When you say the name Paul Gascoigne, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? Those tears in Italia ’90? His amazing volley against Scotland in Euro ’96 and subsequent dentist’s chair celebration? When he ruptured his knee ligaments during the FA Cup Final against Nottingham Forest in 1991? His ability and some of his thunderbolt goals?
Or is it when he turned up to comfort murderer Raoul Moat with a fishing rod and a bucket of chicken? His boozing with best friend Jimmy ‘five bellies’? When he ‘booked’ the referee during his Rangers days? When Vinnie Jones grabbed his testicles? Or the much-publicised alcoholism and family problems that have blighted Gazza throughout his life?
Gascoigne's career has always been touched with genius yet plagued with controversy and injuries. He came from a working-class background in Gateshead and had a love of football from the age of four. At the age of 13 he joined Newcastle as an apprentice and three years later, in 1983, had signed for them. He captained the youth team in 1984/85, who went on to win the F.A. Youth Cup.
His debut for Newcastle came as a substitute against Queens Park Rangers in April 1985 and it was on Tyneside where Gascoigne began to really establish himself. He was a tenacious, gutsy midfielder who was strong with sublime attacking flair. In the 1987/88 season he was crowned Barclays Young Player of the Year and had attracted the attention of several clubs, notably Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur. Although he was a Geordie through and through, Gascoigne thought the time was right for a transfer to further his career. He had scored 25 goals for Newcastle in 107 appearances, and was sold to Tottenham in the summer of 1988 for a British transfer record of £2.3 million.
By this time, Gascoigne had attracted the attentions of Bobby Robson, the then-manager of the English national team. He called up Gascoigne and played him in a friendly against Denmark in September 1988. The midfielder became a main feature in England's first team for the Italia 1990 World Cup qualifying campaign.
The World Cup Italia 1990 catapulted Gascoigne into the limelight. He had enjoyed a successful debut season at White Hart Lane and went on to be the epicenter of England's successful progression to the semi-finals, assisting in goals and scoring himself.
However it wasn't particularly a football memory that saw Gascoigne grab headlines. During England's semi-final against West Germany, Gascoigne fouled Thomas Berthold and was subsequently booked. Having been previously booked in England's 1-0 win against Belgium in the group stages, the realisation that Gascoigne would miss the final due to suspension was immediate and the Geordie began to sob uncontrollably. Despite the fact that England failed to reach the final, it was his most defining image: dubbed ‘the tears of a clown', this event along with his impressive form at the World Cup marked the birth of a media and football phenomenon- Gazza.
In the 1990/91 season, Gazza enjoyed a second successive term at Spurs, helping them reach the F.A. Cup final by scoring six goals, the most famous being a 35 yard screamer against Arsenal in a 3-1 victory. But it was during the final, against Nottingham Forest, where Gazza suffered a major setback in his career. After he committed a heavy tackle on Forest's Gary Charles, Gazza collapsed in agony on the pitch. He was rushed to hospital, where it was revealed that he had damaged the cruciate ligaments in his knee. It was a massive blow: Gazza had already agreed a £8.5 million transfer to Italian giants Lazio and had seen the F.A. Cup final as his ideal farewell from Spurs. Instead, the emotional Geordie missed the entire 1991/92 season.
The remainder of his career was inconsistent and plagued with injuries. His transfer to Lazio eventually went ahead for £5.5 million and he made his debut against Genoa in September 1992. He also scored a memorable equaliser in the Rome derby. Yet he broke his cheekbone and a year later broke his leg- resulting in him missing the majority of the 1994/95 season. During his time on the sidelines Gazza suffered from depression and weight gain, and numbed the pain of missing out on playing football with alcohol and substances.
Despite this, Gazza recovered and in July 1995 moved to Glasgow Rangers in a £4.3 million move. He enjoyed a successful spell in Scotland, helping Rangers to win the league with a hat trick against Aberdeen, and the Scottish Cup. He also won the Players' Player of the Year and the Football Writers' Player of the Year awards. In the 1996/97 season his midfield trickery and determination helped Rangers once again win the league and the Scottish Cup, again.
On the international front, Gazza was reunited with Terry Venables, his former manager at Spurs, and he became a key figure in the England team in Euro 1996. In the game against Scotland, he score one of the most outstanding goals of his career, flicking the ball over Colin Hendry and placing a right foot volley past Andy Goram. His following ‘Dentist's Chair' celebration went down in football folklore.
He inspired England to a 4-1 victory against the Netherlands in the quarter-final, and in the semi-final against Germany he almost scored the winner, narrowly missing out on converting Shearer's cross. Once again, the tears made an appearance as England again went out on penalties. But, despite helping England once again to qualification in the 1998 World Cup, Gazza was left out of Glenn Hoddle's final squad. Gazza was incensed and was rumoured to cause a substantial amount of damage to Hoddle's room after he went to confront him.
Gazza played out the rest of his career with variable success at Middlesbrough, Everton and Burnley. He also had trials at D.C. United, Wolves and made four appearances for Gansu Tianma. In 2004 and 2005 he also experimented in management at Boston United, Kettering Town and Algarve United. But the offers dried up and Gazza reluctantly went into retirement.
On the pitch, he was an exceptionally gifted individual who had a completely devoted passion and desire for football that drove him through his entire life. Off it, he was dogged with scandal; alcoholism, a surprise pop career (‘Fog on the Tyne' reached number two in the charts), substance and domestic abuse and more recently, eccentricity. The Raoul Moat episode was greatly publicised: at 2010 he turned up at the scene of a stand-off between police and a gun-wielding Moat. Gazza claimed he was a friend of Moats and had brought him ‘a can of lager, some chicken, a fishing rod, a Newcastle shirt and a dressing gown’. Police wouldn’t let him through to see Moat and the news quickly made national media headlines.He was deeply affected by the deaths of close family members and friends during his childhood but had vowed to honour their memories through his action on the pitch.
Paul Gascoigne is an ordinary man who lived, slept and breathed football. He enjoyed a flamboyant and extravagant lifestyle off the pitch but this ultimately affected his form and hindered the credibility of his career. But Gazza was a prodigy. His love of football surpassed anything else in his life. His talent and capabilities have left a void in the England midfield, one that will take somebody just as special and gifted to fill.