Paul 'Gazza' Gascoigne

“If he were ordinary, he would play ordinary football. Paul Gascoigne is an extraordinary footballer – it is hardly surprising that he is an extraordinary man.” Simon Barnes, The Times, 1998.

“I don’t want to be rude, but I think that when God gave him this enormous footballing talent, he took his brain out at the same time.” Tony Banks, Minister for Sport, 1997.

That lad is as daft as a brush.” Sir Bobby Robson

Paul Gascoigne was a one-off, probably the most talented and loved British player of his generation. His childlike innocence, spontaneity and recklessness delighted as much as any other sportsmen in history. For every enthralling triumph though, there was a tragedy to match it. And more often than not, it was one brought about by Gazza himself, and his inescapable self-destructive nature. He enchanted fans across the world with his footballing skills and humorous antics, but behind the perpetual grin was a very troubled man. There is no doubt though, that Gazza remains one of the most captivating and magnetic sportsmen of all time.

Gazza started off at Newcastle United, a chubby 16 year old Geordie lad with an irrepressible comic-strip grin and a body like a bag of compost. As a trainee at the club, he once ‘borrowed’ Kevin Keegan’s boots to take to school to show his mates, but lost one on the way home, spending the night crying at the bus depot with his dad, terrified of angering his hero. It wasn’t long before he became an established figure at the club however, playing pranks on his team mates rather than fearing them. When new signing Mirandinha asked Gazza to help him learn English, he was promptly sent into a chip shop armed with the phrase “I’d like some hairy fanny, please.” Gazza also enjoyed winding up team-mate Tony Cunningham, booking him endless series of sunbed sessions while he was at the club. Cunningham is black, of course. Gazza once wound up hard man Vinnie Jones so much in a match against Wimbledon that Vinnie resorted to grabbing him by the bollocks.

Vinnie Jones: Footballer, actor and scrotum fiddler
Gazza’s performances on the pitch for Newcastle were exemplary, but it was also at this early stage of his career that signs that something wasn’t quite right with Paul began to emerge. He had first experienced a death close to home when a brother of one of his friends was run over right in front of him when he was a child; and when Gazza was seventeen another of his close friends was killed in an accident. He felt partly responsible for both deaths, and it was around his seventeenth year that Paul began to develop various nervous tics that he was unable to shake off for the rest of his life. He was constantly worried about his weight and the effect that carrying any extra pounds would have on his career, but ate junk food compulsively then made himself sick it back up. He hated being on his own, which led him to forging his friendship with Jimmy ‘Five Bellies’, a portly Geordie who has rarely left Gazza’s side since they met during his days as an apprentice at Newcastle.

Jimmy was a target for Gazza’s pranks as much as he was a companion. During the thirty-odd years they have known each other, Gazza has paid Jimmy to let him shoot his bare arse with an air rifle, conned him into eating some mince pies after he had scraped out the filling and replaced it with shit, and set him up with a ‘girl’ he knew to be a local transvestite, to name but a few.

"She was a man, Gazza you bastard! Got any more of those pies?"
Whilst Gazza’s star was rising, Newcastle appeared to be a club in decline. Bigger clubs began making inquiries about signing him, including Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United and Terry Venables’ Tottenham. Gazza verbally agreed to sign for United, and Ferguson went on holiday certain that he had acquired England’s hottest young player. While he was away however, the spontaneous Gazza had his head turned by Spurs, who agreed to buy a house for his parents, and he signed for them in the summer of 1988 for a £2m transfer fee.

Many have speculated that had Gazza been taken under Ferguson’s wing and benefitted from the kind of guidance that players likeBeckham, Giggs and Scholes received, he may have conquered the demons that haunted him throughout his life and made the most of his remarkable talent.  Alex Ferguson wrote in his 1999 autobiography “It is my belief that if he had signed for United he would not have had nearly as many problems as he had in London.  I know managing him would have been no joyride, but the hazards that went with the talent would never have put me off...To this day I regret being denied the chance to help him make better use than he did of his prodigious abilities.”

When he first moved to London with Tottenham, Gazza and his small entourage lived in the West Lodge Park Hotel. They were forced to leave only a few days after arriving however, when, after a long session on the champagne, Gazza persuaded Jimmy Five Bellies to have a skinny dip in the hotel fish pond, in full view of the other guests. Gazza was then moved to the Swallow Hotel, where he became so friendly with the staff that he used to sit in when they interviewed for new employees. Not every member of staff was fond of him though; Gazza spotted one young man round the back of the hotel in a compromising position with a young girl, his trousers round his ankles. Without wasting any time, Gazza fetched his trusty air rifle and shot the young man in the arse. The story found its way into the Sun.

It was at the 1990 World Cup that Gazza cemented his place as an international star, and endeared himself to the English public. He maintains that his time away with the England team was some of the happiest he’s ever had, but he was still unable to keep out of mischief with his international pals. He was invited aboard Doug Ellis’ yacht shortly after England’s victory over Cameroon, and following a few drinks, decided to leap on the back of Gary Lineker’s wife Michelle, as a ‘friendly gesture.’ Understandably startled, Michelle lost her footing and the two of them tumbled overboard. Luckily, once Gary had got over the shock of seeing a young Geordie maniac barrel his wife into the ocean, he took the incident in good humour.
In the semi-final against West Germany, Gazza’s lunge at Germany’s Thomas Berthold earned him a yellow card. He’d already been booked earlier in the tournament, so this one meant that should England get to the final, they’d have to win it without him.  Gazza began to cry uncontrollably on the pitch. This display of raw emotion and passion was beamed to an audience of millions back in England, and the nation immediately fell in love with the young midfielder.

On returning home, the England team were greeted by 100,000 fans at the airport. Gazza was handed a pair of fake plastic breasts by one fan, and of course immediately put them on. Soon Gascoigne was recording his own hit singles and hanging out with Rod Stewart. ‘Gazzamania’ had begun.

In 1991, Spurs found themselves in financial trouble and were forced to sell their best players, Gazza included. The club agreed on an £8.5 million pound transfer deal with Lazio in Italy, just ahead of Tottenham’s FA Cup Final game against Nottingham Forest. Gazza was determined to end his Spurs career on a high, and found himself even more wound up than usual before the game. After just 17 minutes of play, he scythed down Forest’s Craig Charles and managed to shatter the cruciate ligament in his own right knee. Tottenham won the cup, but their talismanic superstar wouldn’t play again for 16 months. Gazza had done as much as anyone to get Spurs to the final, including this sensational goal against Arsenal in the semis, but he received his winners medal in a hospital bed.

The move to Lazio still went ahead at a reduced transfer fee; and after months of intense physio work, Gascoigne was ready for Serie A football.  He immediately endeared himself to his new team mates, breaking the ice early on by sneaking a dead snake into Roberto Di Matteo’s jacket pocket. According to Gascoigne’s autobiography, Di Matteo “went apeshit.”

The Lazio fans also fell in love with Gazza, but it was a different story with the Italian press, whom he ran afoul of on numerous occasions. It began with an incident during a game against Juventus, for which Gazza was injured, and therefore watching from the stands. TV reporters were soon sticking cameras and microphones at him, and Gazza responded by burping loudly into one. He didn’t realise that he was being televised live to the nation. The belch made front pages all over the country and was even raised in parliament.

Gazza was rarely out of the Italian papers for his off-field antics. On New Year’s Eve he took his wife Sheryl to a restaurant in Rome, and showed the waiter which lobster he wanted in their huge tank. The staff took their time in fishing it from the tank, so Gazza, bored of waiting, dived in right in front of the other diners. He was in his best suit, but managed to wrestle the lobster out of the tank and take it to the kitchen. “There’s the fucker I want!” he told them, and ate it sitting in his dripping tuxedo.

In October 1992, Gazza was picked by England’s Graham Taylor for a World Cup qualifier against Norway at Wembley. Just before the game he was grabbed by a Norwegian TV crew and asked if he would say a few words to Norway. Gazza grinned and said, “Yeah, fuck off Norway!” He received hate mail from the Nordics for months.

In 1994, Gazza broke his leg in two places whilst training with Lazio and missed over a year of football. He began to feel depressed and homesick, so in 1995 he signed for Glasgow Rangers. As usual, he won over the fans with his dazzling displays on the pitch and outrageous antics. On one occasion, the referee dropped his yellow card on the pitch and Gazza snatched it up and pretended to book him. Once the card was returned, referee Dougie Smith promptly booked him for real. Gazza also hid three trout in team mate Gordon Drury’s car, which he was unable to find. The smell became so bad that the car had to be scrapped.

Rangers finished top of the table in Gazza’s first season and he won player of the Year in Scotland, but these triumphs were more than outweighed by tragedies in his personal life. He was accused of rape by a young girl following an incident months before, while he was separated from Sheryl. She was later found to be lying when her own friends testified against her, but the accusations more than took a toll on Gazza as he waited for the case to go to court. He fell into an agitated depression, drinking more and more, and began to experience blinding headaches that he attempted to counter with obscene amounts of painkillers.

Paul’s wife gave birth to their son, Regan, in February 1996, but Gazza had driven up to Newcastle in a drunken panic following a row with her. He had been drinking for three days when he read in the paper that he’d had a baby, finding out his son’s name and how much he weighed for the first time. After two weeks of hiding away, Gazza finally went back down to the South and met his son. The birth of Regan brought the family back together, and mother and son joined Gazza up in Scotland. For a while, everything was going well; he was with his family, injury free and enjoying his football. Most importantly, he was distracted enough to stay off the booze.
Gazza was selected for England’s Euro 96 squad, and joined the rest of the team for their warm-up matches in Hong Kong and China. Following their games, the teams went to a quiet bar to unwind. The night was rounded off with Gazza doing the “dentist’s chair” - lying down on a table while Dennis Wise and Teddy Sheringham chucked tequila and drambuie down his neck. One of the barmen had managed to take a few photos, which were splashed all over the papers the next day.

England had a fairly successful campaign in the tournament, and Gazza crafted one of the most memorable goals and celebrations ever seen against Scotland. He received the ball on the edge of the Scotland box, artfully flicked it over Colin Hendry with his left, then smashed it past Rangers team mate Andy Goram with his right. Gazza then skidded past the goal line on his back, while Alan Shearer and the rest of his team mates squirted Lucozade into his mouth, mimicking the now notorious dentist’s chair. It was a ten second showcase of both sublime talent and playful idiocy that summed Gazza up perfectly.

As with most events in Gazza’s life, these triumphs had to be matched with disaster, the catalyst being his own behaviour. In October 1996, he took his family to Gleneagles for a short break and had a blazing row with Sheryl. Gazza ended up headbutting his wife and throwing her to the floor. The next day she left with the children, insisting that she wouldn’t come back.

Gazza’s mental state began to decline quickly following this horrific incident. He started stealing painkillers from the Rangers medical room, and was labelled a “wife-beater” by fans, who taunted him relentlessly during matches. His drinking became worse and he became dependent on sleeping pills.

Gazza left Rangers in 1998 and signed for Middlesborough for £3.45million. He helped them to promotion to the Premiership, and then travelled to La Manga with Glenn Hoddle’s provisional England World Cup Squad. Hoddle decided against including Gazza in his final squad for France ’98, and Gazza responded to the news by smashing up his apartment, having to be restrained by team mates Paul Ince and David Seaman. Gazza never played for England again.

Shortly after the beginning of the next season, another of Gazza’s close friends, David Cheek, died in his sleep. Following his death, Gascoigne began having blackouts, drinking copious amounts and taking outrageous amounts of painkillers, sleeping pills and anti-depression tablets. Following a desperate call to Sheryl, she phoned his manager and close friend Bryan Robson. Robson immediately drove from Middlesborough to Hertfordshire, picked up Gazza and took him to the Priory.

Gazza signed for Everton, and later Burnley. He had a brief stint with Gansu Tianma, in the Chinese B-League, but the move quickly turned sour. He joined Conference North side Kettering as manager, but left after just six games and accusations of constant drunkenness.

In July 2010, Gazza unwittingly turned tragedy into farce, in what was perhaps the most bizarre moment in an already extraordinary life. Following a stand-off between police and Newcastle bouncer Raoul Moat, wanted for the shooting of three people, Gazza showed up with "can of lager, some chicken, and a fishing rod.” He claimed that he was good friends with ‘Moaty’ and would be able to help him.

Gazza clearly wasn’t a well man. He finally sought help and ended up at the Providence rehab centre in Bournemouth, where he is well looked after.

I don’t know if any of us have a right to pity Gascoigne, but one thing we should certainly do is celebrate him. He was both a footballing genius, and an extraordinary character. Gazza is what happens when you bless a man with both wonderful sporting talent and the playful naivety of a child. His displays on the pitch dazzled, but his career was blighted by injuries that allowed his demons to overcome him. His self-destructive nature harmed those around him and damaged Gazza beyond repair, but it is still impossible to forget those glimpses of magic he exhibited throughout his career. We can only hope that he manages to regain his strength and banish the personal demons that have haunted him all his life, while we honour one of England’s all time footballing greats.
By George Odling


  1. Gazza the best,life is fucking boring so thanks for gazzas honesty and charisma,god bless this first among englishmen.

  2. Shame that alcohol was so hard on Gazza