Happy Birthday Gazza

Paul Gascoigne is 50 Today

It’s 27th May 1982. I’d like to imagine that, as a special treat for his fifteenth birthday, a kindly uncle has invited young Gazza round to his place to watch the replay of the FA Cup Final between Spurs and QPR on the 26″ colour TV he’s just rented from Rumbelows. I’m also pretty sure that uncle, with great prescience, will say, as Hoddle scored Spurs’ winning penalty, “In nine years time you’ll be winning the FA Cup with this team, Gazza – though, unless you cop yourself on, having scored a beautiful goal against Ars*nal in the semi-final you’ll have to go off after seventeen minutes with a self-inflicted cruciate ligament injury”.

But will even his fictional uncle be able to foresee the entire extraordinary list of tragicomic events that will befall Paul throughout his life? The addictions, the goals, the Raoul Moat incident, the tears, the violence, Gazzamania, the Lindisfarne collaboration, the alcohol?

‘Apparently, Gazza’s in rehab. Again.’

Yes. You can say that sarcastically, scornfully, dismissively. You can say it pityingly, patronisingly, parentally. Or you can say it factually, objectively, disinterestedly. So often celebrities become a repository for all our own crap, all our rage and self-loathing and fear. Or they become figures of intellectual curiosity, handy ways of distancing ourselves from our own stories, our own culture. Only rarely are they absolute geniuses. and only rarely are their faults and flaws so nakedly exposed, so indulged and so excused. Those two things are connected, of course. The indulging and enabling of his self-destructiveness have stemmed in part from a respect for that immense talent. And the immense talent – and the consequent visibility and semi-deification – was one of the reasons a shy, fragile, traumatised working-class kid ended up in and out of cells and mental health units and the tabloids. But there’s also a warmth and a humour to him, a wide-eyed, twinkling love of life and country and a recognition of its (and his) absurdities that chime with all of us. He was the second-best player we ever saw at Spurs. But he was the most loved. Here’s to this round of rehab being a success.


The Home Game

Thirty-six years ago today, in an age before the Sky-sponsored belittling of a great competition, Enfield FC played an FA Cup replay
at White Hart Lane. 35,244 people went, a bigger attendance than the match against Arsenal that season.
The majority of Enfield fans (including us) were also Spurs fans. And that night Spurs fans – wherever they came from – supported Enfield.


The Home Game

Outside the station afterwards, the beautiful deaf girl I was so, so mad about shouted at me, told me I was a fucking bastard, told the whole of Enfield I was a fucking bastard. I don’t know if she was standing there through chance or careful, pained planning. I do know we never saw each other again. I think back and I wonder if I’d actually invited her to the game at all, or if I had but she’d said no and all her regrets, all her life’s raw exclusions had coalesced into this roaring rage. I can still picture her – and the tears behind her screams. I can still picture her long black hair, her white skin. I can still hear her voice. And I wonder if I deserved what she gave me.

It’s funny, isn’t it, that I can’t remember? And it’s funny I can’t remember any of the match itself. I only know Enfield lost 3-0 because I’ve just looked it up. I do remember the decanting of what felt like the whole of my little isitinLondonreally? hometown up the Liverpool Street line to our other home, our big home, our glorious, proper home, I remember a magical coming-together of our Enfieldness and our Tottenhamness, our tightness and our expansiveness, our limits and our dreams. On a normal matchday we belonged at White Hart Lane. Tonight we were rough, barbarian invaders, pushing aside our other, softly arrogant ghostselves. Our usual grandnesses – our significances – felt illusory. Tonight we belonged here less and we belonged here more than we ever had. So many came – so many who had never even seen a match before – because they were proud, in some unspoken, blazing way, of our grubby piece of England. And so many of us came because we knew – just this once – that we were part of something beyond class and geography and history. And because we too were proud. Doubly proud.

Outside the station afterwards, I walked arm in arm with another beautiful girl. I saw her again last week, thirty-six years later, and we shared Turkish food and our contempt for – and pride in – our old town. We said goodbye and on the bus back here I sat down next to a girl – long black haired and pure white skinned – and I wished, just for a moment, I was nineteen again and I was at home.


That season, Spurs won the FA Cup. Thousands of us from Enfield were at Wembley to watch Steve Perryman lift the trophy.