The Polarizing Paul Gascoigne
Once you reach the dizzying heights of nationwide fame, more often than not, the only way is down. Paul Gascoigne had the world at his feet during the 1990s, but escapades off the pitch always overshadowed what this generational talent had to offer on it.
The Gateshead-born midfielder began his youth career at Newcastle, the team he supported, at age 13. Five years later, Gascoigne debuted with the senior squad at St James’ Park in a win over Queens Park Rangers. In 1988, his run with the Magpies would come to an end when he made the jump to Tottenham.
Although he struggled for consistency, it was obvious that this young midfielder was one of a kind. With incredible ball control and the creativity to match, “Gazza” found himself on the plane to the Italia ’90 World Cup as a 23-year-old (the youngest on the team).
Coming off a dark decade that saw English clubs expelled from European competition for five years following the Heysel disaster, England was in desperate need of some positivity, and Gascoigne duly delivered. He dazzled with his flicks and tricks, recorded important assists, and led the Three Lions on a deep run which ended in the semis against West Germany.
Despite the exit, a heartbroken Gascoigne had cemented his place as a national hero, and English football experienced a major surge in popularity thanks to his exploits.
Loved by teammates for his bubbly personality and cheeky sense of humor, Gazza soon had the gaze of the British press firmly fixed on him, and he didn’t help himself by indulging in rather unsavory practices involving plenty of alcohol.
Things came to a head in the buildup to Euro 1996. By that point, Gascoigne had become a scapegoat for English shortcomings. As part of Gazza’s birthday celebrations, members of the England squad went on one of their typical booze-filled nights out in Hong Kong, but news of this extravaganza, which involved being tied to a dentist’s chair, soon reached the press and Gascoigne was forced to shoulder the blame.
Eventually, the British public turned on their former hero. In a survey by the Mirror, 86 percent of readers believed that Gascoigne should have been dropped from the England squad.
After a worrying start to Euro 1996 on home soil, things started to click into gear in England’s second game against Scotland. With the Three Lions 1–0 up, Gascoigne produced his chef-d’œuvre, flicking the ball over a defender’s head before scoring.
During the now-iconic celebration, Gazza referenced the infamous dentist’s chair. He had totally redeemed himself, and the Mirror later apologized. A rejuvenated England team reached the semifinals but were knocked out on penalties by eventual winners Germany.
Unfortunately, Gascoigne’s health began to deteriorate as his problems with alcohol continued to plague his career until his retirement in 2004. For all his flaws, Gazza was arguably the most talented player England has ever produced and the indelible mark he left on football should always be remembered with great fondness.
Illustration by @inakivector.
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