Gazza goes the distance - and it's so touching

A former great is fully committed to the Boston cause. Ronald Atkin follows him on his resurrection ride

Boston is the town from which the Pilgrim Fathers embarked in 1607, and there are cynics in this flat and remote part of Lincolnshire who insist that not a lot has changed since then. So the arrival in town of Paul Gascoigne on his own voyage, one of self-discovery, was guaranteed to cause rather more than a ripple, although not, judging by the attendance of only 3,026 for yesterday's 2-1 win over Cambridge United, an awful amount of enduring interest.

Boston is the town from which the Pilgrim Fathers embarked in 1607, and there are cynics in this flat and remote part of Lincolnshire who insist that not a lot has changed since then. So the arrival in town of Paul Gascoigne on his own voyage, one of self-discovery, was guaranteed to cause rather more than a ripple, although not, judging by the attendance of only 3,026 for yesterday's 2-1 win over Cambridge United, an awful amount of enduring interest.

Gascoigne has joined Boston United with the title of player-coach, and by lasting the distance on a hot afternoon he offered a firm indication of commitment. He also offered thanks for his resurrection. "Two years ago I could have been dead," he said after the game, pulling on a cigarette and swigging a low-calorie drink. "I don't drink any more so I look for other buzzes in life. I got one when Richard and Judy sent me a text, and I get a buzz as a coach who can still do it on the pitch. I know how well I can play, but I am enjoying just being back. I am a role model now, but two years ago I wasn't.

"I don't go to church but I carry a Bible about with me. I don't read it, but sometimes I just touch it before a game. I am pleased to be alive."

This was Gascoigne's second start in six days, having put in 69 minutes in the 3-1 win over Chester City on Bank Holiday Monday. Slim bordering on gaunt, the man who won 57 caps for England and who played at the top level for 16 years was last on to the pitch yesterday, pausing to shake hands with a knot of supporters gathered by the tunnel.

With his first touch Gascoigne was painfully dispossessed by Kingsley Mbome's rugged challenge, and subsequently he opted to operate in as much space as he could find, supplying the occasional wriggle, feint or flick as a reminder of the ghost of Gazza past.

However, this was a game whose pace too frequently left him in its wake. Here was a 37-year-old who looked every bit his age patrolling a 20mph zone with humps while the rest zoomed around on a four-lane highway, with the ball too often lumped over their star man's head when the short pass for which he was appealing would have been so much the better option.

Still, he took it all in good part, making time to explain to team-mates what they could be doing to more effect, ending with a pat on the head or shoulder. There was also time for a flash of that Geordie humour. After a collision with Mbome, Gazza offered a handshake and promptly ran full tilt into the referee, Mark Cowburn, aiming a mock punch at the official as he bounced away.

The man who played 466 games with Newcastle, Spurs, Lazio, Rangers, Middlesbrough, Everton and, briefly, Burnley and Gansu Tianma, not only had enough puff to reappear after the interval but actually upped his pace and involvement, especially after a slicker Cambridge had deservedly equalised in the 51st minute. Boston went in front five minutes from half-time when the hulking Jason Lee headed in Tom Bennett's corner, but Cambridge needed just six second-half minutes to pull level through a deflected shot by Jermaine Easter, only to be denied by Austin McCann's spectacular winner three minutes from the end.

Gascoigne's involvement became over-involvement in the 67th minute, when he was shown a yellow card for a retaliatory foul on Justin Walker. The Boston manager, Steve Evans, was not impressed by the official's action. "He will go home and tell his kids he booked Gazza, won't he?" said Evans, who pronounced himself happy with the show. "He will be tired tonight and still tired tomorrow. His quality wasn't up to his normal standard, but he hit three or four balls as only Gazza can.

"He is still a stone under weight from his illness, and working harder than anyone else to get fit. But he isn't going to start every game or finish every game."

That was probably good news for Gazza. After he had clattered into Easter near the end, the great man was left head bowed, hands on knees, doubtless wondering: "What am I doing here?" Just wait until the nights draw in and the grounds get heavy.

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