Gascoigne delighted to pass first test

Kettering's new manager is his usual blend of worrier and joker as a big crowd see his winning debut. Conrad Leach reports
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The Independent Football

Not that the one-time darling of Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur needs to tout his name so flagrantly, although there were a few of his new players who could not entirely believe it when he rang them to wish them good luck on Friday night. "I met them a few weeks ago but I wanted to keep them on their toes by not seeing them all until Saturday. When I called them up a couple did not believe it was me," Gascoigne said.

That's the thing with Gazza - you're never quite sure if he's joking, if he's serious or if he's going to turn up when he says he will. However, the promise of his first appearance in the manager's dug-out got plenty of people to turn up at Rockingham Road on Saturday afternoon. Just over 2,000, when the previous week there had been 1,600, defying one club insider's prediction that Gascoigne would make no difference to the gate.

One long-standing fan called Martin revealed the difference the presence of the former Lazio midfielder had made. "I had lost a bit of interest but Gazza's brought me here, in effect, for my first visit this season, although I've been a fan for 45 years.

"Let's hope he can get them into the Football League. No one's managed it so far. I would think it will take five years to get us there but, personally, I can't see him lasting that long. I'm pessimistic about that."

Some bookmakers have offered odds of 6-1 that Gascoigne, now 38, will have left by Christmas, even though he now has a share in the club that has been bought by a 27-year-old entrepreneur, Imraan Ladak. Afterwards, Gazza was telling his friends to cash in, because he is confident he will still be calling the shots in the new year.

But on such young and, more to the point, brittle managerial shoulders, a lot now rests. While so many fans hope for promotion first from the Nationwide North, where they are currently fourth, and then to the Football League, others want him to help the club move to a new ground, away from the one they have occupied for 108 years.

"We would like a new ground," said Anne in the club shop, proudly holding the first-team shirt emblazoned with "Gazza" and a number eight. "Maybe him being here will make the council get their fingers out and help get us a new ground. It might influence them. Let's hope it does."

But, talking about his new role, which will see him coach the players only up to four hours a week, he appeared simply excited that his team had given him a win on his debut, thanks to Christian Moore's tap-in. Seven years' time is when the lease runs out- but getting through the next seven weeks will be arduous enough.

"Friday night was one of my better night's sleeping because I had two hours rather than my usual one," said Gascoigne. "And before kick-off I had a cigarette and then another one." But, sounding more like a father of a new baby, he added: "I'm a proud man today."

Yet despite the promising start, the old insecurities are still there. He was worried "the players might turn away from me". Anyway, the good luck messages have been pouring in. "Last few days I've been getting 20 or 30 messages a time. Two said 'well done' - those two I sent to myself. It's been good."