Paul Gascoigne, arguably one of the most gifted players of his generation turned 53 on May, the 27th. Here is an article which I have written for a site that has gone idle, and felt that it was good enough to be posted here.
By 1988, it was pretty obvious that Paul Gascoigne had already outgrown Newcastle and the entire North East altogether. In his palm, he has the hottest signature in English football at that point, so moving to a bigger club was inevitable. The question now is where?
On one hand, there was Sir Alex Ferguson who was building a dynasty at Old Trafford. Of course, Manchester United wasn’t yet the team they were about to become in the following decade. But Sir Alex has envisioned and recognized what quality a player of Gazza’s stature can do for his team.
On the other, it was Tottenham Hotspur, who were too building a new chapter under Terry Venables. The gaffer has just returned to English football from Barcelona almost a year earlier. Venables needed a signing like Gascoigne to galvanize the North London side who have been struggling in the league. Thus, it would take a lot more than just a mere football talk to persuade Gazza to join him. United had the promising team, but Venables knew exactly where to hit the right spot that swung Gazza into his favour.
For Gazza, family was everything. He didn’t play football so that he could fulfill his dream on the pitch but also to provide a better life for his mom, dad and siblings. This is the part where I felt Sir Alex missed out the most and did the trick for Venables.
Venables managed to persuade the owner to sign Gazza for a British record £2.2 million. Part of the deal also includes a home for his family. All of this despite the club having to deal with mounting debts. Venables knew it was all going to be worth it in the long run.
I often ask myself, how things would have been different if Gazza had signed for Manchester United. Perhaps, the fortune of one of football’s most colourful yet tortured souls would have turned out differently. For us as football fans, this will continue to remain as of one the greatest what ifs in football.
Now Venables has got the man he wanted, it was time to launch an assault on the league’s aristocrat. Ironically, Spurs first game of the season was away to Newcastle. Gazza couldn’t make an impact in front of the crowd that used to worship him in the past. He was substituted as the visitors were down by two goals. Luckily Spurs fought back to snatch a point on day one.
A week later, he made his home debut against their North London rival, Arsenal. If there was a match for him to make his mark in a Spurs uniform, it was this one. The home side got off to a better start with Gazza scoring with his socks after losing his boots from an incoming tackle. Brilliant stuff from the young genius. Unfortunately, Spurs lost 2-3 in that game.
Now they had a tough task ahead with a visit to Anfield to face defending champion, Liverpool. They managed to come away with 1-1 before finally securing their first win against Middlesborough (3-2). This early euphoria to the season didn’t last long though. Spurs found themselves second from the bottom by the end of October and enduring a win-less month. Gazza hasn’t found the net since the Arsenal game. He did however scored two memorable free-kicks against Queen’s Park Rangers and Millwall. On both occasions, he left the keeper looking dumbfounded.
In early 1989, Spurs had improved their league standings to ninth in the league. They had a positive run from February to May which saw them only losing on three occasions. This meant that Tottenham would finish in sixth place in the league. Gazza had seven goals in 37 appearances, not a bad start to his Spurs career which is only going to get better.
By now, he was also the center of attention of another important figure. England’s manager, Sir Bobby Robson has been keeping an eye on Gazza. Slowly he was integrating him into his plan for England. Gazza scored his first goal in a World Cup qualifier against Albania in April 1989. But first, he had some unfinished business with Spurs as they headed into the 1989/90 season.
Once again, Venables has masterminded a hijack over a Manchester United target. This time he brought in Gary Lineker from Barcelona. With Lineker and Paul Stewart up front combining with Gazza, El Tel was hoping this could provide Spurs with the much needed help to challenge for the league title. But once again, they’re campaign got off to a false start. Notching just one win from their first six games.
Spurs did recover from that, thanks to a string of great results which includes beating Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United (twice!). That run propelled the club to an improved 3rd place in the league. Gazza matched his total tally of seven goals for that season.
Right after the season was concluded it was down to business with England. The World Cup in Italy was just around the corner. By now, Gazza has established himself as a starting eleven in Sir Bobby’s line up. This World Cup is also expected to be Gazza’s coming of age as one of football’s biggest stars in the new decade.
In a tightly contested Group F, England emerged as the group’s winner. In the deciding game against Egypt, Gazza set up Mark Wright to score the only winning goal. Earlier against the Netherlands, he did what looked like a Cruyff turn pass against Ronald Keoman that almost could have won it for England.
In the second round, England faced Belgium. With barely a minute left before the game will be decided on penalties, Gazza was tormenting the Belgians with a distressing run. As a result, he was brought down and the referee awarded a free kick to England. It was from the resulting free kick, Gazza lobbed the ball to David Platt. He wasted no time to volley the ball, thus securing England’s place in the last eight.
Awaiting England in the quarter-final is everyone’s tournament favourite Cameroon. Again Gazza was in the centre of attention. First, he brought down Roger Milla in the 61st minute which resulted in a penalty. He did make amends in extra time after giving a through ball to Lineker who was on goal.
The Cameroonians fouled him inside the penalty area. Lineker scored in what was the winning goal from the spot. Thanks to Gazza’s inspiring performance, England are having their best run since 1966.
At this stage, who would dare to predict just how far Sir Bobby’s side can go. With a mercurial genius guiding them from midfield, anything is possible. Standing England’s way in the final were their arch rival Germany. The match had everything you’d expect from a classic encounter. There was plenty of drama and there were some goals.
By end of this game, you would expect to see tears flowing from either side after all the effort. But this time, it happened much sooner than you expected. In the 99th minute, Gazza went for the ball on Thomas Berthold but ended up fouling him thus earning a yellow card. He had already picked up the same card earlier against Belgium. This meant that if England had won this game, he wouldn’t be playing in the Final.
Gazza was distraught and couldn’t hold back his tears. It was a sad yet an iconic moment in football that was seen by millions around the world. England did eventually go on to lose to the Germans on penalties. But those tears from Gazza made him a popular figure in England. It also brought back a tremendous amount of pride in English football, that was once ridiculed following a decade that was filled with hooliganism.
In many ways, Gazza’s passion and love for England remind me of Diego Maradona with Argentina. They both never really got the ending they wished they had while playing for their country. Think it’s fair to say those tears from Gazza would have inspired millions of kids in England to play the game the way he did.<
As England’s campaign ended in heartbreak on penalties, Gazza will now shift his focus back to the new season with Tottenham. It would prove to be his most defining campaign in a Spurs uniform.
Gazza’s first two years at White Hart Lane have been an overwhelming success. The time seems right to take it to another level. Thus a lot was expected for the upcoming season and had plenty of promise for the club. Things were looking great after 17 matches as Spurs were now in third position in the league. Inconsistency came back to haunt them in the next 21 games which saw winning just three! This meant Spurs ended up finishing at a disappointing eleven place in the standings.
Eager to make up for their crestfallen season in the league, the club ensured they went out all in the FA Cup. Spurs defeated Blackpool, Oxford United, Portsmouth and Notts County. Gazza was at the forefront, scoring 5 goals from the game. This also earned them a trip to Wembley to face Arsenal in the semi-final.
There were two reasons why this game was the most important fixture for Tottenham that season. First, it was their only chance of winning a trophy that season. Second, they had a great opportunity to deny their North London rivals a chance to lift the double as Arsenal would go on to win the league that year.
Gazza was so pumped up for this game. He knows a good performance here will seal his place among Spur’s luminaries. He didn’t need to wait that long though. Five minutes into the game, he blasted the ball from a 35-yard free-kick which left David Seaman looking all miserable. Up to then, it was his most memorable moment at the home of English football. And surely wasn’t going to be his last.
Five minutes later, he had a role in Spurs second goal. Gazza gave a delicate through pass to Paul Allen, whose cross led to a scramble in the Gunners area. Linekar, at the right place at the right time, slotted the ball in. Spurs were now in dreamland. Arsenal did pull one back before half time but Lineker sealed the game with another goal in the 78th minute.
In the final against Nottingham Forest, Gazza didn’t hold back any of his emotions. He knew in himself it was his destiny to crown his finest mark in Wembley. But as fate would have it, Gazza’s involvement in the final ended prematurely. An excruciating tackle on Forest’s Gary Charles left him in agony pain. He did try resume playing after receiving extensive care but left immediately after Forest had scored from the resulting free kick.
It wasn’t meant to be for Gazza but he still managed to collect his first major trophy in English football. Tottenham Hotspurs would go on to win the final 2-1 in extra time. As his stature grew throughout that season, so did speculation on major offers from abroad. This was the pre-Premier League era and it was something habitual of the best English talent to test the waters overseas.
Serie A side Lazio had been courting Gascoigne for some time. They finally got him to sign with them just before the FA Cup Final. However, the cruciate ligament injury he suffered on his right knee meant that the move had to be postponed to the following year. The cup final against Forest would appear to be his last outing in a Spurs uniform. He sat out the entire 1991-92 season recovering from that injury. Not the best way to end his time with the club after a chapter that was filled with so much of promise.
As he bid farewell to the Square Mile of London, it was time for the Eternal City of Rome to embrace Britain’s craziest footballer since George Best.