By Jack Peat, TLE Editor
The greatest tragedy of Paul Gascoigne’s life is how few people will remember him for what he was; a truly phenomenal footballer.
A mainstay of tabloid newspapers, the England legend has endured an unprecedented fall from grace since the glory days of his football career. The public’s insatiable appetite for hero to villain stories has kept his tragic demise in the public eye, but even by the standards of the heartless redtops, his life has become too painful to watch.
But things seem to be finally on the up for Gazza. Rightly compensated for the hacking of his phone by the Mirror Group and enjoying a decent hiatus from the front pages of the tabloids, the public opinion is shifting from disappointment to empathy. A recent interview on BT Sport with Russell Brand demonstrated a fresh approach to the star, although one senses a full transformation is still a long way off.
It therefore feels like a documentary film about Gazza’s life is well placed to rekindle our passion for the national hero.
Transporting us from the docks of Gateshead through to goals at the Gallowgate end, we get a glimpse of a turbulent youth that would feed into flare on the pitch and frivolity off it.
His exceptional talent was evident from the early appearances. As Gary Lineker points out, Gazza’s unstable character was what made him so difficult to handle on the pitch. He was able to funnel his daring, charismatic persona onto the football field where he would turn defenders inside out and score goals from impossible angles.
Even the most renowned footballers in the league were forced to resort to extraordinary measures.
At club level, Gazza made a name for himself as a creative and dynamic talent. But it wasn’t until he got his first England cap that he would really steal the nation’s heart.
The World Cup of 1990 made him a national icon.
It mattered not that he returned in defeat, his tears created a human connection that the country embraced.
As Wayne Rooney said: “You don’t shed tears on the football pitch if you don’t care about playing for your country. I would say he the most exciting English player I have seen and certainly the best.”
This film is a well balanced reflection of how that passion would flare on and off the pitch.
The interview, which guided the narrative, painfully demonstrated the long-term effects of his alcoholism. But the way his face lit up when regaling mischievous, often hilarious memories was comforting.
The time he borrowed an ostrich from the zoo and brought it to training, or when he gave Ruud Gullit hell by pulling on his dreadlocks in World Cup ’90. Or when he requested a sun-bed for his sister as part of a transfer fee, or when he asked Princess Diana for a kiss before the FA Cup Final.
As Jose Mourinho would say, he did it in his way, and given the choice, the question is; would he have done it any differently?
‘Gascoigne’ is in UK cinemas for one night only – 8 June – and available on Blu-Ray, DVD and Download from 15 June. Watch the trailer below.