As a Rangers supporter can you think of your favourite Paul Gascoigne moment?
In such a short frame of time this guy delivered so many memorable and important moments wearing the Rangers jersey it would be impossible to pick just one.
As I sat down to watch the Paul Gascoigne documentary last night it reminded me that this man was not only a God in the eyes of the Rangers support but also for the tens of thousands of fans of Newcastle, Tottenham and Lazio. More so than anything else, the gallus young boy from Gateshead was the golden boy of English football. Tears of Italia 90 connected this talented street footballer with a nation of fans who not only wished it was themselves representing their country on the world stage, but also realising that for Gazza this was his biggest thrill in life and his passion and emotion for his country would see him immortalised by the whole nation yet vilified by so many within the media circles.
I was too young to remember Italia 90 but by 1995 I was aware of the name Paul Gascoigne. Easter 1995 I recall travelling down to Great Yarmouth for a youth football tournament with Rangers Boys Club. My reading material for the long bus journey that day was much like the rest of the boys in our under 12’s squad – Football magazines. As the bus set off I sat alongside one of my teammates who was reading Shoot magazine whilst I was in my prime reading Match magazine, or vice versa. For those who do not know, both of those magazines were filled with posters galore mainly of English players and the most recent foreign acquisitions within the English Premier League. Gazza unsurprisingly had made an appearance in both magazines and the feeling I had towards him at that time was that this guy is an idiot, there was no attachment or feeling towards him whatsoever. He was pictured clowning around with some England team mates, it may have been the moment he had his pants pulled down flashing his rear end to the paparazzi. Whatever it was, it was enough to leave the impression within that bus from my teammates and I that this “Gazza” guy was just a bit of a joke.
Little did I know less than 4 months later this same Paul Gascoigne would sign for my beloved boyhood heroes Glasgow Rangers and go on to become one of the greatest and most talented footballers that would represent our club. From the moment Gascoigne was paraded in front of the fans that sunny summers afternoon at Ibrox there was mayhem. Gazza-Mania had begun in Glasgow much the same way it had done in Rome and London beforehand. The peroxide blonde haircut that was sweeping the country was simply known as “The Gazza”, all this before the man had even laced up his Adidas Predator football boots and kicked a ball in anger for the club. It was crazy and it was only the beginning. Many superstars and imposters have rolled up at Ibrox before and after Gascoigne, yet there has never been ANYONE that has generated the hype and excitement that Gascoigne brought with him to Glasgow.
Instantly the Rangers support took to Gazza. Previously, like my admission maybe thinking the guy was an idiot at times, none of this mattered anymore. Gascoigne was one of us now, a silly photo or incident was now acceptable in my eyes and in the eyes of the Rangers support. He was Paul Gascoigne and he could do no wrong. As a twelve-year-old kid attending games at Ibrox, Gascoigne stood out like a sore thumb, HE WAS THAT GOOD. This man was an exhibitionist, a footballer so confident in his ability he had the world at his feet and the Ibrox crowd was his perfect audience. Here was a man that for all his previous injuries was bringing in thousands of supporters into the ground just to see him perform in the warm up, as the crowd chanted “There’s Only One Paul Gascoigne” time and again he would respond by doing something magical within the warm up, something which at the time was more personal and great to watch because there was no YouTube and there was no Internet. If you wanted to see a World Class player up close and personal then Gascoigne was your man and Ibrox was the place to be.
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Being able to entertain and show off in a warm up is one thing. Delivering it on the bigger stage was why Paul Gascoigne was brought to Rangers by Walter Smith. Domestically at a time where Rangers were dominating Scottish football Gascoigne was brought in to enhance that domination and give the fans their 8th Scottish Premier League Title in a row in his first season. If Gascoigne was showing off during the Rangers warm ups this was nothing compared to the absolute MAGIC he brought to the Scottish Champions that season during competitive action.
Gascoigne was on a different level to anyone else in the country at that time, with the exception of Brian Laudrup. The amount of talent between both of these guys had the Rangers support spoiled rotten, but who were we to complain. Laudrup had been the darling in the eyes of the support the previous season, the squeaky clean ultimate professional, content with a quiet life away from football. Gascoigne the opposite, known more so for his front page headlines than back page ones at times, he was never far from controversy. That’s the beauty of football, no matter your background, race, religion, nationality or colour, Football can bring anyone together. Outside of football you would never have seen the Dane and the Geordie cross paths in a sociable manner, but as a footballing duo they brought the best out of one another taking each others game to a different level than before. They were a footballing match made in heaven. No ego’s and no throwing the toys out the pram at the success or praise of the other, these guys genuinely appreciated the fact they shared the same pitch and the same jersey.
But if you’re the best player in the country then you need to demonstrate your ability in the big games. If ever a players time in a Rangers jersey was summed up, for Gazza the title winning Hat-Trick against Aberdeen to clinch 8 in a row was as Iconic as it comes. As I wrote previously about the current Rangers squad not having the winning mentality and the ” I deserve to be here at Rangers” attitude, this was something Gascoigne had in abundance. Rangers were trailing 1 nil to Aberdeen and with it 8 in a Row was disappearing. Gascoigne like a man possessed decided to take things into his own hands, but this was something the great man had decided to do all throughout his career. THAT free kick in the North London derby FA Cup semi final, the header in his first Rome derby. Or what about the time he shared a pitch with the great Maradona, despite claims of being drunk before the game Gazza produced a trademark dribble and finished it with the ball in the back of the net, if there was an audience or anyone that mattered (Maradona in this case) then Gascoigne as if by script would always make his own headlines and show himself as the star billing. Who could forget the moment of brilliance against Scotland at Euro 96, as a man plying his trade in Scotland and up against several of his Rangers team mates Gascoigne once again had the final say and scored one of the most iconic goals in not only Wembley history but also within the history of the European Championships. The man was a footballing genius and big performances against Celtic and big goals had already been delivered by Rangers number 8 throughout the 1995-96 season, the season came down to a win or bust afternoon at Ibrox against Aberdeen. There’s only a handful of players that can singlehandedly change the outcome of a football result in the make or break games the way Gascoigne did that day.
What Gascoigne did that afternoon must surely rank as one of, if not thee, greatest individual performances of all time in a Rangers jersey at Ibrox.
The sad thing about the Gazza story is that the man himself does not fully understand the love and adulation that the Rangers support have for him. He gave us some of the best memories of that 9 in a row campaign. He was Gazza, no one outside of Rangers liked him and he didn’t care, we didn’t care. All the hatred and animosity directed towards him only made him more a part of the Rangers family, defending the man against anyone who would dare say anything bad about him. The troubles he has had since hanging up his boots have been well documented, much like the last 6 years of being a Rangers supporter, everyone tries to kick you when your down. The Geordie gave so many Rangers supporters great memories and happiness, this has never been forgotten. The appearance of Gascoigne at Ibrox or even with former team mates of the 9 in a row era is very rare, far too rare. I know he has mentioned his time at Rangers was the best of his life, but to a man I can’t think of anyone else that receives the same hero worship status still to this day as Gascoigne does, he will always have a family showing him unconditional love within Ibrox.
As the documentary drew to a close I reminded myself of one of my favourite Gascoigne moments outside of football. An interview with Frank Skinner back in 2001 and the Gazza of old was in sparkling form. The big difference from then and now? He had the sparkle in his eye, the glint in his eyes which is sadly no longer evident from years of fighting his demons. The humour and the cheeky chap in Gascoigne will never fade, but the self confidence and swagger has been replaced by self doubt and caution. The interview with Skinner was brilliant though. The usual stories and laughter followed by tears, Gazza really did know how to light up a room. If you haven’t seen it, watch the end of the interview on YouTube and the duet of Skinner and Gascoigne singing “My Way” would bring a tear to a glass eye to anyone that cared about Gazza, it is TV gold.
In April 1995 I never thought much of Paul Gascoigne as a man or a footballer. By the October I had his Autograph which I still cherish to this day. They say you should never meet your hero as they will disappoint. Not for me.
I’ve had the pleasure of meeting the man twice. The first time as a starry-eyed kid making my way home from the Ibrox Sports Complex. The feeling of walking past the front doors of Ibrox at that time was something that I don’t think exists nowadays. There was no Murray park and the players were always in and around Ibrox. That night I believe that Rangers were due to play Aberdeen in the Coca-Cola Cup semi final. The team bus was parked outside the front door and as I walked past this empty bus one figure was sitting alone, it was Gazza. Here was my hero, and the chance to pass this moment by to meet him and get an autograph was one that even I could not turn down despite my shyness at that age. I climbed up the stairs on the bus and made my way towards the England man who was sat in the middle of the bus alone. I was young and I remember being intimidated by the thought of asking this guy, this “superstar”, for his autograph. But what was I worrying about? Gazza signed the autograph book and I was delighted, but the man who signed my book was not the clown I had seen back in Easter joking around nor was it the comedian and joker he had so often portrayed on our TV screens. Gascoigne was quiet, deep in thought and had the look of someone that was worried about something, Being an unassuming kid I just thought he was in the “zone” for the semi final he was about to play later on that evening. Little did I know that was around the same time troubles had begun to develop in his personal life which soon became front-page news throughout Scotland. It could have been easy for Gascoigne to say no or tell me to get off that bus, the fact he never and he signed the autograph despite the hard times he was going through says more about the man than any tabloid or journalist ever could. A tiny moment of his time but a lifetime memory for a young fan like me.
I got the chance to meet Gascoigne again in 2015. An evening with Paul Gascoigne in Motherwell with the chance to meet and get a photo taken with the great man himself. No longer a young kid but still as excited about meeting him then as I was all those years ago on Edmiston Drive. It doesn’t matter if you’re in your early teens, your 30’s or your 90’s, your hero will always be your hero. I wasn’t alone that night in meeting Gazza, and the time was limited once the meet and greet actually took place. With all the memories I had of Paul Gascoigne when it was my time to walk over to him I may have told him on one or more occasions “You are my hero” and “You’re a legend”, to which he just kinda laughed off, once again proving the man has remained humble throughout all his fame. It was important just to let him know that. I don’t know why, but I feel the rest of the Rangers supporters in that hall that night and everywhere else when they meet the man will all say the same thing. Paul Gascoigne My Hero.
Perhaps the biggest compliment I can pay Paul Gascoigne is that he has never left the hearts of the Rangers supporters. Yes he may have left almost 20 years ago. Yes had he stayed Rangers would surely have won 10 in a Row. And yes, he has left his career in football behind. Gazza may have lost his smile, but he will never lose his legacy as a legend and true champion of Glasgow Rangers Football Club.
As the old sayings go;
Once A Ranger Always A Ranger – There’s Only One Paul Gascoigne,
Thanks for the memories Paul, You truly were and continue to be “Simply the Best”.