When Everton signed Paul Gascoigne in the summer of 2000 most Evertonians were unsure whether to laugh or cry.
On the one hand, Gascoigne was the finest and best-known English footballer of his generation, and yet the litany of personal demons – boozing, burping, wife-beating – were well known. As a footballer, fans were perpetually left to wonder if Gascoigne could put those behind him, whether they would see him at his best again – the brilliant player who propelled England to within a whisker of the 1990 World Cup. In Scotland, Walter Smith had at times got the best from Gascoigne, and Evertonians wondered if he could repeat the trick at Goodison.
Put simply, Smith was unable to do this. On the rare occasions Gascoigne was unleashed, it was to witness a footballing tragedy unfold. For here was a man whose footballing brain was as sharp as ever, but whose body – through injuries and the effects of years of boozing and excess – was unable to keep pace with it.
WHAT WAS particularly infuriating about Smith was that he sheltered Gazza, whose personal excesses were wildly rumoured on Merseyside but not revealed until his unusually candid autobiography was published in 2004, while not giving quality young players, like Michael Ball, an inch.
WITHIN DAYS of David Moyes’ arrival in March 2002, Gascoigne joined Burnley. From there a desperately sad odyssey for a role within the game – any role – took in the Chinese Second Division and various lower league outposts in English football.
An oblivion of drink and drug abuse followed and his sectioning under the Mental Health Act in February 2008 had an aura of sad inevitability.
GASCOIGNE, PAUL, AND HUNTER DAVIES, Gazza: My Story, Headline, 2004