Kevin Garside: A different era of minders may just have saved Paul Gascoigne from himself
Jimmy Fivebellies, Danny Baker and Chris Evans were his think-tank
Peter Schmeichel tells us that the football family should come together in aid of Paul Gascoigne. Sadly it might already be too late for Gazza, a frail psyche married to a talent arguably as great as any England have produced in the post-World Cup years.
The corrosive elements inherent in fame and fortune that corrupt the weak and unsuspecting have had their wicked way with Gascoigne, a man who gave in to his appetites all too easily. At his peak, when he and the Jimmy Fivebellies show offered light entertainment to the football masses, Gascoigne's puerile buffoonery, the belches and the tongue-out pranks, were tolerated as expressions of an immature man-child. We have known differently for a long time but remain powerless in the face of the unrelenting enemy that is his addiction to alcohol.
That telling nod of Gary Lineker's towards Bobby Robson and the England bench in Italy 23 years ago was a prophetic alarm call alerting the world to the impending doom not of England's immediate World Cup semi-final prospects against Germany but Gascoigne's future. It held within its knowing expression a sense of unfolding that would become a tragi-comedy of Shakespearean proportions, embracing any number of extremes, from wife-beating to mournful entreaties to murderers: "Come on Moaty, lad, it's Gazza."
On the same day as Gascoigne was falling apart at a function in Northampton, David Beckham was holding court in Paris. Beckham has reached a high point of celebrity where simply to appear is an event. Football is no longer the point. It hasn't been since he left Real Madrid six years ago. Behind him Beckham has more advisors than team-mates. Where his genius once centred on the ability to bend it like, well, Beckham, his unique selling point now is to convey a sense of relevance where there is none.
In contrast, the think-tank plotting Gascoigne's route through the fame game extended no further than Fivebellies, celebrity football fan and radio personality Danny Baker and broadcaster Chris Evans, all of whom had his best interests at heart on their Friday nights out but no plan. No blame attaches to them. Gascoigne was not their responsibility.
Beckham's attachment to a pop princess of the moment was the life-changing accident that exposed him to a world that understood the value of visibility over talent. Through the strategic manipulation of a willing and avaricious media, a construction with all the substance of balsa wood becomes a concrete reality in gullible minds. And so just as Victoria and her Spice Girls were able to sell themselves as a force of empowerment for the further emancipation of the global sisterhood, so Beckham is, through the device of a charitable donation, able to assure his passage into sainthood.
The transformation requires in the audience an absence of a critical dimension, exemplified by this response from Le Monde. "The former captain of the England team has an extraordinary understanding of space and distribution in the game, a brilliant technique and excels in the art of the long cross. 'Becks' has an exceptional personality: like Best, without alcohol, the genius of Gascoigne, kindness and more, and the iron determination of Keegan, but warmer. But the personality of David the Magnificent far transcends his talent."
At least Gascoigne was given a walk-on part in Le Monde's Beckham fantasy. It may be that his deep personality flaws were always going to be beyond the help that football could offer. But perhaps the checks and balances imposed by the image-makers in the modern age might have eased or at least offered Gascoigne more protection as he negotiated the frenzied height of fame.
Gascoigne would have felt the same sense of empowerment as Tiger Woods, whose indulgence of his base instincts did not involve the complicating agency of alcohol and led to a remarkable act of contrition in a televised confessional straight out of a Hollywood soap. It was as plausible as the Beckham sainthood and the Spice Girl revolution, but that doesn't matter as long as enough people buy into the message.
It was a long road back but Woods plays golf again now without reference to his tawdry habits in the 19th hole. Meanwhile Gascoigne is left to battle the grim ravages of alcoholism in relative isolation.
Even if Schmeichel's appeal were answered, the damage is done. Gascoigne is condemned to teeter on the edge of existence, the victim of a talent and a personality over-indulged in his youth.
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