Gascoigne has become the first player to be accused of spending too much time lifting bar bells and not enough lifting bar bills

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The Independent Online
On Wednesday night Paul Gascoigne managed to complete a match without any additional damage to the injury which has most recently threatened his career: the bruised scar tissue on his forehead and elbows. This latest in the catalogue of knocks that constitutes the Gazza career was incurred during a scuffle masquerading as a football match between Rangers and Aberdeen last weekend. This event has attracted the attentions of Glasgow police, a force which, after previous involving the likes of Terry Butcher and Duncan Ferguson, seems to enjoy nothing more than a football match. They are anxious to talk to Gascoigne, and others, at the earliest opportunity.

No wonder against Switzerland Gazza played like a man relieved, a man happy to be away from Glasgow. His new workplace, he claimed, is putting his fragile emotions under the sort of assault usually conducted on his hamstrings by opposition centre-backs.

"I'm a target now," he told the Daily Mirror on Tuesday. "The pressure is always on me. I can't go out and get pissed. It's not worth it. I get followed if I go to a club or pub, so I'm trapped in my hotel. I have been for two months."

Instead of drinking to pass the time, Gazza has been doing prolonged work-outs, an additional effort which some experts claim has contributed to the collection of minor ailments to which he is prone. Which makes him the first player to be accused of spending too much time lifting bar bells and not enough lifting bar bills.

With the mayhem of an Old Firm derby to look forward to tomorrow, Gazza's humour could not have been much improved had he, in the prison cell that is his hotel room, caught sight on Sunday night of a Channel 4 documentary called Football, Faith and Flutes. A sort of one-camera refutation of the Glasgow's Miles Better campaign, the programme painted a portrait of a city not so much obsessed with football as prepared to go to war over it.

"I'm not a violent man," explained one lad, the seams of his Rangers shirt being tested to their limit by his beer-bloated nether regions. "As soon as you see the first flash of green or a Republic jersey, something inside of you snaps."

"They call themselves Protestants," said a skag-wasted youth, bony arms dangling from the sleeves of his hooped Celtic shirt. "But they're just saying they're Protestants because they want to be different from the Catholics: most of them are atheists."

Which is a new one of those of us used to the standard Glaswegian definition of an atheist: a bloke who goes to the Rangers-Celtic match to watch the football.

And if Gazza has reading matter by the side of his bed, let's hope, for his present state of mind, it is not Stephen Walsh's Voices of the Old Firm. While he takes a more humorous approach to fitba life in Glasgow (like the apposite Celtic chant at Duncan Ferguson when he was a Rangers player: "He's tall, he's skinny, he's going to Barlinnie.") Walsh still finds room for contributions like this in his fan's eye account of rivalry.

"I detest the Old Firm matches because the atmosphere is nothing short of poisonous." An excited place Glasgow, undoubtedly. But might it not strike Gazza - and those so ready to accept his explanations - as odd that so many players have been thrown into this pressure cooker and managed not to barricade themselves in their hotel room. Without wishing to condone for a moment the kind of hatred which is so often dismissed as part and parcel of the game, players like Paul Elliott and Mark Walters, for instance, had even more than straightforward sectarian loathing to contend with, yet resisted the need to resort to the elbow. Even Maurice Johnston, the first man to pull off the difficult trick of enraging both sides when he was transferred from Celtic to Rangers, occasionally managed to slip out for a quiet drink (albeit by dint of going out in Edinburgh).

Moreover Gazza ought to be used to a bit of pressure and local interest by now. His last three places of employment have been Rome (not exactly short of passion), London (awash with flesh-pots and tabloid photographers) and Newcastle (where the locals have been known to get excited in footballing matters). What appears to be his problem is that, unlike some of his contemporaries, the words quiet and drink seldom appear in conjunction in his life. Fame has, apparently, not dulled that propensity for drawing attention to himself which has been evident since he was a regular participant in that old Saturday night ritual on Tyneside: getting chinned down the Bigg Market. When he arrived at Rangers, a hoarding appeared above one city centre drinking hole which read: "From the world's greatest pub to the world's greatest player: welcome to Glasgow Gazza."

Whoever is to blame, it is clear that the love affair between Gazza and Glasgow is reaching breaking point.This week's pronouncements sound like the preamble to a divorce. If, as is claimed, the country's finest talent's future depends on finding somewhere where his sanity is not put in jeopardy by the passion of his surroundings, the sooner he moves to Nuneaton Borough the better. Once there, he'd doubtless complain of boredom.

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