Last time out we looked at the emergence of Paul Gascoigne and in particular his club career up to and including the career-defining challenge on Gary Charles of Nottingham Forest in the 1991 FA Cup Final. In this instalment, we will look at the far-reaching consequences of this act of folly in terms of Gascoigne’s career.
In the spring of 1991, Gascoigne’s career was in the balance. The ridiculous challenge at Wembley could well have ended Charles’ career, but while the Forest man thankfully suffered no more than having to invest in new shin pads and a pack of ice to reduce the swelling, Gascoigne’s future was in doubt as he had ruptured his cruciate ligaments.
Poised to join Italian side Lazio straight after the final, that move was now on hold, and although the Rome-based club was still keen for the transfer to ultimately go through, they were not prepared to sign a player with a long-term injury. Instead, Gascoigne remained a Spurs player and began the long process of rehabilitation.
Progress seemed to be being made and with a return to action seemingly on the cards, Gascoigne headed back to Newcastle at the end of 1991 for a family visit. It was while enjoying a night out that an altercation with a member of the public took place and Gascoigne suffered further damage to his injured leg, thus ruling him out of the entire 1991-92 season.
Finally, upon the conclusion of the campaign, the deal to Lazio was signed and sealed for a reportedly cut-price £5.5 million transfer fee and a £2 million signing-on fee for Gazza.
The Paul Gascoigne that finally showed up in Rome a full twelve months after he had been due, ultimately turned out to be a very different one to the hero of the Arsenal semi-final just 16 months or so earlier.
For one thing, he hadn’t played in over a year, and for another, he was overweight and unfit. Lazio, managed by Italy World Cup legend Dino Zoff, were far from impressed. It wasn’t until the end of September 1992 that Gascoigne finally made his Lazio debut, in a televised match against Genoa.
The first season in Italy saw Gascoigne attempting to settle while never really managing to do so. While there were some highlights, such as scoring a last-minute equalizer against city rivals, AS Roma, these were few and far between. In total Gazza managed just 26 appearances for Lazio in his debut season, scoring only four goals.
Unfortunately, this was as good as it was going to get for him in Italy and the next season saw a decrease to just 17 matches. It was then that Gascoigne suffered another long-term injury and as a result almost the entire 1994-95 season was missed with just two appearances to his name.
It was ultimately no surprise to anyone that a mutual parting of the ways was announced in the spring of 1995. Gascoigne had, no doubt, gone to Italy full of good intentions but the very antics and characteristics that had found a way into many an Englishman’s heart over the past few years, were the same features that prevented Gascoigne from being any success in Italy.
For some reason, the Romans of Lazio didn’t find Gascoigne’s japes and pranks all that funny. The belching into microphones during interviews, the crude references regarding the club owner’s daughter, the poor timekeeping and weight problems, were, unaccountably things that failed to tickle his employers and so, added to the lack of productive result on the pitch, it was to everyone’s benefit to concede Gazza’s time was up.
Gascoigne was thus looking for another club in the summer of 1995, and after being linked with various Premier League sides, he eventually made the slightly surprising decision to move north of the border and joined Glasgow Rangers.
Onto Glasgow: The Rangers Years
Ten years on from the Graeme Souness-inspired Revolution, when international-standard players from England and beyond first started making the trek into Scotland, the footballing landscape at Rangers and in Scotland generally had changed. Rangers and Celtic were larger than ever with higher income streams than previously, and although European success had still proved elusive for the Old Firm, it seemed to be ever closer than before.
That Rangers were able to tempt Gascoigne to sign for them in both a financial and footballing sense, perhaps should not have come as a surprise, and yet still eyebrows were raised by those who anticipated a return to English football for the now 28-year-old.
These should have been the absolute peak years of his career, and to be fair, he did seem to enjoy a certain degree of renaissance during his time in Glasgow, Signed by the no-nonsense managerial team of Walter Smith and Archie Knox, Gascoigne made supreme efforts to concentrate on his football at times, and yet still found himself struggling with off-field activities and problems.
Paul Gascoigne’s troubles with various addictions are well-documented and are not the point of these articles. His battles with alcoholism and drug-dependency have been constant throughout his adult life, as have the serious mental issues that have caused him, and those closest to him, untold hours of grief and worry.
Whilst at Rangers, he played some good football in spells for a strong side and was an instant hit with players, supporters and club officials. The general consensus was for all his faults and foibles, Gazza had a heart of gold and was forever ready to help others who needed it while lightening the mood of those around him.
Even at this stage of his career, when on song, he was able to light up a football field like few either before or since have done. His star shone brightly for a while at Rangers as the Scottish Premier Division was secured in successive years along with a Scottish Cup and a Scottish League Cup success.
Such was Gascoigne’s form in that inaugural 1995-96 season in Scotland, that he was named PFA Scotland Players’ Player of the Year. This was Gascoigne playing at as close to 1991 levels as he was ever going to, and yet some critics sniped that Scottish domestic football was hardly the pinnacle of the European game, thus diluting his achievements somewhat.
Nevertheless, it was good to see the colour back in Gascoigne’s cheeks for a couple of years at least.
Back to England
In the spring of 1998, Gascoigne was on the move again. He had lost some of his sparkle in Glasgow and with Rangers on the way to being denied a historic ten-in-a-row league title by Celtic, his old England team-mate Bryan Robson, by now managing First Division Middlesbrough, tabled a £3.45 million bid for him.
Making his debut as a substitute in the Wembley Coca-Cola Cup Final defeat to Chelsea, Gascoigne was once again ‘starting afresh’.
Once again, however, it was to prove to be something of a false dawn. Gascoigne and Middlesbrough were promoted at the end of that 1997-98 season, and enjoyed a decent enough first season back in the top flight, with Gascoigne playing well enough for some wise sages to call for his return to the England fold. It was, to tell the truth, a mere flurry of form and after a year or so at the Riverside, Gascoigne was once again struggling.
Fitness, form, injuries and problems in his personal life were taking more and more of a toll on him, and at times he already looked a sad shadow of his former figure. He could still rally, though, and there were just enough glimpses of his old form for people to not give up totally on him.
The 1999-2000 season was pretty much a disaster for Gascoigne with only eleven appearances and one goal to show to his name. The standout moment of the season came when Gazza broke his arm attempting to elbow Aston Villa’s George Boateng in the head, an action that resulted in a three-match ban from the FA.
The End on the Field
Cutting their losses, Middlesbrough handed Gascoigne a free transfer in 2000 and he promptly managed to persuade his old Rangers boss, Walter Smith, to take a chance on him with a two-year contract at Everton. Now thirty-three years of age, Gascoigne struggled to make any real sort of impact at Goodison Park in just under two years and when Smith left the club in the spring of 2002, Gazza was not far behind.
Not quite finished in football yet, Gascoigne allowed himself to be talked into playing out the remainder of the season at First Division side Burnley. Under the management of Stan Ternent, Burnley were in the mix for a place in the play-offs. When the Turf Moor club ultimately just lost out on a top-six finish, Gascoigne left the club having totalled just half a dozen appearances.
With no English side willing to take a punt of the ageing and tiring Gascoigne, he was forced to look further afield, and so began a short and ill-fated spell in Chinese football. Signed by China League One club Gansu Tianma as a player-coach, Gascoigne – not surprisingly – failed to settle and soon returned permanently to England.
Gascoigne’s final games as a player were etched out at the beginning of the 2004-05 season when he made a total of five appearances for basement division team, Boston United.
To see the man scratching about in front of a few thousand spectators was a sad end to the career of someone who had promised so much and given so much pleasure to so many, albeit over such a relatively short period.
In the final part of the series, we will look at Gascoigne’s England career in depth and ruminate over what could have been.