Paul Gascoigne: One-on-One

The former Newcastle, Tottenham and England loveable rogue answered FFT readers' questions back in September 2005...

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Seventeen years ago, Newcastle United defender John Bailey remarked that his young team-mate Paul Gascoigne was “either going to be one of the greats or finish up at 40, bitter about wasting such talent”. As it happens, both turned out to be true.

The most gifted player of his generation, Gazza became a household name thanks to his performances – and tears – at the 1990 World Cup, but two years short of his 40th birthday and despite his own protestations, there is a strong sense of tragedy and unfulfilment about his life and career.

When FourFourTwo meets Gazza at the offices of the publishers of his hugely successful autobiography, he is almost unrecognisable from the chubby youth who wept into his England shirt in Italy 15 years ago. He seems frail, speaks slowly and even shakes slightly as he sips a large coffee and puffs on a cigarette – until he’s spotted and frantically asked to put it out before the smoke detectors go off and the whole building has to be evacuated. Cigarette extinguished, he leans back on a sofa and prepares to take your questions.

What was it like to play for the team you adored in front of the people you adored? Do you wish you had been there when Newcastle were better?
Geordie Boy, via e-mail
Playing in front of the Gallowgate in front of all those Geordies stands out as one of the best moments of my career. Even before I made my debut I had some wonderful times at Newcastle. I was an apprentice when Kevin Keegan, Terry McDermott, Peter Beardsley and Chris Waddle were in the team that won promotion. I thought, I want to be like them.

Do your nuts still hurt from that lovely Vinnie Jones vice-grip introduction he gave you some years back?
Dan, via e-mail
When it happened I thought I’d lost my family allowance! Oh, it really hurt and he scared me. I was just a little 18-year-old and he was this huge bloke with muscles all over his body. But he actually made me realise how much skill I had because of the lengths he had to go to to stop me. Vinnie’s tactics worked that day because I didn’t play well, but I learned to deal with that sort of treatment. Funnily enough, when

I later moved to London, Vinnie was the first guy to get in touch and invite me to stay at his house and go fishing and shooting. He even introduced me to his parents. We’ve been great friends ever since.

Sir Alex Ferguson reckons that in 1988 you told him you would go to Man United but then snubbed him for Spurs at the last minute. What’s your version of events? Do you regret not taking your chance to play for them?
Az, Manchester
I don’t regret not playing for Manchester United, but at the same time I have thought about that decision a lot. I told Sir Alex I was signing for United and that he should go away and enjoy his summer holiday. I drove to Old Trafford to put pen to paper, but I kept on driving in my car and eventually joined Tottenham.

At the time I was only young and I looked to others for guidance. I had a great relationship with Chris Waddle, a Newcastle player who’d already moved to Tottenham and he told me to come and join him because adored it down there. Then Terry Venables called me up and that impressed me. He promised he would get me in the England squad in three months, but it only took two.
I enjoyed my time at Spurs, but I do look back and wonder what my life might have been like if I’d signed for United. I reckon Sir Alex Ferguson would have taken me by the balls – just like Vinnie. 

Is it true that Bryan Robson once sold you a car – minus its engine – for a large sum of money, following a heavy night together on the brave juice?
Jason Holland, Wood Green
I bought a Lotus from him for £12,000. I absolutely loved it the moment I saw it. The problem was the starter motor didn’t work. It broke down while I was driving and I had to be rescued by an AA truck. I refused to get out of the car I loved it that much. I stayed in it when it was put on the back of the truck and all the way home. People sitting in traffic were looking at me, and you could see them thinking, What on earth is Gazza doing on the back of that truck?

Jack Charlton says that early in your career he approached you to ask if you had any Irish blood, to which you replied no. Then some years later he met your mother who told him that she has two Irish parents! Could you have been a plastic Paddy?
Paul McKeogh, via e-mail
I don’t know. I remember at the time Jack told me to go and get an Irish wolfhound so I could play for him! I love Jack Charlton. I wish I could be like him. Every day he wakes up and enjoys his life, but unfortunately I can’t do the same. I find it hard to come to terms with a lot of things.

What went through your mind as the referee showed you the yellow card in the World Cup semi against Germany? Did you consider killing that German who rolled around?
Pat Crooks, Daventry
I still don’t know whether I made contact with him. There were so many Germans diving and rolling all over the place. The World Cup was a special time. When I was a young kid playing at my youth club, every night I used to dream about playing football at the World Cup. I lived that dream in Italy, but when I was shown the yellow card I knew it had come to an end. When things are good and I can see they’re about to end I get scared, really scared. I couldn’t help but cry that night.

Why didn’t you step forward to take a penalty in the shootout against Germany? If you had, would you have blasted it or placed it?
Mark Daley, via e-mail
I place all my penalties, I pick a spot and put it there. I’ve only once changed my mind in the run-up and that was against Germany in Euro 96. At the last second I changed my mind and stuck it in the other side and luckily enough it went in. I was down to take a penalty in the World Cup semi-final, but after being booked I wasn’t really in the right frame of mind so David Platt took mine instead.

Did you ever get fed up with the media obsession with you in the months following the 1990 World Cup, or did you actually enjoy it?
J, via e-mail
I enjoyed the fame and the money coming in, but I didn’t like people following around my parents and all the lies that were told about me. In England, they build you up to knock you down. They do that to everyone famous. I was worried about how the public would respond, but luckily they’ve always been great with me. I don’t know why the press have got on my back because I haven’t harmed anyone else. If I’ve done any harm it’s only to myself.

How did you feel when, after Italia 90, you were dropped for Gordon Cowans? Did you begin to feel that Graham Taylor wasn’t the right man for the job?
Mike Lawrence, via e-mail
It was a massive disappointment, but Graham knew how Gordon Cowans could perform from Aston Villa and he picked him for a certain game. At least Graham had the decency, unlike Glenn Hoddle, to pull me aside and explain why he was dropping me.

Do you have a message for the people of Norway?
Pete Ferguson, via e-mail
Yeah, and it’s not “Fuck Off” this time. I want Norwegians to know that they have a beautiful, clean country, although I’m glad I’m not still drinking because it’s about £8 for a half a lager over there! It’s so expensive. When I told them to “Fuck Off” I didn’t really mean it. I was just fed up of the press asking me stupid questions.

Did Gary Charles ever speak to you about THAT tackle in 1991?
Sally Taylor, via e-mail
We met up on holiday once and had a good chat. He’s a nice guy, but I told him to keep away from me because I didn’t want to get injured again. We had a laugh about that tackle. Unfortunately Gary has since slipped and had one drink too many. He’s having some tough times now, but I’ve said I would be there for him if he ever needed me. I really hope he can turn his life around and be happy again.

How much Italian did you learn when you were at Lazio, and how much can you remember now?
Pete Donald, via e-mail
My Italian’s not bad these days. I can understand more than I can speak, but I can still have the odd conversation.

Who were the best players you played against in Serie A?
Ray Brock, Essex
Take your pick from Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten, Frank Rijkaard, Paolo Maldini and Franco Baresi. And they all played in the same team! I remember playing them once and we went 1-0 up after 10 minutes. I thought, This is good, we should be alright here. I didn’t get another touch of the ball for 80 minutes and we lost 5-1. We were demolished. That team was frightening.

What the hell were you thinking when you got the hair extensions at Lazio?
Steve Watson, London
I was just thinking what Gazza normally thinks: let’s do something mad. They looked stupid and it wasn’t long before I got rid of them. They only lasted two weeks because every time I had a shower after training it took me about an hour to get dried. I had to cut them out chunk by chunk.

Do you regret going to Rangers instead of trying your hand in the Premiership when you were still in your prime?
David Thommeny, Isle of Man
I’m an entertainer and I like to play in front of big crowds. There aren’t many bigger clubs in England than Rangers so why would I play in front of 30,000 in England when I had the chance to play in front of 50,000 at Ibrox? Graeme Souness, Terry Butcher, Chris Woods, Ray Wilkins, Gary Stevens, Trevor Steven, Mark Hateley and Brian Laudrup all went to play for Rangers, so they must be doing something right up there.

Whose idea was it to do pretend to play the flute after you scored that goal for Rangers? I bet it was Coisty’s!
Gary, Glasgow
No, I’m not revealing who it was, but of course ultimately it was my decision to do it out on the pitch. They told me to do the Sash [an anti-Catholic song], but I didn’t know what it meant. The first time I did the flute thing, I got lots of threats, so I thought I’m not doing that again. But then in a game against Celtic, their fans were giving me so much abuse for 80 minutes that I decided to do it again, and I got a death threat afterwards! It’s unbelievable that one guy can upset 60,000 fans, but since then I’ve been treated well by Celtic fans. I’m not a malicious man, I have nothing against Celtic and I regret doing it because of what the Sash means.

My brother Kenny still gets ‘Gascoigne 8’ on the back of his new Rangers shirts. He even has your autograph tattooed on his arm from the book launch in Glasgow. What do we do with him?
David Burns, Paisley
Shake his hand! I think I can remember this guy. I autographed his arm and he said he was going to get it tattooed. It’s good to hear he went ahead and did it. I love the Glasgow Rangers fans.

Who drank the most in the dentist’s chair before Euro 96? Did Terry Venables have a go?
Johnny Franks, via e-mail
I only went in for a filling and I came out drunk – it must have been some anaesthetic! We got a lot of stick for that, but let me tell you what happened. I decided I’d be the first one in the chair because it looked like a good laugh, then a few of the other lads did it and that inspired a good team spirit among us at Euro 96. Get the video tapes of that tournament and you’ll see how successful the dentist chair was!

Which of your great Wembley goals felt better to score: the 30-yard free-kick against Arsenal in 1991 or the sublime flick and volley against the Scots at Euro 96?
Richard Smith, Harlow
They both mean something special to me. Firstly, because I am good friends with both the goalkeepers I scored past, David Seaman and Andy Goram, and secondly, because they were both in derbies. The one I scored against Arsenal was brilliant because I’d been out for a while. I told Terry Venables I wouldn’t let him down and it made the Spurs fans very happy. Then the one against Scotland was amazing. It was at Wembley for my country and I loved it. Forced to choose, I’d probably go for the one at Euro 96.

Before the Scotland game in Euro 96, had you already planned the celebration?
Craig, via e-mail
On the coach to Wembley I told the lads we should do the dentist chair celebration. I timed that goal so well. I could see Colin Hendry coming in, so I flicked it over his head and volleyed it. You can’t teach kids that, it was pure instinct. I trained with Andy Goram every day, so I knew how to beat him. I knew I had to get over the ball and hit it low. [Almost shivers with excitement] God, the feeling when I scored was magnificent! It’s all coming back now. I’m so glad I scored that goal.

In the Euro 96 semi against Germany it looked like you could have reached that ball near the end with the goal at your mercy. Were you slow to react or was it always too far away and you just lunged at it afterwards to make it look close?
Anthony Lax, via e-mail
If I was Gary Lineker or Alan Shearer I would have scored because their instinct is to go straight towards the ball. It’s their job to sniff out the chances. If you watch, when the ball comes across I thought the goalkeeper was going to get a touch, which would have meant that if I’d gone for it, the ball would have gone behind me and I would have looked stupid. Instead, I missed it by an inch. Who knows what would have happened if I’d scored? We’d definitely have won that match. I’ve watched many games I have played in, but never that one. It’s just too painful.

Burping into the mike, comedy breasts, booking referees – you’ve had more than your fair share of funny moments. Which is your favourite and why?
Sam Manktelow, West Sussex
Oh, the burping into the mike was daft, wasn’t it? My favourite was probably when I was playing for Rangers. The referee was jogging backwards and I said to a couple of my team-mates, “Watch this lads.” I bent down and left my leg out as if I was tying my laces and the referee fell over my leg. I winked at the players and we all had a good laugh.

Is it true you once put something nasty in a mince pie and made a friend eat it?
Malindi Liddle, Shropshire
I put some shit in a mince pie. It was cat shit… well actually, no, let’s just say it was shit. I took the top off two pies mixed the shit in with the mince before putting the top back on and putting them in the fridge. My two mates came back from a night out and were starving, so both ate a mince pie. One of my mates Jimmy was sick and the other said it was the best mince pie he’d ever had. I laughed for days after that.

Talk us through the moment when Glenn Hoddle said you weren’t going to France 98. Did you want to throw him out the window?
Ollie Parks, Oxford
Before I was called in to see Glenn Hoddle, I went into the coaches' room and I saw my pal Glenn Roeder, who had a tear in his eye. At that moment I knew I wasn’t going to the World Cup, so I stormed in to Glenn’s room and kicked the door down. Phil Neville came running out and I just started calling Glenn all the names under the sun.

I started throwing things at him and smashing things up. Glenn was saying, “Let me explain”, but there was nothing to explain. I helped him get to the World Cup in the qualifiers, especially with that 0-0 in Italy. If I hadn’t played in that game, maybe I wouldn’t have been so angry. And then Glenn did a double-page spread in a newspaper.

When I see him these days I try to shake his hand, although he wasn’t happy when I described what had happened between us in my book. He was very upset about it and he wouldn’t shake my hand. Hopefully he’s over that now.

Bobby Charlton said that only one player – Duncan Edwards – ever made him feel inferior. Is there one player you played with or against who you felt was better than you for pure talent?
Steve Morgan, Manchester
Bryan Robson. He was the ultimate midfielder. He got everywhere, scored goals and was a leader. He didn’t give you a second on the ball. If you got it, you knew Bryan would get stuck in to you.

Who’s the best manager you ever played under? Bobby Robson? Terry Venables? Stan Ternent?
Alan Bell, via e-mail
Terry Venables and Walter Smith. Terry was a genius, he was a manager and a coach. He was great with me. Walter was tough, but he gave me my space. I loved both of them and really appreciated what they did for me.

Do you ever look back on your career and think that you wasted your talent?
Adam Brown, Exeter
Wasted my talent! I’m not having him say that! Where does he want me to start? I went from Newcastle to Spurs for £2.2 million, the highest anyone had ever paid for a player in Britain, then at Spurs I won the FA Cup before being sold to Lazio for the highest amount a foreign team had ever paid for a British player.

Obviously things didn’t go too well in Italy as I broke my legs and my cheekbone, but when I went to Rangers, again it was the highest transfer fee they’d ever paid for a player. At Ibrox I won five medals, I scored a hat-trick to win the league and I was Scottish Footballer of the Year.

I went to Middlesbrough for the most they’d ever paid for a player. I went there to win promotion and we did that. And I didn’t do too badly for England either, winning 57 caps and playing in the World Cup and European Championships. I was also voted into England’s all-time greatest XI. By the sounds of that I had a really bad career, didn’t I?

A lot of your childhood acquaintances seemed happy to spend your money when you were successful but did nothing to help you deal with the problems that success brought. Have you ditched the fair-weather friends?
Phil Marks, via e-mail
I would never ditch my friends, I still love them and I still speak to them. It’s just unfortunate that there are a few things I can’t do with them. I’ll go and see them, but I can’t stay with them for 10 hours in a bar. I see them, have a Diet Coke or Red Bull and then I have to leave. I have to do other things. Recently I threw myself into a lot of charity work, but then I got a bit depressed. I spent a lot of time with people who have incurable diseases and that made me really, really upset. I felt so bad that I couldn’t do anything for them.

It seems that everyone has a Gazza story. But what’s the best prank that another player has played on you?
Jason Holland, Wood Green
One day all the Rangers players invited me out for a drink after training. I was dead excited. But when I got out of the shower to join them, they’d stolen my clothes. Another player was still in the shower so I decided to wear his clothes instead, even though they didn’t fit because he was a lot smaller than me. I looked ridiculous.

What do you think of all the young, upcoming players who are labelled “the new Gazza”? Have any of them reminded you of yourself? Who’s been the best?
James Higson, Bromley
No one can be the next Gazza. For some reason I don’t want them to be. If they got close that would be great, but they’re their own individuals. I like Lampard, I like Gerrard, but my favourite is Scholesy. What a player! Obviously there’s been a lot of talk about Wayne Rooney too, but he will be his own man, never mind the next Gazza. He could lead us to great things.

In a documentary, you revealed you suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD); do you still struggle to leave the house if you know the towels aren’t hanging straight in the bathroom?
Si Williams, via e-mail
I’m OK now. It was mostly nerves. I used to be very nervous when I woke up on the morning of a game. It was only when I got my football boots on in the dressing room that I felt fine because that was my home. OCD’s a very tough thing to conquer and I think I have it under control now. I have a few lapses, but I’m OK. It’s all in the mind. I know there’s a cure from a doctor in Philadelphia in the US, but I haven’t been to see him yet.

Who will win the 2006 World Cup?
Matthew Dathan
Obviously I want England to win, and I think we’ve got a real chance. We’ve got a good team spirit, which should be enough to get us through any tough periods. If not us, then the French look pretty good.

When was the last time you had a drink?
Barry Seagrove, via e-mail
It’s been a long time now. You start counting the days, weeks and months since you had one. You think about it a lot. But I had to stop counting the days because it was driving me mad. It’s best not to because it makes you think about the drink.

What happens next for Paul Gascoigne?
Rob Evans, via e-mail
I try and stay happy and be supportive to a lot of people. I am in talks about doing another book, I have my website and I am thinking of opening a chain of restaurants with Chris Evans. I try and take each day as it comes and not push myself. I am not looking to get back in to football at the moment. I got really down thinking that I couldn’t play any more. The best thing is to have a clean break from football, but maybe I’ll return in the future.

From the September 2005 issue of FourFourTwo. Interview by Sam Pilger, portraits by Charlie Hopkinson. Gazza: My Story was published by Headline.