Inside the Mind of Paul Gascoine

Thursday, July 10, 2003 by

Following in the footsteps of Rod Hull and Bernard Manning, this little documentary strand has proven to be a worthwhile exercise for the casual viewer. The knowledge that Rod Hull deliberately set out to attack Parky was a revelation, and the sheer genius of his performance rates it, for me, as one the truly great television moments (Number 13? Humbug!) Also revelatory was the wonderful image of Rod’s funeral, complete with his wailing, weeping female “friends”. Question: Who do you want at your wedding – hordes of celebs or countless unknown conquests? Respect to the Rod.

And any opportunity to witness the mighty majesty of Bernard’s comedy genius has to be taken. Should anyone wish to question Bernard’s genius I refer them to his 1977 performance on Parkinson. A tour de force and a performance that, arguably, remains unequalled on the show. Should you still wish to offer the line of least resistance (homophobe, racist etc) then it’s my back garden for a square go, you humourless twat.

And so to Gazza. In the great Great British tradition of pissing it up against a wall and relinquishing one’s genius, Gazza is in good footballing company. Like Best and Baxter before him, Gazza makes up the triumvirate of the greatest players that Britain has produced over the last 40 years. And like George and Slim Jim he never truly fulfilled that potential allowing us only glimpses of his mercurial genius. For me, this threesome alongside Duncan Edwards and John White rate as the five best footballers post-war. Three drunks and two cruelly snatched before they reached their prime – what a five-a-side team they would have made!

Despite the, at times, overly censorious commentary and clumsy but kitsch reconstructions, this was an interesting, honest, candid but never brutal insight into the psyche of Gazza, a brave attempt to find out what makes him tick and what has made him the man and monster he has become. More labels were thrown at him than a fashion model – bulimic, alcoholic, attention deficit disorder, Tourette’s, hyperactive to name but a handful – and, at times, it became difficult to believe that one man could have so many problems. For a change though, the tone of the show was that of understanding rather than exposé. Bucking the other great British tradition of kicking a man when he’s down, the makers sought to rationalise and explain his behaviour and managed to do so more than adequately. Some direct input from Gazza in response to the observations from the assorted psychologists and analysts would have made a good programme great but that’s life.

What is also undoubted is that Gascoigne is a tragic, gifted and misunderstood individual. As an artist he is unparalleled in his generation. Snigger if you will at the description of Gazza as a genius but for those of us who have witnessed him perform his deeds on the football pitch then genius is but an adequate description. I witnessed that free-kick against Arsenal. I was privileged to be there to watch him as he scored that Championship winning hat-trick against Aberdeen. And even as a Scotsman I truly marvelled at that goal against my own country. Forget the likes of Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Tony Parsons, Zadie Smith and Sam Mendes – they are good, maybe even great. But Gascoigne is a genius. The liberal media may seek to deride him and paint him as a wife beating alcoholic idiot savant but to us, his own folk, he remains a flawed genius capable of moments of outrageous and lunatic brilliance that illuminate and radiate beyond measure.

One major gripe that I do have with this lovely programme, however, was the failure to recognise Gazza’s roll in the rebirth of football. It is worthwhile to recall that in the mid 1980′s the Sunday Times felt comfortable enough to describe football as a slum game, watched by slum spectators in slum stadia. Whist that snobbish assertion was two-thirds correct, the truth was that football had fallen out of favour as the World Cup of Italia ’90 approached. But as those salty tears rolled down the manchild’s face and imprinted themselves on the collective psyche of a nation not only was a nation feeling for a little boy who had had his greatest dream snatched from his grasp, it was also the very moment that we all fell in love with football again. Football was reborn as Gazza-mania and a certain media baron duly noticed. A multitude of modern day players of average ability and phenomenal salaries owe their exalted status entirely to Gascoigne. Not to mention the consequent impact of Sky on a nation. Paul Gascoigne as a social, cultural and sporting phenomenon – there’s a thought to dwell on.

A genuinely interesting programme that managed to achieve its objective and get inside the mind of Gazza. Weird scenes from inside the goldmine indeed.


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