Venables on genius and misery of Paul Gascoigne

Paul Gascoigne of England scores their second goal during the European Championship match against Scotland at Euro 96. Picture: Allsport
Paul Gascoigne of England scores their second goal during the European Championship match against Scotland at Euro 96. Picture: Allsport
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THE gory details hardly need retelling. No sooner had David Seaman elbowed Gary McAllister’s penalty off the line than the ball was quickly shuttled to the other end, where Paul Gascoigne used his left foot to flick it over Colin Hendry and his right to thump it past Andy Goram.

It killed off Scotland’s hopes of salvaging a draw at Wembley, and left them needing an unlikely combination of results in the final round of group fixtures at Euro 96. The abiding memory of their last appearance in the finals of a European Championship was that moment of brilliance by a Rangers player.

“Just incredible, wasn’t it?” says Terry Venables, England’s manager at the time. “Hendry was coming across and he was thinking ‘he [Gascoigne] can’t even see me, I’m going to clatter him’ but he just flips it up over his head and on to his laces and bang. It was just wonderful, a great individual goal, the best of the tournament I would say. Definitely.”

It was followed by his “dentist’s chair” celebration, a re-enactment of the drinking game that took place during a pre-season trip to Hong Kong. As if anybody needed reminding, Gascoigne was the classic flawed genius, whose impulsive, childlike personality – however endearing – led to drink, depression and a lifelong need to be loved.

Which was where Venables came in. The Englishman, in Glasgow last week to preview Scotland’s friendly against England on Tuesday, had taken up the challenge long before he worked with Gascoigne at international level. After signing him for Tottenham Hotspur in 1988, he spent three years trying to protect the player from himself.

Venables recalls the day he substituted Gascoigne because he had been booked. Better to take him off before he is sent off, thought the manager. “F*** you, you b******d,” said Gazza as he walked from the pitch, only to immediately regret it.

Later, a repentant Gascoigne turned up at Venables’ hotel room door with a pint of lager.

“Don’t do that again,” said Venables.

“I didn’t mean it, it just came out,” replied Gascoigne.

But Venables hadn’t been talking about the swearing. He had been talking about the beer. “Next time you do it, bring me a glass of wine,” he smiled. It was typical of Venables’ approach to Gascoigne: disciplined, but understanding of his particular needs. If they fell out, it was usually not for long. “He was a lovely kid. He was just so good. He would always like a bit of stroking, a bit of love.”

Gascoigne was the archetypal “daft laddie”. Venables remembers watching a proud father introduce his son to the England midfielder. Every time the father turned away, Gascoigne clipped his boy round the ear. “Gazza hit me, Gazza hit me,” complained the son, but his dad was believing none of it.

He was fun to be around, a player so gifted that it went almost without saying. Ask Venables if he was the most talented he ever worked with, and he doesn’t bother dwelling on the obvious. “Yeah, naturally talented, and a mime artist as well. All the managers he worked for, he used to take them off, me included. He was hysterical.”

Venables’ reflections are bittersweet. Since Gascoigne retired more than a decade ago, there seems to have been only sadness. Without the support network of Newcastle United, Tottenham, Lazio, Rangers, Middlesbrough and Everton, his life has spiralled into a black hole of alcoholism and mental illness, the worst episodes of which have been all over the newspapers.

It has been painful for everybody to watch, but more so for the friends, former team-mates and managers, such as Walter Smith, who have tried and failed to save him. Venables paid for some of the fruitless spells in rehab. He was the man Gascoigne called when he found himself slumped in the corner of a Kensington police station. The player best known for his tearful exit from the World Cup semi-final in 1990 later told his former boss that he was contemplating suicide.

Venables, now 71, says he hasn’t seen Gascoigne in ages. He used to hear from him early in the morning, a cry for help along the phone line, but the Geordie lad who played 57 times for his country grew afraid to do even that. “He didn’t want a bollocking,” explains Venables. “And I wasn’t his manager any more either. It was so sad.

“He didn’t really have a proper lady in his life, and once he finished playing, you knew that was it. It breaks everybody’s heart, but what can you do? Everton, Rangers, they have all tried to help him and everyone comes up with the same thing – that it is impossible. All you can do is give him what he wants, but where does that take you? It’s impossible.”