Tag Archives: Gazza

What Is Moneybags Football Doing to Save Gazza? – by Rob Atkinson

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Gazza in his heyday

Sometimes in your football-supporting life, you see a player in the opposition ranks who is simply different gravy. Partisanship or no, you just have to acknowledge genius when you see it and, if you’ve any appreciation at all for the Beautiful Game, you simply applaud talent and ability the like of which we see all too rarely.

As a Leeds United fan, I’ve had this bittersweet experience uncomfortably often. Bitter, because – let’s face it – you’re there above all to see the white shirts prevail, and some pesky genius in the other camp can be a big problem. But sweet, because we all know, deep down, that this is what football is all about; a talent that eclipses more mundane performers and makes your soul sing for what this game can be.

I’ve seen a few of these over the years at Elland Road. Johan Cruyff, so recently taken from us, lit up my first evening match at Elland Road in 1975, albeit in a losing cause. Sadly, I never saw George Best play (and he spent most games against Leeds in Paul Reaney‘s back pocket anyway) – but I did see a man who could match him for talent and for that mystical ability to take a game away from you. Sadly, he also matches the late George for the tendency to self destruct. And, if the current situation isn’t checked sooner rather than later, we shall tragically see Paul Gascoigne – Gazza of blessed daft-as-a-brush memory – follow Georgie Best into a needlessly early grave.

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Troubled Gazza now – road to disaster?

There isn’t much doubt that Gazza’s potentially fatal weakness for the booze makes him the lead author of his own misfortune. It’s also true to say that anyone in that downward spiral of addictive behaviour really needs to find, if possible, the willpower to break out of the prison they’re building for themselves. But that’s frequently easier said than done, and some of the brightest stars, the most transcendent genius performers, are eggshell personalities, lacking the intrinsic strength and resilience to fight the demons inside their own skulls. In that situation, outside care and intervention is needed; somebody needs to help. So who can, or should, help Gazza?

The former star is not without support. He has friends in the game, people who stay in touch with him and worry about him. But I can’t help feeling that the wider entity of football in this country could be seen to be doing more, for Gazza, and for less illustrious but comparable cases. The tragedy of Best is still clear in the memory, but there have been others who used to bask in the sunshine of fame and worship from the terraces who, once their star fell, found the world a bleak and friendless place they simply wanted to quit. Hughie Gallacher, like Gazza a former Newcastle star, was another who felt lonely and hopeless enough to walk, in a boozy stupor, in front of a train in 1957, rather than face what his life had become after football.

The thing about Gazza is that the current, wealth-laden state of the game he entered as a chubby lad in the early eighties owes much to the way he lit up the Italia ’90 World Cup. That tournament, with Gascoigne’s flashes of genius and iconic tears, did much to redeem the game of football from what had been a decade of disaster in the 1980s. Football, ably assisted by the Geordie genius, recovered from virtual social unacceptability to become once more the game everyone was talking about. Everyone wanted a piece of soccer, and its stars. And no star shone brighter in the football firmament than Paul “Gazza” Gascoigne.

Such was the new appeal and cachet of football that it was judged ripe for rebranding in this country. It became A Whole New Ball Game as Murdoch and Sky bought the TV rights to a massive chunk of it and, 25 years on, the money is still rolling in unabated. A lot of that is down to that period of Gazzamania in the early 90s, and that – as much as anything beyond common humanity – is the reason why football, and the likes of Tottenham Hotspur, Newcastle United, Rangers and Everton in particular, must be seen to be doing more to help.

So money-stuffed is the game that was once a working-class opera, that ticket prices have become almost incidental to club income at the top level. And yet still, the matchgoing public pays through the nose. They, too, have a right to see some of their money devoted to former stars fallen on hard times or, indeed, in danger of complete dissolution. Surely any Spurs or Newcastle fan would feel it appropriate for their club, served so well back in the day by a man now in crisis, to step in and provide real help, a safe environment and a solid support network for somebody in such imminent danger of sinking out of sight.

Everyone knows that there’s only so much you can do for a person seemingly plummeting towards self-destruction. But the duty to try as hard as possible, to do as much as possible, remains, whatever the chances of success. Especially for someone like Gazza, who gave so much pleasure in his heyday, who made so many smile or laugh with his hare-brained nuttiness, who helped so much to enable the rude health of the game today by the display of his peerless genius for clubs and country.

It’s not too late to save Gazza, surely. But it may well soon be. Over to you, football.

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New Fears for Gazza After Latest “Drunken Assault” Charge

Gazza: Slippery Slope?

Gazza: Slippery Slope?

There are uncomfortable parallels between the slippery slope Paul Gascoigne now finds himself on – a slope he started to slide down at a Wembley Cup Final in 1991 – and the decline and ultimately tragic death of another flawed genius, George Best. It’s not the happiest comparison to make, but perhaps it’s a message that needs to be spoken loudly and repeatedly, directly into the ear of the legendary Gazza, in the hope that he may yet be saved from the process of self-destruction he appears to be unswervingly set on. The news today that he’s been arrested over an incident involving drink and violence is no great surprise – but it IS cause for extreme concern.

Gazza was undoubtedly the finest talent of his generation, but like so many footballers and other artists gifted with supernatural skill of one sort or another, he seems fatally lacking lacking in anything approaching a safe level of common sense. Those identical words could have been written and published in the 1970’s, substituting only the legend of Gazza for the legend of Bestie. The similarities between the two are uncanny, both in terms of raw ability and irrepressible personality when things were going well. Sadly, the tendency towards addiction to factors which are the enemies of health and well-being seems another element ominously common to both.

George Best of course ultimately fell victim to his fatal attraction to booze and died an early and tragic death following the raising of hopes after a liver transplant. George was unable to leave the drink alone even after such a very final warning, and his demise followed as night follows day. There was a time when he had it all, of course – but it’s tempting to believe he might have wished to trade some of those trappings and achievements for a few more healthy years on the planet. Famously, a hotel employee once walked in to witness George surrounded by champagne bottles in his luxury suite, happily relaxing in bed with at least two Miss Worlds and the humble functionary sighed, without any apparent sense of irony, “George, George – where did it all go wrong?” It was funny at the time, as was Best’s quote when asked what he did with his money. “I spent loads on wine, women and song – but quite easy on the song – and the rest I just squandered,” he replied. Again, it’s pithy – but the humour shrivels away to nothing when you remember how he ended up in an early grave.

Is Gazza inevitably headed for a tragically similar fate? His health has been a matter of public concern for some time now, and again he seems totally unable to leave the booze alone despite repeated warnings that he’s drinking his health and possibly his life away. It’s not too difficult to pinpoint the start of Gazza’s descent – rewind back to the FA Cup Final of 1991, Spurs v Forest. A pumped-up Gascoigne had already perpetrated an ugly, early, chest-high foul on Garry Parker of Forest – a challenge which went unpunished by referee Roger Milford, but which could so easily have been a red card. Then, still high as a kite on Cup Final adrenalin, Gazza scythed down Gary Charles to concede a free-kick on the edge of the area. Forest actuallly took the lead from the resultant free-kick as Stuart Pearce hammered home – but the price for Gascoigne was even higher. He had ruptured knee ligaments in fouling Charles, and had to leave the field on a stretcher.

To many minds, he was never quite the same player again, even though his subsequent career still hit some major heights. Who knows what difference an early red card for the first foul might have made? Gazza would have avoided that calamitous injury and perhaps come much closer to fulfilling his outstanding potential – and maybe his life post-football would have been less of a horror show. No blame attaches to Roger Milford for his evident misjudgement – referees have no insight into the future.

Since his retirement, Gazza’s life has been a catalogue of calamity, culminating in this latest arrest and charge of alcohol-fuelled misconduct. That he is still drinking is a worrying signpost to the fate suffered by George Best, and if he fails to conquer this demon, it is difficult to see a bright future for the Clown Prince of the 80’s and 90’s. Daft as a brush, Bobby Robson called him, and there’s little reason to dispute that. But surely someone needs to take Gazza in hand and steer him away from a fate that Bestie could eloquently warn him all about, if only he were alive to do so. Someone, somewhere, has to make sure that history doesn’t repeat itself. Someone has to save Gazza from himself.