White Hart Lane. So it’s a little disappointing that the space given over to Spurs is much less than that devoted to England or Rangers. I guess the publishers understand the market. Also, many anecdotes will have a familiar ring for anyone who has read Hunter Davies’ excellent book on Gazza.
The section on Spurs focuses on his remarkable contribution to the 1991 cup run. At the time it seemed to me that he single-handedly inspired the team to Wembley. In reality, the famous victories in the semi-final against Arsenal and the final were founded upon excellent teamwork, and Gascoigne praises the unsung Paul Stewart in particular for “covering the space for me” as Gazza was knackered, either because he was playing in pain through injury or because he prepares for a vital cup-tie by playing 15 sets of squash with John Moncur the night before as he can’t sleep. But the inspiration and glory are rightfully his. A hat-trick against Oxford, a scintillating winner away to Portsmouth, another versus Notts County, all tricky ties, plus the free-kick that will ensure his legendary status for as long as anyone talks about Tottenham Hotspur. Typically he doesn’t dwell on it – cue anecdotes involving nurses, hospitals and testicles – but the effort he made to play through injuries and then to sweat blood to get fit after surgery is nothing short of heroic. He did that for the good of playing football. He did that for us.
In any walk of life, the very greatest tread a fine line between the bold and the reckless. To be original and different, the individual has to think and do something that is fresh and new. What is to our heroes an act of bravery, to us mere mortals seems like the height of foolishness. Gascoigne treads that fine line throughout his career and this book helps you walk with him. The character traits that made him infuriating and a magnet for trouble are the very same that enabled him also to attempt the most outrageous feats on the pitch, and because he was so, so wonderful, he succeeded where most would fail.
Gazza’s an entertaining companion and this is a engaging read in time for the Christmas market. It’s not a confessional, but if there is a message from a fallen hero to the young players of today, it’s not about the dangers of the booze, the sycophants or the lack of support of family and friends, it’s that players should love and cherish the game. If that’s Gazza’s legacy, then this book is a success, for it is above all else about a man who just wants to play football. Rather than the grey, bewildered figure of fun blinking uncomprehending in the spotlight, running on empty, please remember him as he should be remembered, the breath-taking talent of the one of greatest Tottenham players there has ever been.
A couple of my other pieces on Gazza here, about his career, and here, about mental health, Chris Evans and Danny Baker
Glorious – My World, Football and Me by Paul Gascoigne Published by Simon and Schuster
WIN A COPY
My copy actually, read once, one careful owner, and the biryani stains will come out with a bit of soap and water.
To win answer this question:
To persuade Gazza to sign for Spurs and not Fergie, Irving Scholar sealed the deal with a few extra items that don’t normally feature in transfer negotiations. Name any of them.
If you need a nudge in the right direction, one item Gazza would be delighted to receive these days and would put to good use in his leisure time (and before you start, he’s off the booze)
E-mail your answer to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Closing date: Tuesday 1st November, 8pm, all correct entries into a hat, first one out wins
And while you’re here, 1 family, 3 generations of Spurs fans are taking part on Saturday in a Family Hike in aid of the British Association for Adoption and Fostering.
You can sponsor us here: Just Giving – Family Hike for BAAF
Just a quid would be great.
We came to celebrate, and despite the result we were not downhearted.
We battled through the hold-ups on the M25 and the Blackwall Tunnel, blanched at the accident on the North Circular and arrived in our seats panting from effort as well as excitement. Same old jokes, we make them, we’re told them and still we laugh as if we’ve never heard them before. ’5-0 by halftime? Or a bit longer? No probs.’ The teams are just coming out and the sudden arrival heightens the shock. From a dowdy north London street, plunged into the glare of white light and blaring fanfare I am transformed, grinning manically. On TV this is precisely the clichéd manufactured atmosphere I abhor. Being there, I can’t quite believe this is the Champions League at White Hart Lane, a worldwide audience welcomed to our little home. Should be used to it but I’m not, and in a way hope I never am, because this thrill should never be taken for granted. A corny soundtrack and twenty kids flapping a giant fireman’s blanket festooned with logos: somebody catch me, I’m falling.
We came to acclaim our heroes, despite the forlorn hope of victory, and my goodness how we roared them on. Those watching on TV knew what an atmosphere sounds like, real support from proper supporters, hardened over years of disappointment to the point where we know when the team needs us. The noise rolled around the old ground, tightly packed stands close to the pitch, a raucous cacophony from all sides in a proper football ground.
We got behind them and they knew. You could see it in every sprint and stride, every tackle, the grimace of challenges or the deftest of passes. It was meant for them and they knew. As with the performance against Stoke, they channelled their disappointment at the first leg result into sustained endeavour, maybe to win, there was always a chance, but mainly just to prove they could play against one of the finest European club sides, to match themselves against the best.
The first half hour flew by, almost as quickly as Bale flew past Ramos. With Modric prompting and Pav active up front, Bale took on a steady supply of long cross field passes and rose to his task. He fearlessly took them on and delivered several searching crosses under the most intense pressure that on another day with perhaps some shrewder positioning by colleagues in the box could have been converted. His touch to bring down a shoulder high pass destined for the stands and then instantly charge at them once more was nothing short of miraculous. Taking deep regenerating breaths on his way back to the halfway line, he was tired. His back ached, so he adjusted his strapping and head down, charged again.
We needed goals and came close on a few occasions, Pav missing the best chance as Lennon laid bare the defence then laid the ball back. It bounced at the crucial instant of contact, way over. Lennon attempted to make up for whatever happened in Madrid, coming into the match more as the half progressed, always dangerous. He could have crossed it more often rather than touch it back but he did so well. The other great opportunity was when a long Bale throw fell at Huddlestone’s feet, much to his and everyone else’s surprise. Back to goal a few yards out, there was no movement for him in the box and the chance of a simple lay-off was gone.
The imperative to attack left us stretched at the back, very much so at times but there was no alternative. We scraped by on more than a couple of occasions. Our captain had his own solution: Michael Dawson decided to take them on alone. He wanted to be first to every ball. Seemingly right across the back line, he appeared whenever danger threatened. Left, right, upfield or in the box, time and again he won the ball. Not everything worked – he overreached himself once or twice, a reminder of the player of two or three years ago – but now he has the experience to cover his lack of pace. One moment of classic defending, when Ronaldo’s shimmy left BAE face down in the grass, Daws came smoothly across, stood tall, waited, then made the tackle. It wasn’t a night for defenders, supposedly, but his performance shone with pride and total commitment.
You may tire of reading in the blog of the wonders of Luka Modric but I’ll never tire of writing about him. Another top class performance of midfield artistry, stubby strides over the turf in search of scarps at the back and deadly passes going forward. Given some freedom by Hud’s presence and then Rafa dropping deep, he went further forward as the half progressed and almost scored or made an assist. Almost. When he came off towards the end, he looked shattered by the pain of defeat, as if it were then and only then that the possibility had crossed his mind that somehow his talent was not about to create a miracle. Arm round his manager, he went to slump on the bench.
A fine first half but no goals. Pav did well on his own up front, effort, movement and even a bit of muscle, but he lacked support. I would have liked a bold decision from Harry for this one, have the balls to leave Rafa out and go two up front but Defoe is woefully out of sorts. I’m sure I would been grumbling if he had played. Now if Crouch were eligible and hadn’t…enough of that one already, I think. As it was, Rafa should have stayed further forward, sliding across the edge of the box and in contact with Pav and the midfield. That’s where he does his best work, as in the second half when he looked fit to me.
We didn’t quite do enough to get the ball into the crucial area in front of their back four but behind the midfield. Madrid press well upfield which makes it hard for us to play out of defence. However, this leaves space behind them. It’s difficult to put the ball there, especially as the superb Alonso was patrolling, but nevertheless there were opportunities missed. To have beaten Madrid we all had to be on top of our games, and Hud had a reasonable rather than good time, wayward with some of his passing. No real criticism but he could have been key, his passing the reason why he was preferred to Sandro.
Ronaldo is a card, eh? Before kick-off he had a pleasant chat with Bale on the halfway line, all smiles. 90 seconds later he’s clutching his backside and rolling around after an innocuous challenge. A precious moment with the strutting peacock in the second half, he goes over to the bench for, apparently, the sole purpose of having a minion fall at his feet and tie his laces. Fabulous player, mind.
And so the second half is ushered in with the same gags. ‘Don’t be late back from the bogs, you’ll miss the first of the 5″, still the same gallows humour in response. No laughs as the ball spins from Gomes’ grasp. Not only this, it taunts him by seeming to remain within reach before agonisingly creeping over the line. The balloon’s been pricked and the hissing of escaping hopes and dreams is heard from miles away. Another one makes little difference, logically, but the whole place sags. Just something, a goal, pride, a win on the night, by now that would have been sufficient but it was gone. There were 35 minutes left but effectively that was that. Individuals tried to make up for it on their own with series of increasingly desperate runs from JD and Sandro, Modric too, but you have to pass it to get round this lot.
Harry and Jose loiter on the touchline, two blokes with long coats, hands thrust deep into pockets and idly kicking up traces of dirt with the tips of their shoes. ‘What me, nah, just hanging around waiting for a mate.”. They cared, profoundly, and there’s no point in hiding it.
There’s a celebration of the presence of another Tottenham great, Paul Gascoigne, who doesn’t often do the rounds of the lounges and boxes (although sadly lounge bars, maybe) but you trust his mental well-being is boosted by the warmth from people who love him. The singing is still going but quieter. Then, for no obvious reason, the doldrums are lifted by a chant for Luka Modric. Then another, and another, and the Park Lane goes through as many men as they can, a touching recognition that despite defeat we are with them, for they have done us proud.
The end was sad. This is gone now. Pride in the fact that we the fans were able to participate in the Champions League quarter final, pride in the players who got us there. Chelsea are advertising on the radio for their upcoming home games, presumably because their gloryhunting fans are sick to death of a decade of unbroken success. At Spurs, we stayed behind to give them a standing ovation, long and hard. An ovation for a team that had lost 5-0. That’s what Europe meant to us, that’s how much we believe in our team. We know what has been achieved. True fans, lifelong supporters.
To ease the pain, there’s a good interview with Ricky Villa here, from Duncan Tucker: http://duncantucker.wordpress.com/2011/04/09/candela-live-interview-with-ricky-villa/
Plus more about the paperback edition of one of the best Spurs’ books ‘The Boys from White Hart Lane‘ by Adam Powley and Martin Cloake http://martincloake.wordpress.com/
Gazza on my mind this week. No real reason. A home tie to take us to Wembley, can’t complain about the semi-final draw and Liverpool’s ability to find a banana skin more often than Charlie Chaplin have all contributed to a sense of ease and relaxation. So the mind wanders back to past glories, and in modern times there are few more glorious than Paul Gascoigne. And as is the way with these things, I’ve not been looking but Gazza has found me, with a great story from Daveyboy in the comments section of my last article, Morris Keston gives him a mention on twitter and then there he is in the book I’m reading.
I’ve been a big fan of Danny Baker for many years. Not quite in the league of Kennedy’s assassination or Princess Di’s death but I vividly recall the first time I heard his radio show. On a bleary eyed Saturday morning, making breakfast for the kids, wife at work and no chance of football, the mindless banality of Capital Radio would provide scant diversion from the drudgery of breakfast and the washing up, but it was the best I could come up with. Turning the dial, Robert Cray’s upbeat blues ‘Smoking Gun’ ripped from the radio and I hung around to see who on earth was playing this stuff. From then I’ve followed the fabulous Baker boy around the airwaves. Many times I’ve had to pull over because I’ve been laughing so much but his sense of the absurd and relaxed freeflowing presentation masks an effortless mastery of the medium of radio. Now he’s back at 606, a show he originated and was then dismissed from because he not entirely seriously suggested that aggrieved fans may wish to beat a path to the door of a certain referee. In reality this was the excuse because it was clear his face didn’t fit – on 606 he wanted to talk about things other than Fergie’s latest press conference or whether that was a penalty after 37 replays. Like things you had confiscated at the turnstiles or unusual places to play football.
His knockabout style and apparent lack of a coherent career plan (at BBC London he works on a handshake rather than a contract) hides his status as an insightful and shrewd observer of popular culture, especially football and pop music. His 2 hours on BBC London on the day after Michael Jackson’s death, where without a script he reminiscenced around his time in LA before, during and after his NME interview with Jackson back in the 80s, the last major independent interview with him, was touching, funny and honest, and said more about Jackson than the sum of all the tosh that overwhelmed the media for weeks after.
His latest book Baker and Kelly – Classic Football Debates, written with Paxton Road stalwart Danny Kelly, was certain to find its way into my Christmas stocking. Someone would put two and two together as they wandered round the bookshop ten minutes before closing on December 24th, when Waterstones is jam packed with desperate punters scooping up any offering that possessed a connection with loved ones for whom they could not think of anything that they would really want. It’s a bit like the aunt who every year gives you the latest Westlife album, because one Saturday round at hers, squirming with embarrassment at Celebrity Idol Factor on Ice, your morale squashed as flat as a Kraft cheese slice run over by a steamroller, you thought it would keep everyone happy by saying that parts of the chorus were ‘quite nice’. Quite nice. How inoffensive and non-committal is that. It implies that your nervous system was closed down totally save for a pulse sufficient to lift one eyelash a fraction of a millimetre. But to your aunt, it indicates undying appreciation of their irish might, to be rewarded each and every Christmas with their latest offering.
The only question with the Baker and Kelly book was not if I would receive one but how many. In the event, it was only a single copy (but four THFC 2010 calendars….). It’s a largely disappointing effort, an erratic mix of funny anecdotes, rehashed phone-in material that does not translate well to the page and fillers, all of which stinks of money for old rope. Even the print is spread wide apart so as to reach the end of the 300 pages without undue effort. But there are several gems, one of which is an eye-witness account of Gazza’s infamous spree in London. Stuck in traffic, Gazza cannot sit still so he jumps out the cab and commandeers a London bus, complete with passengers, which he then drives round the Marble Arch roundabout. Leaping out, he spots some workmen and while he cadges a fag, digs a hole in the road with a pneumatic drill. Baker and friend Chris Evans look on as he reaches their destination, a media awards ceremony to which he had not been invited, via a Bentley that he flagged down at the lights – the elderly couple in the back were only too glad to help. This was front page news at the time, with Gazza and his drinking pals both celebrated and simultaneously castigated by the tabloids in the ways that only they know.
Baker maintains that they were not drunk but the redtops were determined to imply otherwise. The bottles in the photo (not from the book) are water but that’s
not the story that the tabs want. But the most touching element of this story is the public’s reaction to Gazza – everybody loved him. People from different backgrounds felt good just to see him. They cheered him wherever he went, went along with his fun (and it was all fun to him) and he made them feel better. Everyone felt they knew him, sharing jokes, shouting hallo, wishing him well. For his part, he could talk to anyone and stopped to give them all the time of day. No PR, no manufactured celebrity status, just Gazza.
Gascoigne was loved by the people, genuinely and unashamedly so, in a manner that may never be repeated. Pre-Sky, this was a time when players were not so tainted by their riches as they are now, separated and aloof from their fans. If Rooney wins us the World Cup, he would not be able to set foot outside the front door without a phalanx of bodyguards and PR people, and the sad thing is, he may not wish to.
Baker’s affectionate tribute to his friend opens our eyes to one side of his personality but obscures another, the demons that have driven him to the bottom of the deepest abyss. He touches upon the reasons driving Gascoigne on, his restlessness, the need to fight off a boredom that would engulf him when, finally, there were no more highs to sustain him: “The brighter his star shone the more its inevitable collapse into a black hole haunted him.”
It’s a powerful image of impending doom touching even the most exciting crazy moments but it does not look the real problem in the face: Paul Gascoigne suffers from a serious mental health problem. This is not criticism of the man, how can it be, it’s an illness, nor does it belittle any of his achievements on the pitch. If anything it makes them even more miraculous, given that they were performed under such duress. Gascoigne according to his autobiography was a restless, distracted and hyperactive child whose obsessive behaviour was under control but manifested itself later in life as the pressure eroded his coping mechanisms. He saw a therapist of some sort once as a child but never returned. Baker remarks on how Gazza was constantly talking and narrating his day, reminding himself of what was happening to him as a means of calming himself down.
Later, when football no longer sustained him, the drinking, depression and self-abuse took hold. The week long drinking binges by messrs Baker, Evans and Gascoigne are a myth, says Danny, and the London escapade ended with Gazza on Baker’s sofa, chatting with the family as they watched TV. However, he was supposed to be in his log cabin in the remote Scottish hills, which was the bolt hole and place of safety that his manager at the time, Walter Smith, had sorted out. Now we see a pallid and broken man, going through the motions and blank behind the eyes, struggling to rehabilitate himself.
Danny Baker has written an eloquent and insightful piece about the Gazza he knows, which says so much about the man and yet skirts round the one unmentionable in modern football. Sex, alcohol, drugs and infidelity are all open to debate, but one subject remains taboo: mental health. We can’t talk about it. The man suffers, yet he’s given offers to manage a football team or to get back into coaching, or to be a TV celebrity. I heard a rumour that he was going into Celebrity Big Brother and I swear I would have chucked in my job and set up a protest camp outside the studios. We fear mental health problems but they are just that, health problems. Let’s have some honesty about the pressures of modern football and talk more openly about their effect on vulnerable people. Show compassion to sufferers and offer sympathy and treatment. Above all, give them realism – don’t ask too much. The people around Gazza need to look after him. Gazza made us happy, now let’s care for him. A true Tottenham great, we owe him.
This profile of one of the finest players ever to grace the navy blue and white appeared first on http://www.sporting-heroes.net, an excellent source of pictures and information about Spurs, football and sport. Later this week, more reflections on Gazza the man.
Paul Gascoigne played football. That’s how Spurs fans know and love him. Not the World Cup tears, the media victim, the maddeningly infantile mischief, or the washed up celebrity. Forget that, because Gascoigne was simply the finest, most exhilarating talent of his generation with the capacity to astound and captivate by virtue of his sheer brilliance.
For three precious seasons, nothing else mattered. Gascoigne was a genuine rarity – a midfielder who really could do everything. When fully fit, which sadly was not consistently the case, he roamed midfield for 90 minutes, strong, alert, vigilant. Sublime passing allied with the vision to match provided rich pickings for attackers; first Waddle then Lineker prospered on a ready supply delivered with pinpoint accuracy.
In the area he snaffled chances with predatory instinct, but more frequently goals came from shots with pace and precision from around the edge or just inside the box. Free kicks were a speciality; walls were no obstacle, beaten either by power or by curling the ball in a graceful arc into the top corner.
The truly gifted stand out by their mastery of a distinctive skill, an exclusive, individual gift. Gascoigne’s was running with the ball at his feet. This was more than mere dribbling, although he could hold it close and weave a pathway through the tightest defence, both feet in total mastery of the ball. At other times, he would just collect the ball and run, characteristic 30 yard surges towards the opponent’s goal, elbows out for balance and protection, chest puffed out. Some defenders would be outwitted by ball-skill, others simply fell away as he breezed past. Then, as he approached the box he would disappear into a cluster of opponents, inexorably drawn to him, as were the eyes of every spectator, only to emerge from these seemingly insurmountable odds with the ball at his feet.
This precocious talent was already a regular for the Newcastle first team and England under-21s by the time Tottenham’s interest intensified after he scored both goals against Spurs in a 2-0 victory in January 1988, a performance the Spurs manager Terry Venables described as one of the best he had ever seen by one so young. As the season came to an end, a lacklustre Gascoigne felt unwanted by the club who had nurtured him since boyhood and as other clubs dithered Tottenham were quick to pounce, the £2.2 million fee a new club record.
Gascoigne’s talent amazed even the harshest judges of all, his fellow professionals. During his first training game at Spurs, he picked up the ball, beat 8 players and smashed the ball into the roof of the net. Everyone stood and applauded. His manager said that to see him play like that made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
In the years that followed, he would come to inspire his team-mates to greater heights, but the effects took time to emerge. His much anticipated debut was delayed for a week as over-running building works at White Hart Lane caused the opening game against Coventry to be postponed, so his opener was away to Newcastle, a 2-2 draw. The home fans were less than enthusiastic about his return. He dodged flying Mars Bars whenever he approached the touchlines, a better day for local sweetshops than Gazza, perhaps.
Gascoigne received a much warmer welcome in his first home game against arch rivals Arsenal, without delay endearing himself to the crowd with a cheeky goal. Controlling a through ball from Waddle, he lost his boot as he entered the penalty area but still managed to round the keeper and score with his stockinged right foot. However, that match was lost 3-2 and Spurs struggled to find momentum. With two points deducted because of the Coventry postponement and only a single league victory, they were bottom in the first week of November. Gazza’s career was faring better, however. His individual performances were garnering rave reviews and he made his England debut in September, coming on as a substitute against Denmark.
His next goal, a curling free kick against QPR at the end of November, inspired a comeback, Spurs drawing 2-2 after being two down at half-time. This humble point signalled a gradual upswing in fortune. One defeat in December plus the two points restored saw Spurs end the month in the safety of 9th position. Gascoigne’s free kicks were fast becoming his trademark; another swirled into the top corner against Millwall. Any significant momentum dissipated early in the New Year on a muddy Bradford pitch as Spurs went out of the cup in the 3rd round. Another trademark, the roll of midriff fat, had by now disappeared and the young man’s eye-catching individual brilliance brightened months of mid-table mediocrity. Against Norwich in February he rounded the keeper to score the first in a 2-1 victory. March saw another free-kick fly over the wall to net another three points, followed by a solo effort away to Luton. Five wins in the last seven games propelled Spurs to a final position of 6th.
Paul Gascoigne began the 1989/90 season in fine form, matched by his goalscoring. His first came in late August away to Manchester City, followed by further goals at home to Chelsea and a rebound off the post away to Norwich. The admiration earned by his growing contribution to Tottenham’s flowing football was not, however, matched by results. The defence was leaking too many goals and Spurs were one off the bottom after 6 matches, with just the opening day 2-1 success against Luton Town to show in the win column. In October Gascoigne scored in a strong 3-1 win at Charlton (his fourth goal in six league games), a characteristically direct, surging run carrying the ball from midfield, into the box, throw in two or three short strides for balance then stroked past the keeper. In similar fashion three weeks later he powered through the Southampton defence, this time finishing by taking the ball around goalkeeper Tim Flowers.
His League Cup goal against Tranmere at the end of the month proved to be his last until late April, but as the goals dried up his influence soared, for in the shape of Gary Lineker, signed in the close season from Barcelona, he now had a foil perfectly suited to exploiting his talents to the full. Not only was this supreme goal-poacher the grateful beneficiary of the full range of Gascoigne’s passing, Lineker’s movement created space for himself and for his team-mates. If he drifted wide, Paul could drive into the space. As defenders clustered around, Lineker then inserted himself into the resulting gaps. Often totally by-passing their colleagues, the understanding that lead to 26 league and cup goals for Lineker appeared remarkably prescient but the reality was more prosaic, based as it was on a system of signals. Lineker’s nod and short run towards the opponents’ goal was in fact a dummy and Gascoigne would knock the ball short, while a spinning finger gesture mimicked the striker’s spin away from his marker in pursuit of a longer ball into space behind the defence. No matter: 8 wins in the last 10 games, crowned by a memorable first half display against Manchester United when Gascoigne scored and made the other for Lineker, achieved a final league position of 3rd.
Given his head in Italia ’90, Gazza returned as the nation’s favourite son and he began the season in high spirits with a series of ebullient performances and goals to match. He scored in the opening day victory against Manchester City and against Derby he single-handedly won the game with a hat-trick, two of which were classic free kicks, from a virtually identical spot thirty yards out, differing only in that one went to Shilton’s left, the other to his right. Both were simply unstoppable, as, apparently, was Gascoigne himself, irrepressible and mesmerising in a series of dynamic displays. Hartlepool at home in the League Cup was hardly on a par with Germany, but he destroyed the visitors, scoring four in a 5-0 victory. In later rounds he notched the winner against Bradford and another versus Sheffield Utd as Spurs reached the 5th round of that competition.
After a barren spell he scored twice in December in two away defeats to Chelsea and Manchester City, his last in the League. As his powers waned, so did Tottenham’s fortunes. They fell away after a steady start, winning only two League matches in 1991 and limping home a disappointing 11th.
But his greatest impact, not merely in this season but in his Tottenham career, came in the FA Cup. After a solid away win at Blackpool in the third round, Gascoigne delivered two scintillating performances, scoring twice against Oxford, including a stunning individual effort, and again at Portsmouth in the next round, the winner coming from a long ball, a shimmy then an unstoppable left footer from the edge of the area. In round 5, at home to Notts County, he atoned for an early error with a memorable display that lifted the lifted the team, culminating in a late winner after it seemed that intense Spurs’ pressure would come to nothing.
This was Gascoigne at his finest, inspired to hitherto unknown heights by the magic of the Cup, but it is the unselfconscious energy, bravado and joy of his game that lingers in the memory. One reason perhaps why the fans loved him, because he would respond to their sense of occasion, not with trepidation but as the key to unlock his true, almost limitless potential.
Yet unbeknown to his adoring public, all the while he had been carrying a hernia injury. Injections could no longer postpone the inevitable operation. Tension mounted as Spurs approached the semi-final, no ordinary game even in their illustrious history, for this was the first such match against bitter rivals Arsenal and the first ever semi-final to take place at Wembley. Gascoigne struggled back, his only preparation was half a game in a league defeat away to Norwich; he was substituted. His fitness was confirmed only hours before kick-off but Paul, roused not deterred by such drama, did not hold back. An early free kick, thirty yards out, struck with sweet certainty into the top corner, improbable, miraculous, glorious, the fan behind this author still bitterly castigating Gascoigne for his ridiculous nerve to shoot from that distance even as the ball furled the net.
Gazza leapt in the air with unconfined joy. He set up Lineker for the second and played a full role in a 3-1 victory that many Spurs fans still prize as the most memorable performance of the modern era.
By the day of the Final against Nottingham Forest, the drama had been cranked to fever pitch. As ever at Tottenham, turbulence off the pitch proved the catalyst for the theatre that was to follow on it. Rescue from crippling debt was possible only by selling its prize asset. Gascoigne went into the game knowing that it was to be his last for the club, an £8.5m fee having been agreed with Lazio. He started frantically, but this time the burden of expectation proved too great. An utterly reckless early challenge on Garry Parker went unpunished but signalled danger ahead. Later the referee reflected that had he been booked then, he may have calmed down. As it was, a few minutes later another dangerous high lunge at the edge of the box left Gazza and full-back Gary Charles in a heap. After treatment, Paul rose gingerly to his feet, only to see Stuart Pearce score from the resulting free kick.
Lucky not to be sent off, Gascoigne departed instead on a stretcher, an ignominious end to his Tottenham career, although Spurs went on to a 2-1 triumph after extra time. His victorious team-mates joined him at his hospital bed for the celebrations. The resulting injury meant a year out of the game, with the transfer to Lazio eventually going ahead, for a reduced fee of £5.5m. Although he was relatively successful in Italy, where he remains extremely popular with the Lazio fans, he never quite regained the excellence of his best Tottenham performances. For Spurs fans of a certain generation, Paul is but one thing, a true great who graced their colours with moments of genius. It was an honour and a privilege to watch him play.