TV View: flawed genius Gascoigne a documentary maker’s dream
Long before drink grabbed hold of Gascoigne, his childhood was tainted by tragedy
England’s Paul Gascoigne celebrates after scoring during the European Championship Finals group match against Scotland on June 15th, 1996, in London, England. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images
Studies on flawed genius are multitude. One English man has a catalogue of harrowing tales spread across a lifetime sprinkled with pure skill.
We are not talking about Danny Cipriani.
Gascoigne, the 2015 documentary shown on RTÉ last week, starts with Wayne Rooney, who was saved several embarrassments by Gazza signposting pitfalls, claiming he remains “the greatest England player”.
Flash to the Cruyff turn on two Dutch defenders in 1990.
“Part of his genius, part of his magnificence is the fact that he is so vulnerable,” offered Gary Lineker.
The darkness is enduring. Long before drink grabbed hold of Paul Gascoigne, his childhood was tainted by tragedy.
“Growing up Keith was my best mate. I was in his house all the time. His mam Maureen was a lovely woman, his dad Harry always watched Keith playing. He had a car and used to take us to the matches all the time.
“I just felt like I had two families at that age. I was fortunate.
“There was his little brother Steven. One day his mam said ‘Keith, take Steven [to the boys’ club].’ He was eight and you know how brothers are, he went ‘No, I’m not going if Steven is going.’
“‘Paul, will you take Steven?’ and I’m there, ‘Yeah, I’ll look after him’ but I was only 10. It was only 200 yards up the road. We went to the shop. I said, ‘Quick, let’s run’ and we run out of the shop, he was a yard ahead of me when the car hit him. It was horrific. He must have gone six feet up in the air and his shoes come off...”
Growing up in the Gazza era offered joy and disgust at his actions, in equal measure. The slide from Geordie idol, Spurs conjuror, injury ruined Lazio days, through the tears of Italia 90 after a wild tackle on Thomas Berthold ruled him out of the World Cup final England never reached, to his stunning free kick to beat Arsenal in the ‘91 FA Cup semi-final only for another foolish lunge snapping knee ligaments in the final against Nottingham Forest. The second coming at Euro ‘96 – straight from the dentist chair – and his slow, miserable decline in the grip of alcoholism.
All for everyone to see. Like George Best.
“I have been close to death twice. I know how to stay sober, I know how to relapse. I’m good at both really.”
A documentary maker’s dream, during the 2013 offering Being Paul Gascoigne his voice cracks as a hollow stare utters these words: “I just think sometimes, f**k it, if I drink I might go away – wooden box, six nails.”
His hatred of the media is understandable. This week provided a reminder of the paranoia, feeling utterly betrayed by his parents when really his phone was hacked by The News of the World for 11 years.
“I don’t think I deserved to go through that. Nobody does. Look at the damage it did to Princess Diana (who famously asked Gazza for a kiss before that ‘91 FA Cup final). Where is she now? I didn’t want payment or damages, I wanted to go to court to tell the judge how much they damaged me.”
Twitter might save him. Or at least provide a direct platform to dispel myths offered by the press. See the Daily Mail this week suggesting he’d fallen off the wagon countered by Gazza’s rambling yet believable tweets claiming it was not the case.
“There is no question that Gazza is one of the most loved people in our country,” Lineker concluded. “Yes he made his mistakes but who doesn’t?”
Cipriani’s life lacks the madness of Gascoigne’s – for example, there’s no death threats from the IRA for flute celebration of a Rangers goal – but his talent guarantees some form of deep dive before the star wanes.
Sunday afternoon put his Gloucester side up against Owen Farrell’s Saracens. Only going to be one winner but England coach Eddie Jones would feel vindicated.
“Jones said in his press conference that it is a rugby decision,” said Lawrence Dallaglio of Cipriani’s non selection in the England training squad. “Well, if it’s a rugby decision it’s the wrong decision.”
Cipriani will never be loved like Gazza but his rugby can still overshadow the off-field behaviour even if, age 30, it’s too late to play international rugby again. Of course, that would sully the documentary where misery always trumps redemption.