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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Angel Di Maria is shown the red card
tech
Sport
Roger Federer after his win over Tomas Berdych
sport
Life and Style
News in briefs: big pants in 'Bridget Jones's Diary'
fashionBig knickers are back
Sport
James Milner is set to sign for Liverpool this week despite rival interest from Arsenal
sportReds baulk at Benteke £32.5m release clause
News
The controversial Motor Neurone Disease Association poster, featuring sufferer Michael Smith, has drawn a series of angry complaints
newsThis one has been criticised for its 'threatening tone'
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral