An unavoidable conclusion is that England's most accomplished footballer is only just out of short trousers and a passion for Thomas the Tank Engine videos.
Whatever Gascoigne did or did not do on the England squad's flight home from Hong Kong, contemplation of the embarrassment he has frequently caused, and the fairly obvious notion that he is 29 going on the age of a playschool pupil, should not persuade anyone to suppose that poor conduct from professional footballers is without precedent in previous generations of heroes.
The attitude of professional footballers generally is shaped by the fact that they are men playing a boys game. It is a world of relentless mickey taking and juvenile pranks. The principal topics of conversation in dressing- rooms are money and sex. Players who read books are viewed with deep suspicion. Some years ago a televised attempt to portray a day in the life of the former Celtic winger, Jimmy Johnstone, revealed depressingly that he spent most of his time after training "just hangin' aboot''.
Booze sometimes comes into it too. "Why do your players drink so much?" asked the late Gigi Perronace, who brokered the earliest transfers of British players to Italian clubs. During the five hugely successful years John Charles spent with Juventus he never saw a player the worse for drink. "There was always wine on the table at meal times but nobody took more than a couple of glasses," he recalled. "They don't have to be told either. Drinking just isn't a part of their culture."
German and Dutch players have a reputation for falling out among themselves and with their coaches, but unlike their British counterparts they are unlikely to seek out the nearest bar.
Drink fuelled a scandal involving the England team at Belgrade airport in 1974 shortly after the Football Association fired Alf Ramsey. Temporarily under he guidance of Joe Mercer, some of the England players took advantage of a more relaxed atmosphere and began drinking heavily on the flight, thus alerting fellow travellers to the possibility of an incident. Allowed to straggle through immigration instead of being ushered as they were under Ramsey, the first arrivals began clowning about on a luggage carousel to the annoyance of a watching policeman. Although innocent of this prattish behaviour, Kevin Keegan, being closest to hand, was arrested.
No liberties were taken during Ramsey's time. "Would you think about allowing us to travel in casual gear?" Bobby Charlton asked Ramsey before England undertook a summer tour. "I'll think about it," Ramsey replied, adding quickly: "I've thought about. We'll travel in blazers and flannels."
Ramsey let it be known early that he would not tolerate even minor breaches of discipline. On the eve of England's departure from Lisbon for the United States in the summer of 1964, four senior players returning to the hotel 30 minutes after curfew each found a passport and air ticket on his pillow. "There are four people here who need to see me," Ramsey said curtly the next morning at breakfast. One was Bobby Charlton. "We hadn't misbehaved, gone out on the town or anything," he said. "Just a little late getting back. But Alf wasn't having any excuses. He told us that if it had been possible to get replacements we would have been on the plane home. Right away, we knew exactly where we stood with Alf."
The thing to know about the majority of professional footballers is that they cannot always be relied upon to discipline themselves. Expecting them to behave sensibly at all times is asking for trouble. "Treat players like adults and there is a good chance that they will respond accordingly," Ron Greenwood said when managing West Ham. Not many years afterwards, five members of his team, including Bobby Moore and Jimmy Greaves, were suspended and fined for spending time in a nightclub on the eve of an FA Cup defeat at Blackpool.
Nothing much has changed, although from personal experience as a teenage professional things appeared to be different in the decade following World War II, probably because teams were made up mostly of players who had spent five years in uniform.
Jimmy Adamson, who played in a fine Burnley team of the 1960s, had this thought as their manager. "It would be interesting to see how many of my lot would make it if they were told to make their own way to our next away match. Eight? Nine? Not all of them, that's for sure."
Nevertheless, what we are talking about mainly is childishness, just another expression of the lager lout culture, fostered in football by salaries that are, in the main, out of all proportion to ability and celebrity fawning.
It does not begin to compare with the awfulness of charges laid this week in the United States against Darryl Henley, who turned out at corner back for the Los Angeles Rams. Arraigned on drugs offences, Henley is alleged to have called on a mobile telephone from his prison cell to put out contract hits, totalling $1m (pounds 660,000), on a judge and a peace officer.
As for Gascoigne, it is said he responds best when aware of loving attention. Well, so do my small grandsons. Perhaps that is it. Put Gascoigne with small children and he is with his people.
FA's sceptical reaction, page 3,
Jim White, page 19Reuse content