Schoolboy’s Own Stuff

17 Oct

My heart stops every time I hear the phrase on the news: “Ex-England star, Paul Gascoigne…”. It happened again last Monday with the reports that Gazza had been arrested once again for driving over the limit. It was an almost throwaway remark by the newsreader, coming as it did after the ongoing farce that Liverpool’s protracted sale had become and the increasingly frosty atmosphere that has been descending upon Old Trafford as Sir Alex and the wayward Wayne Rooney ratchet up their levels of public relations brinkmanship. Gazza being drunk. Again. It’s become such a regular occurrence that whenever it happens, the public raises its collective eyebrows and dismisses it as yet another self-destructive incident in the life of a ‘national treasure’ who has been sadly spiralling into a vortex of self-destruction for nigh-on two decades now. He’s newsworthy but only in the sense that we feel that he deserves an honorary mention simply because we feel we owe it to him for all the years past.

I dread that moment when it comes. That moment when Gazza isn’t just a figure of fun; for us to mock on self-loathing panel shows for his ‘madcap’ friendship with the likes of Raoul Moat or his sad attempts to forge a successful managerial career. Or when he transcends the pity we heap upon him with our lamentations for his squandered talent and inability to accept that he will never be the player he was. The moment I dread is the moment that tells us that Paul Gascoigne has been found dead, closely followed by graphic descriptions of the destituteness he found himself in in his latter day incarnation as a public morality play. We’ve seen it all before; George Best, Alex Higgins. But if and when it happens to Gazza, we’ll all have to look at ourselves and seriously question why we allowed someone who quite clearly has suffered from mental health issues throughout his life, go so long without clearly and forcefully being given the treatment and empathy, he so clearly has always needed. Yes, he’s a grown man and he should be allowed to be the master of his own destiny. But he is also a vulnerable, exceptionally talented individual who has provided so many of us with some of the most exquisite memories of our footballing childhoods. Gazza’s tears. Gazzamania. Gazza ‘getting his suit measured’. Gazza vs Scotland. On and on it goes. So when we’re tempted to denigrate his present predicament with either shrugs or more pathetically chortles, let’s just think that this man has lived a life in the public eye, unprepared to internalise and articulate the pressures so foisted upon such unpredictable shoulders.

Gascoigne’s playing days straddled both eras of the modern game. He came to prominence in the late 80s when the game was riddled by heavy-drinkers and overtly masculine players and fans who had no sentiment for anybody considered to be deviating from a template of hatchet men and working-class outlooks. With his tears at Italia ’90, he inadvertently paved the way for the metrosexuality of David Beckham and made it acceptable for women and social commentators to show a passion for the game. But even with that, he was mocked and the seedily iconic image of his testicles being gripped in the vice of Vinnie Jones’ hands has become a metaphor for the japery of boys playing a man’s game rather than being interpreted as the actions of the proverbial school bully seeking to destroy and intimidate the natural, instinctive playing genius of a man blessed with infinitely more talent. It’s an easy step to imagine the same image being reproduced with the equally thuggish John Terry examining Cristiano Ronaldo’s nether regions with such scrutiny.

Gazza, was and always will be my childhood hero. Along with Gary Lineker, he represented everything that I found magical about the game. And whereas Lineker provided the model for how I wanted myself to be perceived on the football field or on the playground (urbane, respectful, unassuming), it was always Gazza who fired my schoolboy’s imagination. Many players have delighted me with their talents in the intervening years but it is these two men who, even in my early thirties, envelope me in a childish warm glow whenever they appear on the screen. Match of the Day may have become a self-serving talking shop of bland cliches but whenever Lineker gives a wry acknowledgment to Spurs’s progress after Alan Hansen’s cynical asides, I feel that he’s talking to me and every other manchild who grew up watching him play at White Hart Lane in the early ’90s. Similarly, whenever Gascoigne is wheeled out to be a guest pundit on MOTD2 on some such highlights package, all I want to do is reach out and give the man a huge hug because it’s clear that with every wistful reminiscence about his glory days from a well-meaning anchorman, a little piece of him is slowly lost; because unlike Lineker, this is a man who was born to do nothing other than play football. Beautifully. As the years pass, Gascoigne’s decline becomes ever more sadder to observe even from this distance. I long to see him find some peace, whether that be through coaching youngster, as an ambassador for the game in some capacity or just being offered the help he so clearly needs in able to be able to function with some semblance of normality. Surely all of us, having feasted on his talent and mishaps throughout the last twenty years owe him that?

The image that so clearly personifies the dichotomy of the two players I so fanatically idolised as a boy, is the shot of Lineker motioning to the bench after Gazza has received the fatal second yellow card against West Germany that would have kept him out of the Final. As the lip began to quiver, Lineker mouthed, “have a word”. Before it’s too late, I hope that somebody, somewhere has the humanity to actually follow through with that sentiment. I can’t bear another one of those news reports.

6 Responses to “Schoolboy’s Own Stuff”

  1. SpursSimon October 17, 2010 at 20:46 #

    An excellent read, and echoes my feelings exactly.
    Every time his name is on the news, or now on Twitter etc there is that instant “Is it this time?” moment, as we all know it is going to happen.
    The one point I always make on this topic – where the hell are hid “friends” during these incidents. Which of his mates drove him to the Moat siege?
    Why aren’t they helping him?

    He has been failed by his clubs and friends in life, and it is a great shame.

  2. Jim Dimond October 18, 2010 at 11:24 #

    Thanks Greg – spot on analysis.

    As a Spurs fan I’m grateful to Gazza for single-handedly hauling us to the FA Cup Final in 1991 with the club on the verge of bankruptcy and needing to win at all costs. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such a stressful, nervous 90 minutes which, of course, Gazza himself exacerbated with his reckless tackles in the opening minutes, inviting the referee to use the red card.

    The other side of the Gazza coin is the 35 yard free kick he scored against that lot from Woolwich in the semi final that had me jumping for joy in wild celebration.

    Let’s hope Gazza finds peace of mind, health and happiness before its too late.

  3. Steve HUghes October 18, 2010 at 11:43 #

    Good blog. The Gazza disaster feels like it’s been going on forever. It’s always sad when someone who is so loved (and especially when he’s a childhood hero) becomes such a mess. I fear you’re right and that you’ll wake up one day and he’ll be gone way too young. Gazza has no doubt been let down by others throughout his career. He wasn’t given the kid gloves treatment that other young stars would receive these days, and his child-like naivety – when everyone in the country wanted to buy him a drink – led him down an almost inevitable path. So-called mates who wanted to be best friends with the most famous player in England have come and gone in their droves. However to suggest he hasn’t been given chances is not quite right. Plenty of people have “had a word”. He’s been in and out of the country’s most expensive rehab centres for years now. Whatever you may think of his ex-wife (who he beat black and blue), even she’s given him plenty of chances. He is – according to many – a horrible man when he’s drunk. It’s the same with Best and Maradona. One of the most charming blokes you could meet until he’d had too many. He was loved and supported (probably more so than Gazza) but even when he got a new liver he drank himself to death. Certain people in life overcome their demons despite the difficulty, and this evokes admiration, in a way. There are countless rock stars who have led headlong destructive lives before turning it around. However, do they lose the very characters that made them loveable? Probably. Unfortunately for Gazza and Best their character does not allow them to enjoy ‘normality’. The childlike naivety of Gazza, which is killing him now, is also what made him such an adorable character on the pitch. If he was a normal bloke we wouldn’t be talking about him now. Examine closely all the heroes in life – be it sports stars, film stars or musicians – and the very best ones will almost always suffer terrible personal flaws. Unfortunately for Gazza, the particular aspects of his character (the fact he has a tendency to rock up in the local pub) mean his miserable existence is being played out in public. It’s easy to say it shouldn’t be happening and he needs help. It’s much more difficult to work out exactly how this can be achieved.

  4. Kevin McDougall October 18, 2010 at 17:56 #

    Beautiful piece Greg really enjoyed reading that.

    I do agree with Steve on his point though, ‘Gazza’ has had a lot of chances and has (I think) already been sectioned under the mental health act (could be wrong there). If you look at him from a sober perspective then he his character is truly-awful.

    Yes his friends/clubs/family etc should look after him but ultimately he is a grown man who has played football across the globe. He has to take responsibility for his own actions at some point.

    It will be a sad day when Gazza passes away, but really I think the light went out when he challenged Gary Charles that day at Wembley.

  5. AstroGirl October 18, 2010 at 22:28 #

    So much do I empathise with what you are saying about Spurs and the magic of those years that the picture at the bottom has got me all sniffly.

    Must be something in my eye.

    Thanks for a great post.

  6. Steve HUghes October 22, 2010 at 11:13 #

    Oh dear. It’s like a prophecy. Gazza arrested for class A drugs possession……

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