Gazza, the untold stories: the need-to-know tales that launched a legend

Everyone has an anecdote to tell about the most naturally gifted player of a generation, from flying tackles to fishing rods – and there was true on-pitch greatness amid the off-pitch madness. On his 50th birthday, FFT looks back at the glory years

Mars Bar kid wins the cup

Newcastle United youth, 1985

It was a season that began with a warning about cream cakes and ended with a burger on the M1

Gascoigne: “I still have great memories of that night, but I was lucky to be playing, let alone captaining the side. I’d been concentrating on Mars bars more than football for a while, but when Jack Charlton arrived at the club, he got me focused. Watford had drawn 0-0 at St James’ but we went down there without fear. 

"I remember sitting in the bath and Elton John walking in to congratulate us. I was bollock naked singing, ‘Elton, Elton, give us a song’. Then Jack said he wanted me in the first team the next day. I froze when he asked. I travelled down to Norwich but didn’t play. I think the boss saw in my eyes I wasn’t ready.”

Paul Gascoigne

Gazza's career began at local club Newcastle

It was a season that began with a warning about cream cakes and ended with a burger on the M1. There was a first-team debut, a stunning individual performance to win the FA Youth Cup and a nude encounter with an international pop star.

The 1984/85 season might have been the one that turned Paul Gascoigne into Gazza; it was definitely the one, says boyhood team-mate Joe Allon, that turned him from “the ugly duckling into a swan”. Yet at the start of the campaign, all that seemed very far away for the 17-year-old. 

Making the breakthrough

His range of passing even then was unbelievable. He stood out in a team of half-decent players

- Newcastle supporter

“All we wanted to do was play for Newcastle United,” says Allon, the centre-forward who rose through the ranks with Gascoigne before going on to Chelsea and Hartlepool. “I used to meet him at Central Station every morning. We’d get the Metro and the bus, the number 38, to the training ground at Benwell. 

“Newcastle had been crap for years but the club was transformed when Kevin Keegan arrived in 1982. Suddenly we had players like Terry McDermott, Chris Waddle, Peter Beardsley – watching them and the whole transformation of Newcastle United was exciting. We were desperate to be a part of it.”

Chris Waddle, Peter Beardsley

Waddle and Beardsley were part of a talented Toon squad

Supporter Dave Craggs recalls seeing Gascoigne at 14: “His range of passing even then was unbelievable. He stood out in a team of half-decent players.” Manager Arthur Cox and his youth team staff agreed, while rolling their eyes at the prospect’s propensity for gaffes, such as the moped accident which ruled him out of a prestigious summer tournament, or the celebrated occasion on which he left a pair of Keegan’s boots on the bus, where they were rescued by an elderly fan called Auld Stevie.

Then there was his fluctuating weight, fuelled by custard tarts and cakes from the nearby Oven Door Tea Room. “People used to call him ‘the chubby little chap’,” says Allon.

Tough love

Gascoigne was told he was too fat – Charlton actually patted the youngster’s stomach disdainfully

The departure of Cox in a contractual dispute shortly after Keegan’s retirement in May 1984 stalled what seemed to be a comfortable passage to the first team. Invited to meet replacement Jack Charlton, Gascoigne was told he was too fat – Charlton actually patted the youngster’s stomach disdainfully – and would be dropped from the youth team as a result.

“I’m giving you two weeks,” said the 1966 World Cup winner. “If you’ve not made it by then, I’ll show you the door.” Gascoigne spent 10 days running in a black plastic bin liner after training, won a recall and later the youth team captaincy.

Jack Charlton

Charlton's approach brought the best out of Gascoigne

“He and I had got the recognition previously because we scored most of the goals, but we were just two good players in a very good side,” says Allon. “Then Paul started to blossom and he was magnificent in our cup run. There was a bit of Hans Christian Andersen about it all – the ugly duckling turning into a swan.

"He was on the road to where he got to in Italia 90, the best player in the world, but he never changed. He could be quiet and shy, though most times he was silly and loveable. And he was unbelievably generous: he’d give money away to people he thought needed it, leaving himself broke.”

With a supporting cast including keeper Gary Kelly, defender Kevin Scott and winger Paul Stephenson, who all went on to make more than 50 appearances in Newcastle’s first team, plus midfielders Ian Bogie and Brian Tinnion and defender Jeff Wrightson, who enjoyed success elsewhere, the Magpies brushed aside Everton, Manchester City, Leeds and Coventry by a combined 13-1 scoreline en route to the semi-final, where a Birmingham City side led by Julian Dicks were hammered 7-2 on aggregate. Gascoigne had scored seven times ahead of the final, and made his senior debut as a substitute against QPR on April 13.

The first leg of the final brought 1982 winners Watford to St James’ Park on April 30, where more than 7,000 home fans turned up to watch what they hoped would be Newcastle’s first youth trophy since 1962. Though the consensus is that Hornets goalkeeper Derrick Williams played a worldie, Allon remembers: “We were s**t in the first one. It was really disappointing because there’d been a great crowd. In the first round we’d had three men and a dog watching.”

Joe Allon

Allon, pictured here playing for Hartlepool, admits Newcastle were poor in the first game

Natural talent

One 30-yard pass fatefully caught the eye of Tottenham chairman Irving Scholar

On May 6, Gascoigne made another substitute appearance for the first team against Spurs, with one 30-yard pass fatefully catching the eye of Tottenham chairman Irving Scholar. Four days later the youth team travelled to Vicarage Road, accompanied by Charlton and his assistant Maurice Setters, as well as coaches Colin Suggett and Jimmy Nelson. “We played cards all the way down and Big Jack promised us a steak dinner if we won,” recalls Allon.

This time, in front of 7,097, there would be no heroics from Derrick Williams. “The second time we smashed them,” says Allon. “I always felt, and still feel, that we were a really good team, but Paul was the conductor that night. He was instrumental in everything we did.”

Gazza was irresistible from the off. “At Watford in those days, you sat on benches on the side of the pitch,” Nelson said, “and the guy who was at Watford at the time, Tom Walley, had produced some very good players. Right in front of the pair of us on those benches, which were about a yard apart, Paul megged this lad. The lad turned around and Paul megged him again on the way back. I shouted: ‘Behave yourself!’

Paul Gascoigne

Gascoigne and Newcastle proved too strong for Watford in the second leg

"He smiled, winked and raked a 50-yard passto Joe Allon, who I think went on to score. Walley simply said: ‘He’s got a chance.’” While Allon would score another and Malcolm Allen would net for the hosts, there was no doubting the real star of the show.

“Gascoigne looked streets ahead of the people he was playing with and he was a nightmare to play against,” says Dave Craggs. “The physique he had would ease players off the ball, and the speed of thought he had would put him in yards of space. He would take defenders on and laugh at them. He worked on a different level, with this sense of fun, and he did it all night long.”

Contract offer

On the way home we did get our steak supper from Jack Charlton. But it turned out to be a Burger King at the services

- Joe Allon

A performance of outstanding quality was capped by a strike of sheer brilliance, one of two Gazza goals in a 4-1 win. “He took on three players, nutmegged two of them, moved it sideways and smashed it in,” says Craggs – “one of the best goals I’ve seen at any level.”

Allon adds: “It was from 25 yards and right in the top corner, by the way. A striker like me didn’t even know about putting the ball into corners. It was typical of Paul’s unique talent. That day he was majestic – different gravy. For me it was looking at someone and thinking: ‘Wow, you are there, man’.” An astounded Setters told the press: “You’d have to wait a thousand years to see that again.” 

“On the way home we did get our steak supper from Jack Charlton,” says Allon. “But it turned out to be a Burger King at the services.” Before they even got off the bus, Charlton offered Gascoigne a full two-year contract, with his wages rising from £25 to £120 a week and another £120 per first-team appearance.

In addition, the manager promised to take him out fishing, the hobby that Big Jack had recently parlayed into a successful TV series, book and computer game. Emboldened, Gazza went out and spent his first £120 on top-of-the-range fishing gear.

On the riverbank, Charlton took one look and threw the lot in the river. Then, Gascoigne later recalled, “He took out a can of Guinness, poured it into the water and all the fish came.” The young man clearly had plenty still to learn.

Stories

Mars Bar kid wins the cup • Italia 90 here I come • Broke Spurs dragged to Wembley • Paul lands in Rome • The idol of Ibrox

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