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Remembering Gazzamania: How Paul Gascoigne helped change English football forever

Article explaining Paul Gascoigne’s impact on modern English football….

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remembering gazzamania how paul gascoigne helped change english football forever
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It’s Paul Gascoigne birthday today – many happy returns mate.

The most naturally gifted English footballer of his generation performed many remarkable feats during his career, but surely none were more impressive than forcing an apology out of Piers Morgan.

This was not a direct apology of course – Piers would never stoop to such levels of common decency – but during his time as editor of the Daily Mirror in the 1990s, the newspaper ran a backsplash in which they begged for Gazza’s forgiveness.

Paul Gascoigne of England
Paul Gascoigne of England | Stu Forster/Getty Images

Prior to Euro 96, the paper had spearheaded a campaign for the midfielder to be removed from the Three Lions squad for his part in the booze filled antics of the side’s pre-tournament tour to Hong Kong. However, after he scored a spectacular goal to help England defeat Scotland at a packed Wembley Stadium, this “fat, drunken, loutish imbecile” was rehabilitated in a flurry of jingoism and hysteria.

Latching onto a bobbling ball, Gazza suavely lobbed it over the hapless Colin Hendry before watching onto his right foot and volleying it home. After the ball hit the back of the net, his face – gammon pink in colour and contrasting strikingly with his bleached blonde hair – was an absolute picture. Pure, unadulterated joy from a man who was always at his most content with the Three Lions emblazoned across his chest.

He even seemed to poke fun at the tabloid press that had vilified him before the tournament, recreating the infamous dentist chair incident with his adoring teammates.

The lovable but flawed Geordie’s swift transition from hero to villain in a matter of days was typical of the rapidly shifting nature of Gazzamania – a phenomenon that gripped the nation between 1990 and 1998 and perhaps even beyond. Not only was Gascoigne a remarkably talented and joyous footballer, he was also a societal icon, partly responsible for kickstarting football’s explosion into every facet of popular culture.

Gazzamania’s origins lie six years prior to that goal against Scotland, at another international tournament – Italia 1990.

Going into the competition, Gascoigne was by no means the star attraction, having never made a competitive international appearance prior to starting the Three Lions Group F opener against the Republic of Ireland. He went on to play in each of his side’s remaining group games and their Round of 16 win over Belgium, which set up a quarter final meeting with Cameroon.

Gazza’s performance against the tournament’s surprise package was typically ridiculous. He made up for giving away a second half penalty by slipping Gary Lineker through to earn and subsequently convert a winning spot kick of his own.

All eyes were now on the Three Lions as they prepared to face West Germany in the semi finals – a game that would catapult Gascoigne into mainstream consciousness. With the scores level at 1-1, a typically overly enthusiastic Gazza lunged into a tackle on Thomas Berthold, earning himself a deserved yellow card.

What came next is one of the most transcendent images in English footballing history. Crestfallen at having received a caution that would have ruled him out of the final if we’d have got there – spoiler alert, we didn’t – a tearful Gazza was consoled by clubmate and friend Lineker who mimed to the England bench the infamous words: “have a word with him.”

Soon after, the 25 million people watching at home were crying with Gascoigne as the Germans ended the nation’s dream of a World Cup final – on penalties, of course.

Paul Gascoigne 1996 European Championships Semi Final v Germany
Paul Gascoigne 1996 European Championships Semi Final v Germany | Getty Images/Getty Images

The entire team returned home as heroes and Gazzamania was very much running wild with its conductor loving every second of it. He even donned a pair of comedy breasts when the team landed at Luton Airport.

Slightly outdated prop-based comedy aside, Gazza’s tears and Italia 90 as a whole marked a significant turning point in footballing history. The beautiful game was regarded as anything but during the 1980s, with the sport dismissed by much of the country as a decidedly regressive and aggressively masculine pursuit.

Gazza’s tears challenged these notions. This was football, the glorious soap opera with Gascoigne cast as the sympathetic, if slightly rough around the edges leading man – a bit like Barry from Eastenders. His box office displays broadened football’s reach dramatically, beginning the process of moving the game away from crumbling terraces and into mainstream broadcasting. As evidenced by the formation of the Premier League just two years later.

It was ironic then, that even though his theatrics played a significant role in the Best League in the World™’s establishment, he would forego the chance to become its first star by sealing a move to Serie A with Lazio in 1992 – at that point, the actual Best League in the World™.

Playing away from England did little to dull Gascoigne’s star power though, with Channel 4’s Football Italia ensuring that he never strayed far from the back, or indeed, the front pages of the nation’s tabloids.

Paul Gascoigne cries at the end of the semi/final against Germany
Paul Gascoigne cries at the end of the semi/final against Germany | Inpho Photography/Getty Images

Flash forward to Euro 96, another significant cultural moment in English history with Gazza again taking centre stage. The midfielder had enjoyed a splendid season at club level, putting fears of his fitness to bed by making 42 appearances for Rangers and scoring an impressive 19 goals.

After humiliating Colin Hendry – as we alluded to in our intro – Gascoigne again starred in the Three Lions final group game against the Netherlands, in which the entire nation were gorged on sporting adrenaline with England grabbing three goals in a frantic 11 minute spell in the second half.

In the quarter finals, Gazza scored the decisive penalty in the shootout win over Spain, while he would also dominate the headlines when England met Germany in the semis – going within centimetres on settling proceedings in extra time.

Converting his penalty in the resultant shootout would prove to be his last major involvement in an England shirt with Glenn Hoddle omitting him from his squad for France 98. This was supposedly a purely footballing decision but the drinking that had become to infest Gazza’s life also played a significant role.

1996 UEFA European Championships England v Scotland
1996 UEFA European Championships England v Scotland | Stu Forster/Getty Images

And so ends the tale of Gazzamania.

Gascoigne was a beautifully English hero with a dash of continental flair. A slightly chubby Geordie who could keep the ball glued to his foot as well as some of best playmakers in the world.

Not only that, his captivating nature brought football into the lives of an entirely new generation of fans – kickstarting football’s modern renaissance. Not bad for a “fat, drunken, loutish imbecile”.

Source: 90 Mins

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