James Lawton: Gazza has a better chance of redemption than a club whose fickle fans suffer in silence
Saturday 11 December 2010
It is hard to know who has the better chance: poor self-tortured Paul Gascoigne or the poor, abused, betrayed football club he once illuminated with his genius.
In his black and white shirt and strangely spindly legs he briefly supported the idea that one day it might triumph over all the follies of those who were supposed to be leading the way to a promised land that was always around the next corner.
On balance the temptation now is to give Gazza the nod.
This is not because he hasn't systematically smashed every opportunity for some kind of redemption that has come his way since his celebrity pals peeled off in strict formation and left him to pick his way through the rubble of what was left of his life.
Not because his fellow Geordie Sir Bobby Robson didn't get it forlornly right when he considered the brilliant prodigy of the North-east, a man of football talent to rival anything that had risen in those fertile parts, sighed and said that essentially the boy was as daft as a brush.
No, Gascoigne has proved himself as beyond advice or caution as the Newcastle United whose recidivist behaviour has been quite as relentless as their former prodigal son.
The difference, desperately slender though it might be, is that by the harshness of his circumstances, and an extremely close brush with imprisonment, he is receiving a high level of professional care. However he got there to make what could be his last run at a sane existence on the South Coast of England, away from the frenzy of a football town which seems to create a self-perpetuating madness of its own, he is being given the opportunity of detox and rehab.
These may be giant aspirations in the life of Gazza but at least they have been given a form and a programme. It is rather more than can be said for his old football club.
Some considerable anger has apparently been created here by the suggestion that the fans of Newcastle are somehow complicit in the outrages that have punctuated the reigns of one set of Newcastle owners after another.
This is unfortunately inevitable because it is the nature of victimhood. Newcastle fans have been relentlessly abused down the years and we have this officially because two directors, taped in a Spanish bordello, talked freely of the mug punters who bought over-priced souvenir shirts, the low quality of North-east womanhood, and the fact that Alan Shearer, who all those years ago touchingly bought into his version of the Newcastle dream and turned down the chance of a cupboard full of trophies with Manchester United, was really Mary Poppins in football kit.
St James' Park wasn't burned down on that occasion so it was reasonable to believe that it would never happen.
You might say what has followed has been more or less routine, though the treatment of Chris Hughton was exceptional even by the standards set by the humiliations suffered by football men like Sir Bobby Robson, Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness and, whatever you think of some of his football philosophy, big Sam Allardyce.
What sticks out for those who understand the passion and the history of Newcastle, who remember the surge of joy when Kevin Keegan unveiled a wonderfully extrovert game which briefly promised a crossing of the Rubicon, is that if the Newcastle fans have suffered they have also been ready to forget so much which has challenged decency, and which invites questions about the lack of a sustained fan movement that has been seen at Manchester United and today's opponents, Liverpool.
Liverpool and United fans have perceived threats to the existence of their clubs as they had been brought up to know them and have acted accordingly. Of course, they have exaggerated their ability to change the course of events and in the case of some of the Anfield faithful their deification of Rafa Benitez seriously challenged any detached observer's logic, yet both fan movements have settled on the rock-hard issues that the owners of the clubs had embarked on dangerous and cynical financial policies.
It may be that Liverpool's situation has stabilised and that new, debt-free ownership will return the club to something of its old status. Whatever happens, though, the fans have exerted a loud and threatening voice, as they have at Old Trafford with their zealous monitoring of the financial situation of the Glazer family.
By comparison, there is the sense of a Newcastle following which goes from one sickening crisis to another with only the Micawberish fancy that "something will turn up".
The trouble is that we know exactly what will turn up. It will be another ghastly example of power without responsibility or conscience. It will be Bobby Robson being dressed down by someone like Freddy Shepherd. It will be Hughton treated with no more dignity than is extended some wretched casual labourer, thrown out after performing fine work drawn from his long experience as a football man of dedication and pride.
We were told that Hughton lacked authority. The authority, we are bound to ask, of what, precisely? Maybe we are talking about the authority of a sports shirt salesman – or perhaps a bookmaker or some other kind of entrepreneur who makes his way so easily among the upper echelon of football?
The basic point here is that the outrage which greeted the appointment of Alan Pardew this week was, all available evidence suggests, as much about his lack of high-powered current credentials – he is, of course, a football man of experience who has done some good work in the past – as the circumstances of his arrival.
The fact that Hughton was living on borrowed time was painfully evident even in the euphoria that came with victory at the Emirates and the ransacking of Sunderland. He did not have even the underpinning of a contract, despite his remarkable effort in winning promotion and when he fell it was, however shocking in any moral sense, a mere formality.
What Newcastle fans still need to answer is whether their rage would have been anything like as intense if a big name, big money man had arrived with ready-made "authority"? The evidence suggests not. At Newcastle saviours come and go, martyrs are martyred, and if a Bobby Robson or Kevin Keegan can go to the wall, why not Chris Hughton?
The dream goes on, unaccountable and shocking, because who really is doing the accounting? Not, in the long run, or at least thus far, the self-titled greatest fans in the land.
Blatter performs perfect audition for pantomime
If a bolt should come down from the heavens and strike down all the cynical apparatus of Fifa in the wake of the appalling decisions to grant Russia and Qatar the World Cups of 2018 and 2022, the great ringmaster Sepp Blatter and his henchman Jack Warner would surely not lack for seasonal employment.
The thought is provoked, here anyway, by the expression of the Fifa president while denouncing England as "bad loser". Did you ever see a better audition for the role of villain at a theatre near you?
Blatter can make a joke of anything, of course – the Thierry Henry catastrophe, Frank Lampard's "goal", and a World Cup match ball which, despite its huge profits, simply wasn't fit for purpose. But he has entered new and perilous ground, surely, with his support of Warner's theory that England's superior bid was wrecked by the reporting of its free press and broadcasters and the massive majority given the ludicrous bid of Qatar.
These, surely, are jokes too far and too sinister anywhere this side of pantomime.
Warne return is far from small Beer
Surprised, surely not, that the faint murmurings for a sensational return to the Test arena by Shane Warne are growing into a mild rumble with news of a syndicate willing to put up a million Australia dollars to tempt back the national hero?
The Aussie selectors again revealed the paucity of their slow bowling resources when they picked Michael Beer, a 26-year-old with five first-class appearances and 16 wickets at an average cost of 39.93, for the squad for the third Test in Perth.
Interestingly, Beer was Warne's recommendation. There is no guarantee that Beer will play on the traditionally fast Waca track, which would mean that the opening would yearn even more beckoningly for Warne to return for the fourth Test in his own backyard of the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
This would all be much more fanciful if Warne, 41, was not still an active cricketer, albeit in the fantasy playground of the Indian Premier League and was not still terrorising England the last time they were in Australia. Four years is a fair length of time in sport and life, but perhaps not quite so long if you bowl leg breaks off a short run and with unmatchable genius.
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