The last two instalments of our three-part series on Paul Gascoigne have seen us concentrate mainly on his club career. In this concluding part, we will be examining a colourful and sometimes controversial international career that spanned a decade. We will also be having a look at the phenomena that was Gazzamania.
Although Gascoigne made his breakthrough at Newcastle still well inside his teen years, he was not quite as prodigious at international level. There have many players who have made a breakthrough internationally at a younger age than Gascoigne did at a relatively advanced 21 in a friendly match against Denmark. Indeed, he was to be just shy of his twenty-second birthday before he actually got to start a game for the Three Lions.
The England manager at the time was, of course, Sir Bobby Robson, who, like Gascoigne, was a proud Geordie. If Robson harboured any bias or special kinship for Gazza based on shared origins, he kept them hidden well as, despite a press-inspired glamour for Gascoigne’s inclusion, Robson was very much in two minds regarding the midfielder’s merit.
Whilst acknowledging the undoubted talent, and at times even genius of Gascoigne, Robson just wasn’t sure that he possessed either the temperament or discipline for international football. He noted in an early substitute appearance for the side how Gascoigne had totally ignored the instructions he had been given before joining the fray and instead had charged all over the pitch in an effort to make an impression.
As the 1989-90 season drew on, all eyes were on the World Cup due to take place in Italy that summer. After England had survived a six-match qualifying group unbeaten to book a place in the finals, the focus was on who would make the squad.
In the centre of midfield, captain Bryan Robson was a total shoo-in (injury permitting as ever) and Liverpool lynchpin, Steve McMahon, was also pretty much assured of a place on the plane. This left two other slots up for grabs and the smart money was on it being a three-way battle between David Platt of Aston Villa, Arsenal’s David Rocastle, and Gascoigne. It was a battle Rocastle seemed to be winning as the spring approached, with him having nailed down a starting spot in the centre of England’s midfield in the vast majority of qualifying matches, while Gascoigne had appeared only twice, and Platt not at all.
Then as the season was into its final few matches, Rocastle suffered a leg injury that put him out of action for a few weeks and so opened up the door for Platt and Gascoigne to stake their claims. Gascoigne did so with a sterling performance for England at Wembley against Czechoslovakia just before the squad was due to be named.
With Platt also starring in Aston Villa’s push for the league title that season, Rocastle was ultimately the unlucky man to miss out.
When England departed for Sardinia for the group stages of the tournament, speculation was rife as to who would partner Robson in the centre of midfield for the opener against the Republic of Ireland. McMahon was the senior partner in the group but there was a feeling that perhaps he was a slightly poorer version of Robson and England needed a little more flair in the middle of the park.
The question on everyone’s lips seemed to be whether or not Paul Gascoigne could be trusted. Eventually, Sir Bobby decided he could be, and so he took his place in the starting eleven against Jack Charlton’s men on a balmy night in Italy and things there on in were never quite the same in the life of Paul John Gascoigne.
In some ways, Italia ‘90 was both the making and the breaking of Gascoigne. It announced his explosion on the world stage as one of the best players in the world, and, of course, it spawned the phenomena that was to become ‘Gazzamania’, but the price Gascoigne was to ultimately pay for this sky-rocketing to fame would outweigh the benefits that came with it.
As England met the Republic of Ireland, one of the worst footballing spectacles in the history of the ‘Beautiful Game’ was played out in hurricane-like conditions between two sides looking more like mid-table Northern Premier League opposition than supposed international outfits, and the resulting 1-1 draw was quickly consigned to the footballing dustbin.
The second group game against Holland was a different matter, however. With a delegation of England players reputedly talking to Bobby Robson regarding tactics, a switch to 5-3-2 was made and England turned in one of their greatest performances for at least twenty years. Gascoigne starred in what was his best display in an England shirt to date as he ran the midfield. It was a startling display that vindicated Robson’s decision to pick him, and for most of the next seven years or so Gascoigne would remain a first-choice pick for England whenever fit.
Another draw, this time a goalless one, meant that only victory in the final group game would guarantee qualification for the knock-out stages. A scrappy single-goal victory over Egypt was etched out with Gascoigne swinging in the free-kick from which Mark Wright nodded home, with Gazza again playing extremely well individually.
A last-sixteen clash with Belgium was up next, and here England rode their luck and were arguably fortunate to survive until extra-time. With the game petering out and a penalty shoot-out looming, Gascoigne went on one last lung-bursting forage through the heart of the Belgian midfield and succeeded in earning his team a free-kick halfway inside the opponents half.
With everyone jostling for position in the area, Gascoigne took the kick and picked out David Platt who turned and volleyed a 120th-minute winner over his shoulder. Amidst the euphoria of England’s last-gasp victory, it was noted that Gascoigne had picked up a late booking and one more would lead to a one-match suspension.
England met African surprise package Cameroon in the quarter-final and many were of the opinion, most notably England scout Howard Wilkinson, that a ‘practical bye to the semi-final’ had been secured.
120 minutes later, and with Chris Waddle muttering the immortal words to Wilkinson, “Some ***ing bye, that,” England were in the last four of a World Cup for only the second time in their history. This, to tell the truth, was not a great game for either England in general or Gascoigne in particular. He played with a decided lack of discipline throughout and as a result the Cameroon midfield spent large swathes of the match in control.
However, Gascoigne possessed enough in his locker to provide two inspired flashes of inspiration with defence-splitting passes that forced the Cameroon defence to concede two penalties that Gary Lineker duly dispatched to give England a fortuitous 3-2 victory.
July 4th 1990, is a date etched in history and perhaps infamy for Paul Gascoigne. It is the day when he yet again produced a world-class display and yet is remembered for totally different reasons.
With England reaching the heights of the earlier game against Holland rather than the dross of the Republic of Ireland and Egypt games or riding their luck as against the Belgians and Cameroonians, an excellent match headed into extra-time with the scores locked at one apiece.
In the 100th minute, Gascoigne lost control of the ball in the middle of the park going nowhere. In his eagerness to win the ball back, he overreached in his tackle on the West German, Thomas Berthold and was summarily shown the yellow card, thus ruling him out for the final should England get there.
Gascoigne felt, and does to this day, that it was a travesty of a decision to book him, but the reality is it was a reckless and unnecessary challenge to make. The ball was on the touchline practically and Berthold was posing no threat whatsoever. Although the reactions of the West German bench, who to a man sprang to their feet in protest at the challenge, didn’t help, the blame for the booking lay firmly at Gascoigne’s feet alone.
The match ended 1-1 and England, famously, went out on penalties.
Gascoigne was down to take one of the spot-kicks but was too distraught to do so and so Stuart Pearce stepped into the breach instead.
So, the summer of 1990 was over and the legend that was Gazzamania was spawned. Appearances on TV chat shows ensued, pop records were released, ‘Gazza’ was registered as a trademark and the riches started to roll in. So did the problems, however.
Life in a goldfish bowl was not a suitable stage for someone who despite all his talent was still basically an insecure individual, and although the 1990-91 season was arguably the best of his career, the cracks and pressure began to show, culminating in the injury suffered in the 1991 FA Cup Final.
After Graham Taylor took over as England manager in succession to Bobby Robson, England failed to build on the promise of Italia ‘90. Gascoigne spent the entire 1991-92 season injured and so missed England’s disastrous European Championship challenge in Sweden in 1992.
Qualification for the 1994 World Cup was not achieved and Taylor was sacked, making way for Gascoigne’s former Tottenham Hotspur manager, Terry Venables.
Venables understood Gascoigne and was able to get the best out of him as a player and to help him as a person too. He understood, to a degree, the pressures and problems Gascoigne suffered from and so was able to guide, assist and counsel him. Gascoigne repaid this trust by turning in some fine performances that, while not quite up to 1990 levels, showed that there was plenty left in the locker.
Euro ‘96 came round with the entire nation locked into football fever as the tournament was being held on home soil. A difficult preparation period before the tournament ensued with what could euphemistically be termed ‘high jinks’ occurring in a pre-tournament trip to a bar in China, and on a subsequent flight back to England, but by the time the tournament kicked off, the nation was in a frenzy.
Four weeks later and it was all over. Once again the semi-finals had been reached and once again England had been beaten on penalties by the Germans. This time, though, Paul Gascoigne was at least blameless.
He had a good tournament but not the storming one that some people seem to recall through rose-tinted memories. He was largely anonymous in England’s opening match, an uninspiring 1-1 draw against Switzerland, and not much better with an hour gone in the next match against Scotland.
There then came one of the pivotal moments which seemed to define Gascoigne and his career. With England grimly hanging on to a 1-0 lead, and Scotland having just missed a penalty through Gary McAllister, the ball was played to Gascoigne just outside the Scotland penalty area.
Taking it first time, he flicked the ball over Colin Hendry’s head and ran around him. Not taking a moment to pause or catch a breath, Gascoigne then volleyed home past Andy Goram in the Scotland goal. It was one of Wembley’s most iconic moments.
A stunning England performance in the final group stage against Holland resulted in a 4-1 victory and then in a mirror of the Belgium and Cameroon matches six years earlier, England next rode their collective luck to overcome Spain in the quarter-finals on penalties, with Gascoigne and Pearce both going some way to slaying the ghosts of half a dozen years prior by netting.
So, the Germans. Again. So, penalties. Again. So, defeat. Again.
Once more a 1-1 draw meant the two sides couldn’t be separated as chances were spurned at either end, In the last throws of extra time it looked as if Gazza might win it for England when he was a toenail from connecting with a cross that if converted would have sent England through to the final courtesy of a Golden Goal.
Alas, it was not to be and within two years Gascoigne’s England career was over.
Hoddle and The End
After Euro ‘96, Terry Venables stepped down as England Coach and was replaced by Chelsea manager, Glenn Hoddle. It was a bold decision to give the job to someone who was so relatively inexperienced as a manager, seeing that Hoddle had only five years’ club experience and had only totally retired as a player himself a year previously.
Yet the early signs were good. England qualified for the 1998 World Cup through a difficult group containing both Italy and Poland courtesy of a goalless draw in Rome in the final match. This game saw Gascoigne playing a supremely disciplined role in the middle of the park, displaying a maturity and leadership that augered well for the future and showed that although slowing down, Gascoigne still had a big part to play in England’s plans.
Unfortunately, there then followed another period of domestic upheaval and unhappiness in the man’s life, and form at club level began to be more sporadic. There was growing concern that as he approached his thirty-first birthday, his sometime excesses were taking longer to recover from and he was no longer able to dominate games on the international stage as he once had.
Nevertheless, he was still in Hoddle’s thoughts as the end of the domestic season loomed and he was included in the provisional World Cup squad of 28 that would be reduced to 23 upon the conclusion of the warm-up friendlies.
Having taken the opportunity to examine Gascoigne at close quarters over a few weeks, Hoddle was not sure he liked what he was seeing. Gascoigne appeared unfit and overweight; he was off the pace in training and in games, and he still seemed to be eating and drinking inappropriately. It was then that Hoddle made the somewhat controversial decision to leave Gascoigne out of the squad.
It was Gascoigne’s second World Cup heartbreak, but like his first back in 1990, it was largely self-inflicted. One could not help but feel for him under the circumstances, but in the cold light of day, it was the right decision. There were players who deserved to be on the plane to France ahead of Paul Gascoigne, and that was all there was to it.
Gascoigne never played for England again, and, indeed, never featured in another squad. It was a sad end for a man who promised so much at the start of his career and one who had given so much pleasure, no matter how fleeting.
Almost twenty years after retirement, Paul Gascoigne remains very much in the public eye and is still a household name as he attempts to come to terms with life after football.