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Page last updated at 19:23 GMT, Thursday, 21 February 2008

The tears and joy of Gazza

By Jonathan Stevenson

Paul Gascoigne
Gascoigne was one of the star performers at the 1990 World Cup

For a man who has given so much entertainment to so many people, Paul Gascoigne has caused himself and his admirers pain in equal measure.

The news about Gascoigne's current mental health is another desperate chapter in the 40-year-old's turbulent life.

The lurid front page headlines used to be interspersed by the glory of his deeds on the football fields - now those playing days have long gone and only personal torment remains for one of the most iconic sporting figures of the post-war generation.

The laughter has been replaced by sadness and the memories of his glorious playing career are now overshadowed by his very public breakdowns.

Gazza and controversy were always too close for comfort, and yet there was a fund of sympathy for the boy from a working-class Geordie family who found fame and fortune with a football at his feet.

The tragic figure we see today is a far cry from the figure of mischief that emerged at Newcastle United then flourished with Spurs and England.

He stands alongside Sir Stanley Matthews, Bobby Moore, Sir Bobby Charlton and Duncan Edwards as one of English football's great natural talents, but, unlike those heroes, he tarnished the image and wasted the talent.

On the pitch, when he was fully fit, Gazza was a genius.


His name, his face and his tears will be inextricably linked with the 1990 World Cup - a tournament that announced Gascoigne as one of the finest footballers in the world.

As he celebrated his arrival on a global stage by wearing fake breasts aboard the England team coach, it also enhanced Gazza's reputation as the Clown Prince of sport.

But behind that mask there has always been a sadness and an ability to self-destruct that has haunted his professional and personal life.

Blessed with a remarkable touch, the ability to burst past players as if they were not there and a dribbling ability comparable with Ronaldinho, Gascoigne was a man with a devastating gift.

Think the outrageous 35-yard free-kick for Spurs against Arsenal in the 1991 FA Cup semi-final or the audacious chip and volley for England against Scotland at Euro 1996. These moments had the personal stamp of a remarkable talent.

While he was hot, he was very hot. And we could have forgiven Gazza anything when he pulled on an England shirt and made the rest of the world suffer.

Paul Gascoigne and the infamous 'dentist chair' celebration
Gascoigne celebrates after his Euro 1996 goal against Scotland (picture credit: Bongarts)

We cried with him at Italia 90, we celebrated with him at Euro 96 and in between we forgave his horror tackle in the 1991 Cup final and the "dentist chair" incident in a Hong Kong bar with the other England players.

Sir Bobby Robson claimed Gazza was as "daft as a brush" and his immature behaviour and naivety was excused because it was seen as central to his desire to be the subject of the attention and affection he craved.

But the nation's love affair with Gascoigne came to a juddering halt shortly after the high of Euro 96 with his shattering confession that he beat his wife, Sheryl.

He spoke at the time of his great remorse, of the hate and rage that festered within him while he was being put on a pedestal as his career took off.

Quite simply, Gazza could not even begin to deal with the adulation he received.

This, allied to his dramatic omission from Glenn Hoddle's squad for the 1998 World Cup, only succeeded in speeding up the spiral of decline that finished off his career - and appears today to be putting his life in jeopardy.

It was a sporting tragedy that Gascoigne had to end his playing days in the lower divisions of English football before a stint with a second-rate Chinese outfit left him as little more than a novelty circus act for a curious nation.

Paul Gascoigne
Gazza tried his hand at management with both Kettering Town and Boston

It was equally sad that his two forays into coaching and management at Boston and Kettering respectively lasted a combined total of 77 days, but it should have come as no surprise.

Gascoigne's safest haven was always the football pitch - move away from that environment and his life has lacked direction and meaning.

He has gone on record in the past as thanking Alan Shearer for helping him in his battle against depression.

But, now a pale imitation of his former self, Gascoigne needs all the help he can get to try and shake off the demons that have tormented him for much of his life.

With genius, so often, comes self-destruction. For Paul Gascoigne, we have already seen Garrincha, George Best, Diego Maradona and countless others.

So, after this latest setback, you can only hope the next direction the Gazza rollercoaster takes is up - a reversal of his fortunes is long overdue.

see also
Gazza timeline
21 Feb 08 |  Football
Gazza's career in pictures
21 Feb 08 |  Football
Managers tip Gazza to bounce back
21 Feb 08 |  Football
Gascoigne has emergency surgery
28 May 07 |  Football
Journalist drops Gazza complaint
09 Dec 05 |  Merseyside
Gazza freed after assault inquiry
06 Dec 05 |  Merseyside
Gascoigne receives offers of help
08 Dec 05 |  Football
Kettering sack manager Gascoigne
05 Dec 05 |  Non League
Gascoigne receives Davis backing
06 Dec 05 |  Non League

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