Gazza: A cry for help

Paul Gascoigne's latest indiscretion will surprise few people. But, during the harrowing decline of a talent that once shone so brightly, more should have been done to protect a damaged genius from himself, writes James Lawton

Paul Gascoigne already has a signature tune. It's "Fog on the Tyne" and at the peak of his celebrity, in 1990, it reached No 2 in the charts. But then when yesterday you heard that he had spent the night in the cells at a Chelsea police station, another song came to mind. It was the one which goes: "On the Sunday morning sidewalk I'm wishing Lord that I was stoned, there's something in a Sunday that makes a body feel alone."

Yesterday happened to be Wednesday but for Gazza you have to fear life has long seemed like a desolate Sunday morning, about which Kris Kristoffersen also wrote: "There ain't nothing short of dying, half as lonesome as the sound of the sleeping city sidewalks, and Sunday morning coming down."

There is nothing much we don't know about the Gazza story now. It is at least as well documented as that of George Best, but just as it was when the great Georgie meandered into fresh crisis, and futility, and for similar reasons - obsessive behaviour and an inability to see celebrity and many of the friends it brought for the dangerous mirage it was - the sadness remains just as acute.

Calling for the rescue of Gazza is no doubt a little like shining a small torch into that fog he celebrated at a happier time. So many people in and out of football have tried, and the truth, even as he became a household name not for the brilliance of his talent but for his teary breakdown in the semi-final of the 1990 World Cup, was never far from hand. Gascoigne, even at that early stage of the race, was programmed for self-destruction.

But if you knew deep down he was never going to conquer the weakness of his nature, and deliver more than fleeting evidence of a gift that at its best was the most thrilling seen in these isles since the decline of Best and the arrival of Wayne Rooney, it never made the process any less disheartening or painful.

Yesterday, even though it was so soon after his charity mission to Africa had turned into another personal ordeal of an excruciating kind, was no exception. There was the familiar regret about the inevitability of his fate but perhaps also something more, a stabbing question about whether, when it still mattered, when it might, who knows, have been a little more in the balance, something extra could have been done.

Was Gazza delivered a little too easily to his self-elected fate? And if this was so, at least to a small degree, is there anything to learn from his present plight? Does the vigilance that Sir Alex Ferguson successfully applied to the formative stages of Ryan Giggs, say, and his current and thus far largely successful attempts to protect the prodigious Rooney, need to be re-doubled with so much player, not to mention managerial, anarchy in the air?

If Gascoigne's psychological profile, and background, was always deeply worrying, it is still true that not everybody sought to impress upon him the reality of his situation - and the inevitable brevity of the time he would have to show that he was indeed one of the most naturally favoured footballers the world had ever seen.

Even mild criticism of his elevation to the status of a great footballer - as opposed to one of immense promise - drew a fierce reaction. His agent, Mel Stein, shortly before launching into a biography of his client that might have been penned, for all its reserve, by a Hollywood press agent, once invited a sportswriter to lunch so that he would have the chance to explain why he had been so wrong to say that Gascoigne was still in the foothills of Best's stature in the game.

A few years later, when Gascoigne was rejected by the England coach, Glenn Hoddle, on the eve of the 1998 World Cup - and the player promptly rampaged tearfully in the team hotel - a small army of celebrities made angry protests, and were joined by quite a sizeable section of the media. The force of showbiz was formidable in the life of the football superstar, and ebbed only to the point of extinction when the prospect of reflected glory had faded beyond recall.

Though he will do it with the backing of a vast fortune fuelled by years of relentless celebrity, and possibly a knighthood, even David Beckham is having to contemplate the challenge of life in the dwindling afterglow of being at the heart of a media circus. His Real Madrid coach, Fabio Capello, was saying this week that the loss of the England captaincy has inflicted a heavy psychological blow, which was a salutary reminder, if we ever had one, that even footballers infinitely more grounded than Gazza, are in danger of believing their more fanciful publicity.

It is no doubt true that Gascoigne could have been deposited in a Trappist monastery between match-days and still found diverting mischief but this does not alter the fact that because of his ability to make headlines, often at the cost of turning football logic on its head, a certain indulgence was granted to even his most errant behaviour.

At the time of his disappointment at the hands of Hoddle, it was pointed out by an old pro that all the support he received from the showbiz fraternity was essentially worthless. In showbiz you have rehearsals. In professional sport you don't. You have to walk a line that can offend all the instincts of an extremely wealthy, red-blooded young man. You have to get the rest. You have to be ready to deliver now, not in some airily projected future.

Of all his mentors, no doubt Terry Venables got the best out of Gascoigne. As Tottenham manager he put aside the stories of poor discipline and bizarre behaviour and in 1988 invested a then British record £2m in what he saw as uniquely creative talent. Gazza largely flourished at White Hart Lane, right up to the point where he went berserk in a Wembley Cup final.

Soon after that denouement Venables expressed his deepest fears, saying: "I had Diego Maradona when he was a kid at Barcelona and sometimes you saw an expression which made you worry about his future. Sometimes I look at Gazza and see the same thing in his face. I don't worry so much more for him now but 20 years down the road." Frank O'Farrell, then manager of Manchester United, said almost precisely the same thing when Best defected to Marbella and confided to a mob of reporters that he was getting through a bottle of vodka a day.

In their different ways, Best and Gazza were two of a kind. They had been given inordinate talent and not a lot to protect it. It was their burden and football's problem. As the spotlight gets ever brighter, it is one not likely to go away.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest in Sport
Sport
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.

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy