The city was where a man who desperately just wants to be loved – and who it’s hard not to warm to despite some serious character flaws that may be the product of psychological and addiction issues but have resulted in reprehensible behaviour – found affection and adoration in signing for Rangers.
His £4.3 million move from Lazio in July 1995 put him front and centre for the club’s drive to equal Celtic’s nine-in-a-row Scottish titles. More than that, it gave him back his enjoyment of football strained by the injuries and regimentation that left him struggling in Italy.
“When Walter [Smith] spoke to me about joining Rangers, he asked me what I missed most about my game and I replied: ‘Smiling.’ He told me that I was right and that Rangers would put the smile back on my face and get me enjoying my football again, and he was right.”
Gascoigne remembers that when he returned to Tottenham Hotspur from Italia ’90 – where he excelled as England reached the semi-finals before becoming a national celebrity for his tears ahead of the penalty shootout loss to Germany that were precipitated by a booking that would have kept him out of the final – he “couldn’t put a foot wrong for the whole of the next season”.
“Until I went and injured myself in the FA Cup final win over Nottingham Forest,” he lamented. “I enjoyed it in Italy when I played but I broke my fibia and my tibia out there so my spell with Rangers was the happiest of my career.
“I didn’t expect the welcome I got from the fans at the airport and at the stadium; it was brilliant. From that moment on I thought I was going to play some great football for Rangers. When I first spoke to Walter about coming here he said: ‘Let me tell you about Glasgow Rangers’ and I said: ‘Let me tell you what I’ve got in my fridge’...which was two bottles of Budweiser.
“But I’d decided to leave Lazio and Dino Zoff told me there were four clubs in for me. I asked who they were and he said: ‘Chelsea’ and I wasn’t going there. Then it was Leeds and Aston Villa and I also said ‘no’ to them and I was walking out when he mentioned Rangers.
“I still said no but he said: ‘Glasgow Rangers?’ and I stopped and replied: ‘I thought you meant Queens Park Rangers. Get them on the phone – I’m leaving’, and immediately told them I’d come over next week.
“They said they’d offer me x amount per week and I took a drop to move. When I played for England I used to take the piss out of Terry Butcher and Chris Woods because they were playing for Rangers and they told me not to knock it until I’d tried it. To be fair, when I did try it I found out they were right. Every game was like a cup final.
“I remember making my debut and losing the ball. I thought: ‘That’s all right, I’ll get it back in a minute’ and some old guy of about 70 shouted: ‘Get off your arse; you’re not on holiday now!’ so I ran and got it back again. But I loved all that.
“And I love coming back here now; it feels like a second home. You get a buzz and all the memories come flooding back. I went out for a walk at 7.30 this morning and was asked for eight selfies in the first 100 yards.”
It is a home he feels he left too early. In truth, he was a diminished figure by the time he accepted an offer from Middlesbrough. His last five starts for the Ibrox club yielded only one win as they toiled in what appeared the previous summer would be a procession to a record tenth title that now Celtic have in their sights in looking to chase down a ninth straight championship this season.
Nine-in-a-row was something Gascoigne couldn’t escape when he fronted up at Rangers. “The lads were going on about it all the time. The first championship medal I ever won was when we did eight in a row and the boys were all happy. The atmosphere in the dressing room was intense from about five games to go. We’d win and celebrate and then it would be ‘just four games left’ and so on.
“Some of the other players felt that pressure more than me because they’d been there from the start of it all. When we made it nine it was quite sad in a way. The only song I knew was The Bluebells Are Blue so I joined in with that one but some of my team-mates had their heads down and there were a few tears because they seemed to know it was the end of a great era. The next season would be the last for myself, Ally McCoist, Ian Durrant, Stuart McCall and Richard Gough, and Walter left as well. People say to me that they don’t know whether or not I’d have got on with Dick Advocaat. I wouldn’t have known whether to play for him or drink him, although I’d probably have tried the second option…
“I remember driving to Middlesbrough. I stopped halfway and I cried my eyes out. I still have a lump in my throat thinking about it. [Rangers owner] David Murray phoned and told me to turn the car round and come back but I had promised [Boro manager] Bryan Robson I would head there. Massive regret. I always think that had I stayed, would we have won ten in a row? I had a couple of injuries that season as well, my Achilles was swollen, I had a couple of other ones and got a couple of bollockings.”
Rangers rallied without Gascoigne and led the table with two games remaining only to lose at home to Kilmarnock in the penultimate game to allow Celtic to dethrone them. The former England midfielder cannot countenance the Ibrox side failing to wrest the Parkhead club’s crown from them before it is too late.
“I think there is more pressure on Rangers stopping the nine. But if Celtic get nine in a row, then I think they’ll go out and sign some really top-class players. They will want to come for that, and they will up the wages or whatever. Football is a business now, which is a shame. You see players getting £80,000 a week and being happy to sit there on the bench.
“If Celtic do make it ten-in-a-row then Rangers would need to get Pep Guardiola’s money to go out and get the best players around to match it. It would be hard to take.”