The ex-England midfielder, pictured, who spent almost three years at Ibrox in the mid-1990s, pointed out that discriminatory chanting has been largely eradicated down south and in parts of the continent. He urged Rangers fans to demonstrate they can move on from anti-Catholic prejudices when Legia Warsaw visit tonight for a Europa League play-off decider and when Celtic cross the city for the season’s first derby on Sunday.
It was put to him that such singing has hurt a club for which he retains great affection, with 3,000 seats to be left empty against Legia following the European governing body’s sanction.
Gascoigne agreed, while acknowledging his own history with sectarianism – he mimicked playing a flute during a friendly against Steaua Bucharest in his first pre-season in 1995 and again at Celtic Park in 1998 – something he now regrets.
“Well, it has stopped in Europe and it has stopped in England,” he said of unacceptable chanting. “For a player, every player wants to play in a packed house. It would be going through a player’s mind, when you are playing on the pitch and you see 3,000 seats empty it does seem weird.
No-one would want to play in an empty stadium, I certainly wouldn’t.
“So hopefully they have got a good chance to prove people wrong in the derby on Sunday by not causing any trouble
whatsoever and obviously the same applies to the Europa League match against Legia Warsaw. Hopefully the fans can just stop there. It is a big thing for Rangers as a club to say that if you don’t stop singing they will ban everybody.
“That is massive. Especially because I know how crazy the fans are, how fanatical. And how big it is in the derby, where, unfortunately, it can be Catholic against Protestant. I know that more than anything, from doing that [the flute]. I won’t be doing that again.
“I remember after the game against Steaua Bucharest, when I did it, I went into the dressing room afterwards and all the lads had their heads down. I said ‘lads, have I done something wrong there?’, that was my first goal for Rangers. I wake up the next morning and I am buzzing to get the papers with the back pages [talking about] a goal on my debut. But I was on first page, second page, third page, every page. ‘The IRA are going to get us’. Oh, my God. When I went into training again on Monday, I said ‘you ba******, I think I have done something wrong here...’
“Walter Smith said ‘I think I need to see you in my office’. I got a letter from the police saying I should board up my house. I would have boarded up a Wendy House! All the lads there were trying to see the funny side, but I thought ‘that is not funny, guys’. My mate couldn’t understand it, when he was 300 yards away I was telling him to start the car up.”
Gascoigne has struggled with his mental health and addictions issues but, back in Scotland yesterday to promote Premier Sports’ coverage of Serie A, the ex-Lazio player says he is currently in a good place. The 52-year-old did, though, confess he struggles to watch football because the void left by retirement remains so acute, a hip replacement and knee problems restricting even his ability to coach in a sport which he says has become all too business-orientated.
“I’ve been good, I’ve been looking after myself,” he said. “I’ve got a new manager and a lot of work on, some projects, some telly next month, a new movie coming out – Thirty Years of Hurt – and a couple of books coming out, too.
“I’m enjoying life, you know? I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow – but right now I’m enjoying it. Hopefully it stays like that. I’m the first to admit I’m not perfect. I don’t want to be perfect, anyway. That would be boring.
“I’m enjoying the way things are, although I miss football. I’m not saying I want to get back into it, just that I miss it. My left hip is so sore that I can’t stand on it when I kick with my right foot. So I need to get that sorted out. But, yeah, things are looking good at the moment. Hopefully it stays that way. You never know with me, guys.”