Gazza – The Talent, the Tears and the Road to Perdition Part one Of Two

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/Paul Gascoigne Gazza Car


“On the field, first at Newcastle, later with England, Spurs, Lazio and Rangers, he was a surging, exhilarating phenomenon. At his best he slalomed past defenders, sprayed precision passes and shot explosively from unexpected angles and distances. And he did it all with infectious glee.For a whole generation of fans he was simply the most appealing and captivating English football player they had seen. He could be crass but he could also be anarchically funny,

playfully giving a referee a yellow card, celebrating goals with outpourings of childlike emotion or striking his famous Roman emperor pose.For all that we now know of his later suffering and illness, it's still impossible to watch footage of him in his prime without smiling”.

David Winner – English author and journalist


Young Paul Gascoigne Gazza.Famously labelled “daft as a brush” by iconic Geordie compatriot, the late Sir Bobby Robson, Paul Gascoigne’s career has been a mish-mash of heroics, comedy capers, misfortune, affliction, moments of madness and with the exception of Paul himself, most would argue unfulfilment.  The most naturally gifted footballer of his generation, certainly the best English player I ever had the privilege of watching, had a colourful 19 year career that saw him plunder breathtaking goals, set a World Cup alight, break numerous club transfer records and attain a cult player fan relationship like no other footballer of that era.  He was footballs archetypal working-class hero. An infectiously loveable and hyper-active character, who at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon made people happy!  That was his job.  Fans connected with him.  Fans adored him; they still do.  Sadly, the loveable Geordie’s headline making car crash lifestyle has taken its toll and English football’s prodigal son now cuts a haggard figure as he seeks to overcome his burgeoning alcohol addiction and frequent bouts of hellish depression.

Paul John Gascoigne, named after Paul McCartney due to his mother’s love of The Beatles, was born on 27 May 1967 and was the second of John and Carol Gascoigne’s four children.  They lived in a modest terraced council house in the humble surroundings of Dunston, a tight-knit working class community in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear.  Paul endured a turbulent childhood that was plagued with anguish and grief.  The death of his childhood friend Keith Spraggon’s younger brother Steven, who was killed in a road traffic accident whilst accompanying Paul on a visit to the local shop, had a profound effect on him.  It quite literally tore him apart.  The writing of his autobiography evoked painful childhood memories; “It was the first dead body I had ever seen – and I felt Steven’s death was my fault. I had said I would look after him and I didn’t. I couldn’t understand why he had died when he was so young and hadn’t harmed anybody. It didn’t make sense. Why had God let him die?  For weeks and weeks I’d wake in the night, reliving the scene. I suppose I should have had grief counselling, if they had such a thing in those days. I’ve talked to psychiatrists about it since, and I still go over the accident in my mind. Just speaking of it can make me cry.”  Off course it wasn’t Paul’s fault.  He was just a ten year old child out mooching with his young friend as kids do, tragically unaware of the horror that was about to unfold.  It was a devastating event that Paul has understandably struggled to come to terms with.

Shortly after Steven’s passing, Paul’s dad took ill with mystery seizures before succumbing to a brain hemorrhage that left him bedridden in hospital, close to death and unable to work again.  It was another traumatic period for the young Geordie and was said to be the catalyst for his well documented bouts of anxiety and depression.

Nobody seeks adversity.  Nobody enjoys adversity.  But with adversity comes strength.

“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome." Anne Bradstreet 1612-1672

Paul overcame his adversity by submerging himself into football.  Once he crossed the white line he could leave his troubles behind.  Football was the love of his life.  It was his release from the rigours of a stressful childhood that was beset with difficulties and set-backs.  According to Paul’s mother, he was already kicking a ball around at just nine-months old and from the age of four or five it became an obsession.  Street football, park football, school football and then into club football where he became a regular fixture for Redheugh Boys Club and Gateshead boys, where as a promising 13 year-old teenager Paul was first spotted by the game’s talent scouts.  

/Young Paul Gascoigne school.

Before commencing a distinguished playing career with his beloved Newcastle, Spurs, England, Lazio, Glasgow Rangers and Middlesbrough, the former England international suffered several early set-backs after failed trials at Bobby Robson’s Ipswich, John Neal’s Middlesbrough and Lawrie McMenemy’s Southampton.  But in the summer of 1980 Paul’s dream was finally realised when Bill McGarry’s Newcastle agreed to sign him up on schoolboy terms after being harried into submission by local scout Brian Clark.

Brian was meant to be watching Paul’s friend Keith Spraggon in a local game but it was a chubby young Gascoigne with the ‘corned beef legs’ that caught his attention.  Clark described the youngster’s performance as genius but he struggled to convince Newcastle’s recruitment team that Paul Gascoigne was a gem in the making.  He’d never been brought to their attention before and they’d specifically targeted Spraggon because of his athleticism.  But after nine months of relentless pressure from Clark, who over the course of his career has been responsible for unearthing 22 first team players, the club’s recruitment team relented and the rest as they say is history.  

Less than six weeks after Paul’s arrival, Newcastle dispensed with the services of Bill McGarry and appointed Arthur Cox as the new first team manager.  Cox kept a close eye on emerging schoolboy talent and it wasn’t long before the mischievous young Gascoigne caught his attention.  On his sixteenth birthday, 27 May 1983, Paul accepted terms of £25 per week plus living expenses and signed a two year deal to become an apprentice footballer for his boyhood team Newcastle United Football Club.

Colin Suggett was youth team coach and was tasked with keeping the excitable young Geordie in shape.  It was under Colin’s tutelage that Paul first acquired the nick-name ‘Gazza.’  Paul’s dad was commonly known as Gassa by his pals and it was a moniker that Colin saw fit to pass down to Gascoigne junior. But Colin’s distinct Mackem dialect morphed it into Gazza.  It stuck and a legend was born.   

Gazza excelled in the junior ranks where his progress hadn’t gone unnoticed. Big Jack Charlton succeeded Arthur Cox as Newcastle manager in 1984.  Jack was a man’s man.  Shortly after his appointment he asked to see young Gazza in his office.  It was home truth time and Gazza recites the conversation in his award winning book – Gazza..My Story.  “He reached out and patted my stomach, as if I was a woman expecting a bairn.”  “I hear you’re a cheeky chappie,” he said.  “I just mumbled.”  “And I also hear there’s a bit of skill under all that fat.  Well, you’ve got two weeks to get it all off.  If you don’t, you’re out of the youth team and out of the club.”  Although upset, Gazza took heed of the new gaffer’s threat and the following season Jack made Gazza captain of the youth team where he captained them to a 4-1 aggregate victory over Watford in the youth cup final and also promoted him to the first team squad.

/Young Paul Gascoigne Gazza happy.jGazza was an unused sub in the Tyneside derby against Sunderland but a few days later on 13 April 1985, the emerging star excitedly made his debut at Loftus Road, coming on as a second half substitute in a 0-1 victory for the Magpies.  The following month, just prior to his eighteenth birthday, saw Gazza put pen to paper and signed his first professional contract.  He agreed a 2 year deal with an option for a further two years and increased his wage to £120 a week + appearance money.

Newcastle do like to change their managers and the acrimonious departure of Big Jack only three months after Gazza signed his first pro-contract saw Northern Irishman Willie McFaul take the reins.  Managers are paid to make bold decisions and Willie did.  At just 18 years of age McFaul put his faith in Gazza and made him the playmaker of the team, a role in which he excelled and caught the eye of the big guns; Liverpool, Man Utd and Spurs.

The acid test for any youngster comes with a brutalising by the game’s known villains.  It’s all very pantomime-esque but can be a big deal to a new kid on the block.  On 20 February, 1988 Gazza met resident Cockney degenerate Vinnie for the first time.  Vinnie being the psychopathic Wimbledon midfield enforcer Vinnie Jones, whose reputation for brutality preceded him.  The entrepreneur of violence marked the young pretender’s cards shortly after kick-off by discreetly introducing himself.  “I’m Vinnie Jones,” he said casually.  “I’m a fucking gypsy.  It’s just you and me today fat boy, just you and me.”  We’ve all been there.  It’s the age-old classic scare tactic adopted by old heads to intimidate kids making the transition into open age football.  Vinnie bullied Gazza all afternoon only leaving him alone once to take a throw-in.  “I’m off to take a throw-in, but I’ll be fucking back,” he barked.  Shortly afterwards, Daily Mirror photographer Monte Fresco captured one of the game’s most iconic sports images that catapulted the pair of them into the media spotlight.  Jones was marking Gazza at a free-kick and whilst stood in front of the unsuspecting young starlet he reached behind and grabbed hold of Gazza by the bollocks making him scream out loud.  Ouch!  The pair thought the incident had gone unnoticed, but the following morning they were plastered all over the newspapers.  And Gazza, well he came through the acid test shaken but not stirred!     

In Gazza’s third and final campaign with the Magpies, the 1987-88 season, he won the Barclays PFA young player of the year award and a place in the PFA team of the year.  His meteoric rise to prominence had just begun. 

What they said….”Paul really was something else.  It was quite an experience being his manager.  He was absolutely brilliant on the pitch and could do just about anything with a football.”  “He was an incredible player.  Maybe success came too early for him.”
Willie McFaul – Newcastle United Manager 

After 104 league and cup games, 25 goals and some fond memories, Gazza waved a tearful farewell to the hallowed Gallowgate End on 07 May 1988 in his final game at St James Park.  Spurs had agreed a British record fee in excess of £2 million for Gazza but not before the deal was almost scuppered by the English games two most iconic clubs.  Gazza made no secret of his admiration for Kenny Dalglish and Liverpool. And the feeling was mutual.  By Gazza’s own admission Liverpool was for sure his first choice destination. He had set his heart on joining the red men but Liverpool could not raise the capital which left the door ajar for the kingmaker at the opposite end of the East Lancashire Road, Manchester United’s Alex Ferguson.  Fergie thought he had secured Gazza’s signature after an agreement made personally with Gazza over the telephone, but returned from holiday to find that El Tel’s Spurs had clinched the deal after protracted contract talks allegedly led to a number of extras being added to the £1500 per week + appearance money and bonuses that he had already primarily agreed.

Gazza’s stock was now upwardly mobile but a summer of celebration saw the talented young midfielder turn up for pre-season training both unfit and overweight according to media reports.  Many believe the move to the capital was ill-fated and contributed greatly to the eventual demise of the Geordie magician.  Sadly for Gazza, a crystal ball was not part of the package.   

/Paul Gascoigne  Newcaslte 1.

Terry Venables was one of the best man managers in world football and despite Gazza’s over indulgence, his faith in the youngster never diminished. Most would agree that Terry was responsible for polishing a raw diamond into a precious stone.  Under the guidance of El Tel, Gazza flourished and just as his new mentor predicted, Bobby Robson called him up to the England squad for the international friendly against Denmark on 14 September 1988, just over a month after joining the Lilywhites.  Gazza’s debut was unremarkable, coming on for the last five minutes in a 1-0 victory.  He was however now a fully fledged England international and stardom beckoned.

Some scintillating Maradona-esque displays for Spurs coupled with Gazza’s high-profile comedy capers saw the clown prince dominate the tabloid headlines.  The press treasured him, fans idolised him and a nation slowly fell in love with him. Consumed with happiness and over-exuberance Gazza was set for world domination and his inclusion in Bobby Robson’s World Cup squad for Italia 90 was the final piece of the jigsaw.

Representing your country in the World Cup finals is every football mad youngsters dream.  For 23 year-old Gazza that dream had come true. He loved the World Cup. The matches, the training, the supporters, the ambience, the high-jinks, the clandestine drinking sessions, the sleepless nights, the gambling, but most of all he loved the camaraderie. Football’s Peter Pan just loved being around people.

Italia 90 was my first World Cup.  And almost a quarter of a century later I now accept I was spoiled.  I’d missed the opening 1-1 draw with Jack Charlton’s Republic of Ireland but I was in Cagliari for England’s toughest group game against the European champions Holland who boasted a star studded line-up with Van Basten, Gullit, Koeman, Wouters and Rijkaard all in their starting team.  It still ranks to this day as one of the best 0-0 draws I have ever seen in competitive football.  A virtuoso performance from Gazza who out-Cruyffed the Dutch on the biggest of world stages ensured that England emerged from that game as credible World Cup contenders.  And Gazza gave a footballing mad nation hope.  We dared to dream.

/David Platt Italia 90A 1-0 victory over Egypt in the final group game saw England top Group F and head to the main land where they faced Belgium in Bologna.  Gazza’s free kick found David Platt who volleyed in from close range in the 120th minute to set up a quarter final meeting with the tournaments surprise package, a Roger Milla inspired Cameroon.  Again Gazza was instrumental in a keenly fought 3-2 victory over the Africans, taking credit for helping Gary Lineker to win two penalties and set up a semi final meeting with the Germans in Turin at the Stadio delle Alpi.  In an interview with The Independent, Lineker recollects Gazza’s impact at the World Cup.  “He was a central figure on and off the pitch.  He was bright in those days, witty, and his practical jokes were unsurpassed. He'd drive you crazy occasionally, especially playing with him – he never passed unless he was either exhausted or you had no alternative but to give it him straight back."

Bring on ze Germans!  It was Gazza time.  Before the semi-final Bobby Robson spoke to Gazza privately.  “You do realise you’ll be playing against the best midfielder in the world.”  Bobby was talking about Lothar Matthaus.  Gazza replied, “No, Bobby, you’ve got it wrong.”  Cue the conversation killing response.  “He is”.  End of chat!  I truly believe at the time of that epic World Cup semi-final that Gazza was right.  He was the best player in world football.  He was on fire. And his semi-final performance justified my belief.  Gazza was pivotal for England and his 11th minute halfway line Cruyff turn on Klinsmann set the bar.  His close ball control, panoramic vision and magical range of passing made the German midfield look positively ordinary and the longer the game went on the more influential he became.  

At 1-1 the stage was set for Gazza time and then disaster.  In the ninth minute of extra-time Gazza over ran the ball in midfield and lunged enthusiastically into Thomas Berthold who of course rolls over at least 56 times.  Because that’s what Europeans do.  It was a grossly exaggerated reaction that undoubtedly swayed the referee to brandish the yellow card that would see Gazza ruled out of the World Cup final should England have won the game.  Gazza’s glazed eyes and quivering lip were captured by just about every photographer in the stadium.  He was an emotional wreck out there and the uncontrollable tears at the end of the penalty shoot out (1-1, lost 3-4 on pens) elevated him to national treasure status.  It was the night a footballing mad nation fell in love with the young working class Geordie from Dunston.  I thought he was truly outstanding and showed maturity beyond his years.  Bobby Robson agreed.  At the final whistle Bobby walked over to Gazza and said, "Don't worry, you've been one of the best players of the tournament. You've been magnificent. You've got your life ahead of you – this is your first."  Bobby Robson was a class act and on that fateful evening so was Gazza.

What they said….”A true footballer of the streets – defiant, crafty and intrepid.  He could cook up ideas you didn’t expect.”
Franz Beckenbauer – German team manager

At Luton airport, a reported 300,000 strong crowd greeted the England teams’ return from Italia 90 and fun loving Gazza boarded the team bus wearing fake plastic breasts.  Gazza-mania had begun.  Everybody wanted a piece of him.  Fleet Street adopted him.  Downing St and Buckingham Palace invited him.  Endorsements inundated him.  The pop charts embraced him.  Spitting Image mimicked him.  Madame Tussauds cloned him.  And celebrities wanted to hang out with him.  In hindsight the Gazza-mania phenomenon was probably the start of the long walk down the career curtailing road to perdition.

The season following Gazza’s World Cup exploits was probably the best of his career.  His performances for Spurs were on a different plane to everybody else. Not just at Spurs but in the English game.  Some mercurial FA Cup displays helped to drag the Lilywhites to the 1991 FA Cup Final and his sensational 35 yard free-kick only five minutes into their epic semi-final against North London rivals Arsenal was the catalyst for their unexpected 3-1 victory that sealed a final berth against Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest.  But English football’s showpiece event was to conjure up the midfielder maestro’s darkest hour in the game; and he’s had some!  An uncharacteristically reckless challenge on Forest’s Gary Charles in the opening minutes of the final saw Gazza stretchered off with very serious knee ligament damage.  Spurs went on to win the game but Gazza had to be content with celebrating his cup success from his hospital bed.  It was a needless and self inflicted career threatening injury that kept him out of the game for close to 16 months and almost derailed his proposed record breaking £8.5 million move to Rome based Lazio after the cup final and ruled him out of the 1992 European Championships in Sweden.  Fortunately for Gazza, Lazio President Sergio Cragnotti agreed to delay the transfer and he joined the Biancocelesti in the summer of 1992 for a reduced fee in the region of £5.5 million.  Gazza himself bagged a £2 million signing on fee and a £22,000 a week (with an increase of ten percent each year) wage.

/Paul Gascoigne  FA Cup Final 1991

What they said….“When Gazza came to the Spurs training ground for the first time, he got the ball, went round eight players as if they were not there and then smashed the ball into the net. Just to see him play like that made the hair stand up on the back of your neck. Everybody stood there and applauded him.”  
Terry Venables - Tottenham Hotspur manager

Gazza’s arrival in the Eternal City in August 1991 was met with delirium and because of his cup final injury he wasn’t due to play until the following season.  Well in excess of 1,000 supporters turned up to greet him at the airport and some of the elated Lazio fans unashamedly draped a large banner in the arrivals hall; ‘Gazza’s Boys we are here, shag women and drink beer,’ was the message awaiting the young Geordie genius.  He turned up at his press conference wearing joke glasses and an Irriducibili (hardcore Lazio Ultras) emblazoned flat cap.  Typical Gazza buffoonery.  He spent the next two weeks in the capital city wooing supporters and club officials and getting a feel for the new culture he was about to immerse himself into for the next three years.  

There was concern that Gazza might struggle with the language barrier and so he was assigned a translator and advised to learn to speak Italian.  But because he was being chaperoned with a translator, Gazza didn’t put Italian language lessons high on his list of priorities.  Instead, he was said to have popped into a city centre book shop and purchased 20 copies of a Teach Yourself English book and placed them on the bench, below each players’ kit peg in the dressing room on his first day of training.  The players thought it was hilarious.  Ever the prankster, the loveable rogue’s first dressing room victim was Roberto di Matteo.  Gazza slipped a dead snake in his jacket pocket whilst Roberto was showering up after training.  Not surprisingly he went “apeshit.”  But nobody could stay mad with the clown prince of calcio for too long; pranks and high-jinks were a common theme for the duration of Gazza’s spell in Italy.  The players loved him and his madcap antics.

Having missed the start of the league campaign due to injury, Gazza’s first game for Lazio was a midweek Capital Cup game on 23 September 1992 against his former club Tottenham Hotspur.  This meaningless low-profile fixture attracted an impressive crowd of over 30,000 who braved Rome’s unseasonal torrential rain.  And four days later he made his much anticipated Serie A debut in Lazio’s 1-1 home draw with Genoa.  Gazza was allocated the coveted no10 shirt, the most iconic shirt in Italian football but a brutal challenge by Mario Bortolazzi just before the break ensured an early bath for Gazza as he failed to return for the second half.  “I went down like a sack of spuds,” said Gazza.  But his withdrawal was only a precautionary measure on the advice of the team doctor and he returned to training a couple of days later with ominous words of wisdom still ringing in his ears; to get used to this type of tackling!

Paul Gascoigne  LazioGazza’s first season at Lazio coincided with Channel 4’s triumphant bid to screen Serie A games live in the UK.  At that time, Serie A was widely accepted as the strongest league in the world and the Gazza effect saw Football Italia’s viewing figures soar beyond the three million mark, a record for a non-British league.  Lazio also tasted the Gazza effect, as the Stadio Olimpico had to make way for an extra 5,000-10,000 fans that Gazza’s signing had attracted to the stadium.  The hardcore Curva Nord fell in love with him.  And he loved them back.  They saw him as one of their own.  A crazy football loving, beer swigging Ultra trapped inside a professional footballer’s body.  And just 11 games into Gazza’s first season with Lazio he achieved demi-god status and paid back the bulk of his transfer fee with the most memorable header of his entire career in his first Derby della Capitale, the Roman derby.  After being mercilessly taunted by the notoriously partisan Roma Ultras, who during the game held up a large banner reading ‘Paul Gazza, You Are Fat Poofter,’ and cast aspersion on his fitness by showering him with mars bars, one of which he unwrapped an ate, he silenced the Giallorossi by putting a looping header from a ‘Beppe’ Signori free kick beyond the Roma keeper to secure an unlikely draw and ensured his name is forever sacrosanct in Lazio’s history.  Cue pandemonium and tears of joy.  And shortly afterwards the club President was said to have sent Gazza around £10,000 in cash and a crate of Newcastle Brown ale as a thank you.

Gazza recalls that moment in his autobiography, “One of my best memories was scoring the equaliser in the big Rome derby. Every club I’ve been at I’ve scored in derbies: the Old Firm, the Rome derby and the North London derby with a free-kick against Arsenal at Wembley. But I managed a goal in a memorable Roman derby and I have to say I was petrified going into the game. I’ve played in some derbies, up in Glasgow as well, but that one just wasn’t normal. The players from both sides were nearly crying because there was nowhere to run or hide for the losers.”  

http://talksport.com/magazine/features/120920/tottenham-v-lazio-and-mythical-figure-loved-both-clubs-181301

In the following match against Pescara, Gazza scored a brilliant solo goal.  With just seven touches of the ball, his extraordinary balance and close control enabled him to ghost past six players before coolly slotting past out-coming keeper Nello Cusin.  ‘Golaccio!’  Remember that Football Italia sound-bite?   Despite a lukewarm start to his Lazio career that was hampered by niggling injuries, including the broken cheekbone protected by the infamous ‘Phantom of the Opera mask and his struggle to obtain optimum match fitness, Gazza had now officially arrived and the Curva Nord just couldn’t get enough of him.   

Gazza made 26 appearances for Lazio in his debut season, many of them worthy of a custodian of the no10 shirt.  He also scored four great goals.  The Biancocelesti finished fifth in Serie A, just 12 points adrift of winners AC Milan and qualified for the UEFA Cup, their first European outing in 16 years.  Job done.

The following season (1993/94) was less memorable and tainted with well publicised indiscretions, inconsistency and injuries.  Gazza turned up for pre-season training almost two stones overweight and was given an ultimatum by his coach Dino Zoff.  Lose it or he would lose his place in the team.  He had failed to curtail his destructive eating and drinking habits.  His talent was undoubtedly a perfect fit for the Italian game but sadly he couldn’t adapt to the culture.  Gazza imported his own culture.  But family and friends failed to have a stabilising effect.  Instead, they exacerbated the issue.  Regular booze ups, poor diet and crazy antics dominated proceedings.  The Italian press didn’t take to him.  They portrayed him as an ill-disciplined, lazy English yob who brought shame on the Italian game and they were out to bring him down.  Admittedly, the serialisation of ‘burpgate’ after Gazza burped (yes burped) into a microphone live on TV in response to a question relating to his absence from the first team due to his poor physical condition and for which he was fined £9,000 didn’t help his cause.  Nor did punching one journalist in the bollocks and being arrested for thumping a photographer tracking his city centre movements.  But Gazza wasn’t one to conform.  He was unique; a total one-off.  They didn’t get him and he didn’t get them.  He didn’t want to.  It was that simple.  But the fans, they were different.  They embraced his boozy image.  They revelled in his flawed laddish persona.  They got him and he got them.  It was that simple.  And he was there to please the supporters not the media.  And he did; he made them happy; he played football like a God and they worshipped him.

/Lazio Ultras Gazza - Drink Beer - shag women.

But despite his adversarial relationship with the Italian press and his frustrating inconsistency, Gazza still managed to shine, albeit sporadically.  He was outstanding in the 3-1 demolition of Juventus (13 Dec 93), was man of the match in the 1-1 draw at home to Sampdoria (2 Jan 14), was made captain for the first time in his professional career in the 4-2 home win over Cremonese (30 Jan 14) and scored a worldy from a free-kick on the touchline in the 4-0 thumping of Cagliari (13 Feb 14), prompting a crowd pleasing Emperor Nero-inspired statuesque goal celebration that sent the Curva Nord into raptures.  But only 17 appearances into his second Campianato, the infamous Gazza injury hoodo struck again and true to form another avoidable career threatening injury finished the midfield general’s 1993-4 campaign.  He suffered a double fracture of the tibia and fibula in an adrenalin fuelled reckless tackle with youth starlet Alessandro Nesta in an indoor practice match.  Yes the very same World Cup winning Alessandro Nesta, who went on to become one of the world’s greatest ever defenders!  The young boy was inconsolable and was even said to have suffered death threats from hardcore Lazio supporters furious at their idols enforced premature end to the season.  

And so another prolonged period of rehabilitation blighted Gazza’s Italian adventure.  The 1994/95 season saw Zdenek Zeman succeed Dino Zoff as Lazio coach.  Zoff’s relationship with Gazza was warm and fruitful but tinged with frustration.  “I loved that boy,” gushed Zoff.  “He was a genius, an artist but he made me tear my hair out.  The pity was we saw the beauty he was capable of only so rarely. He destroyed that beauty with his drinking and his eating.  He ate ice cream for breakfast, he drank beer for lunch, when he was injured he blew up like a whale. But a player? Oh, beautiful, beautiful.”  Many years later, Zoff claimed that Gazza was his favourite of the many players he had coached.

The departure of Zoff saddened Gazza.  He enjoyed working with him and there was a healthy mutual respect.  In stark contrast, Gazza’s relationship with the incoming Zeman was laboured from the off and there was zero respect.  He hated him and his gruelling fitness regime.  Zeman’s appointment was the beginning of the end for Gazza and his stop-start love affair with the Biancocelesti.  

Paul Gascoigne  - Zdenek Zeman.After a sizeable period of recuperation, Gazza predictably returned to training two stones overweight.  Czec hard-liner Zeman was furious and put him on a punishing training programme.  Over the course of 75 days, Gazza was to cycle 35 miles a day and finish off with an 8 mile run.  Welcome to hell!  He hated it but it worked.  But as he returned to full fitness it became quite apparent that Gazza didn’t fit into the new coach’s plans.  They had an unfixable mutual dislike of one another and a move away from Lazio was inevitable.  Gazza wasn’t short of suitors but it was Glasgow Rangers who appealed to the troubled Geordie and following long, protracted talks, Rangers agreed to pay a club record £4.3 million for the maverick genius.  

In his final week at Lazio, Gazza turned up to training on his Harley-Davidson wearing shorts, flip-flops and smoking a big fat cigar.  He had his team mates in stitches.  On his last day, he turned up at the training ground half-cut and mercilessly mocked his coach in one final act of disrespect. “O great coach, have you any tips, please, as I want to be a great coach like you one day.”  He fell about laughing out loud and was eventually carried back to his car by Alan Boksic, still clutching a Lucozade bottle full of vino.  So after playing fewer than 50 games and scoring six goals in three expensive seasons, 28 year-old Gazza’s troubled Lazio career was finally over.  It was arrivederci Rome and hello Glasgow, a fattest British city award winner three times in a row and a sprawling metropolis with an infamous reputation for widespread alcohol abuse.  What could possibly go wrong?

What they said…."He ate ice cream as an hors d'oeuvre," said Zoff.  "Once he was injured and I said to him: 'Go on holiday, Gascoigne, we will pay everything.' He said to me: 'No Signor Zoff, I want to stay here with you.'  
"I said: 'No Gascoigne, go away, rest, get over this injury.' He said: 'But you don't understand what will happen to me.' I said: 'Go, go, we will pay.' So he went on his holiday, and I was at the training ground the day he was due back. And instead of a footballer I see in the distance this whale appearing, this huge whale wobbling down the road. I said to him: 'Gascoigne, what have you done?' He said: 'I told you not to send me on holiday, Signor Zoff.”
Dino Zoff – Lazio Coach
Part Two Here 



Read 2603 times Last modified on Monday, 11 May 2015 17:25

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