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.