Once you reach the dizzying heights of nationwide fame, the only way is down more often than not. Paul Gascoigne had the world at his feet during the 1990s, but escapades off the pitch always overshadowed what this generational talent had to offer on it.
The Gateshead-born midfielder began his youth career at Newcastle, the team he supported, at age 13. Paul Gascoigne debuted with the senior squad at St James’ Park in a win over Queens Park Rangers five years later. In 1988, his run with the Magpies would end when he made the jump to Tottenham.
Although he struggled for consistency, it is evident that this young midfielder was one of a kind. With incredible ball control and the creativity to match, “Gazza” found himself on the plane to the Italia 1990 World Cup as a 23-year-old (the youngest on the team).
Coming off a dark decade that saw English clubs expelled from European competition for five years following the Heysel disaster, England was in desperate need of some positivity. Paul Gascoigne duly delivered. He dazzled with his flicks and tricks, recorded essential assists, and led the Three Lions on a deep run which ended in the semis against West Germany.
Despite the exit, a heartbroken Paul Gascoigne had cemented his place as a national hero, and English soccer experienced a major surge in popularity thanks to his exploits.
Paul Gascoigne Made The Scapegoat
Loved by teammates for his bubbly personality and cheeky sense of humor, Gazza soon had the gaze of the British press firmly fixed on him, and he didn’t help himself by indulging in rather unsavory practices involving plenty of alcohol.
Things came to a head in the buildup to Euro 1996. By that point, Gascoigne had become a scapegoat for English shortcomings. As part of Gazza’s birthday celebrations, members of the England squad went on one of their typical booze-filled nights out in Hong Kong. News of this extravaganza, which involved being tied to a dentist’s chair, soon reached the press, and Paul Gascoigne was forced to shoulder the blame.
Eventually, the British public turned on their former hero. In a survey by the Mirror newspaper, 86 percent of readers believed that Gascoigne should have been dropped from the England squad.
After a worrying start to Euro 1996 on home soil, things started to click into gear in England’s second game against Scotland. With the Three Lions 1–0 up, Paul Gascoigne produced his chef-d’œuvre, flicking the ball over a defender’s head before scoring.
During the now-iconic celebration, Gazza referenced the infamous dentist’s chair. However, he had redeemed himself, and the Mirror newspaper later apologized. A rejuvenated England team reached the semifinals but was knocked out on penalties by eventual winners Germany.
Unfortunately, Paul Gascoigne’s health deteriorated as his alcohol problems plagued his career until his retirement in 2004. Yet, for all his flaws, Gazza was arguably the most talented player England has ever produced, and the indelible mark he left on soccer should always be remembered with great fondness.
Main Image: Goal