Shadow cast over Gascoigne by inquiry

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The Independent Online

Football Correspondent

The legal and media glare was lifted from Terry Venables yesterday - but it did not give the England coach any joy. The spotlight moved to his favourite son, Paul Gascoigne, who looks set to go into tomorrow's friendly international with Switzerland with the prospect of a police investigation hanging over him.

The procurator fiscal in Scotland has asked Strathclyde police to examine "certain incidents" in Rangers' league match with Aberdeen on Saturday. TV evidence appeared to show him head-butting the Aberdeen defender John Inglis in the chest and making contact with his elbow with Paul Bernard, who needed five stitches in a chin wound. Gascoigne was not booked, but the referees' supervisor will be supplying a report to the Scottish Football Association.

The police inquiry will not necessarily centre on Gascoigne. In a rugged encounter other players, from both sides, were also involved in controversy.

The police involvement comes just weeks after a three-month jail sentence on Duncan Ferguson was confirmed by three appeal judges in Scotland. Ferguson was charged with assault after head-butting John McStay, then of Raith, while playing for Rangers.

Rejecting Ferguson's appeal, Scotland's most senior judge, Lord Hope, the Lord Justice General, said the courts had no wish to intervene in contact sports where "some measure of aggression" was part of the game for player and spectator. But he went on: "When acts go well beyond what can be regarded as normal physical contact and an assault is committed, the court has a duty to condemn and punish such conduct. It has to be made clear both to players and to the public that such criminal acts cannot be tolerated on the field of play, any more than they can be tolerated in any place in this country.

"A footballer who assaults another player on the football field is not entitled to expect leniency from a court just because the incident occurred in the course of a football match."

The news capped a bad day for Gascoigne, who injured his knee during training at Bisham Abbey. The knee was heavily strapped and, although Gascoigne finished the session, his participation tomorrow depends on how quickly he recovers.

Gascoigne admitted yesterday that the pressure of being Scotland's biggest celebrity was getting to him. "I feel everybody is watching me. I am in the papers every day. I do not know what they would write about if it was not for me.

"I have never been in a pub, or for a night out, in Glasgow. The lads say `Come out', but I say `It will spoil it for you.' I have just been in the hotel for two months. I did not expect it to be like this."

That the attention should come as a surprise to Gascoigne is a mystery. A brief word with McCoist or Ferguson - neither of whom are as high-profile as Gascoigne - would have told him what life as Rangers's most famous player would be like.

Of Saturday's match, Gascoigne said: "I had a bad press but no one mentioned that I was spat at and punched. I had to have the doctor look at my ribs and sides. I do not say anything about that. I just get on with it - it is not worth complaining. I get stick and I give it out.

"It was worse because I played up front, which I do not prefer. And I got fed up because the ball was not coming through - I should have gone looking for it."

While understandable, Gascoigne's response is worrying. He will suffer similar provocation during the European Championship next summer and if he cannot cope with it, England may find themselves playing with 10 men.

"He is going to be a target, he always has been, it is part of the game," Venables said. "He has got to handle it. He has the experience to do so and, in the main, he handles it well. There is going to be the occasional lapse.

"He is not someone who can be kicked out of a game. Some talented players, you give them a `rap' early on, and they slip out the game. Not Paul. He is mentally and physically tough."

Gascoigne had seen Venables on Sunday night, when he rejoined the England squad, to explain Saturday's events. Yesterday he added: "I am putting myself under too much pressure." Gascoigne said he felt unduly nervous before the game because he felt a burden of responsibility to Rangers after their recent defeats in Europe and the Scottish Coca-Cola Cup.

One by-product of his goldfish bowl existence is that Gascoigne spends most evenings working out in the gym, or going on long runs. "It is better than eating sandwiches or having a pint," he said. Ironically he thinks he may now be overdoing it. He said he was "shattered" on Saturday and will have to learn to pace his training better. Over-training may be a factor in his constant niggling injuries.

England's only other fitness doubt is Gary Pallister, who did not train yesterday after suffering a migraine at the weekend. Rob Jones is already out, with a viral infection, but Gary Neville was expected to return to right-back in any event.