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The story behind Paul Gascoigne & England’s infamous 1998 trip to La Manga

With Gareth Southgate soon to trim his England squad…

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the story behind paul gascoigne englands infamous 1998 trip to la manga
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Picture the scene: Gareth Southgate is sat across from Aaron Ramsdale with just a beautifully varnished mahogany table between them.

The England boss eloquently explains the Sheffield United goalkeeper hasn’t quite done enough to make his squad for Euro 2020, and following a brief pause Ramsdale thanks him for the opportunity to join up with the preliminary squad before shaking his hand and making his exit.

Glenn Hoddle took his England squad to La Manga
Glenn Hoddle took his England squad to La Manga | GERRY PENNY/Getty Images

Sounds plausible doesn’t it? Yeah, football’s changed a lot since the 90s.

Back in 1998, Glenn Hoddle jetted his England side out to the Spanish coastal town of La Manga. The Three Lions would be kicking off their World Cup campaign in little over three weeks time and the trip afforded Hoddle the opportunity to see his players in action in the kind of temperatures they’d be met with during the tournament in France.

30 players boarded the flight to Spain and after Ian Wright and Jamie Redknapp both picked up injuries, Hoddle would need to crush the World Cup dreams of just six of his travelling party.

Naturally there were a good 15 or 16 players whose ticket to France had already been printed, though one man whose summer plans were weirdly undecided was Paul Gascoigne.

Paul Gascoigne fools about in England training
Paul Gascoigne fools about in England training | Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Just two years prior Gazza had lit up England’s home tournament with his stellar displays at Euro 96, though his career since had threatened to fall off a cliff.

The Rangers midfielder was struggling for fitness and was soon shipped out of Ibrox after an underwhelming start to the 1997/98 campaign and having caused uproar with his infamous flute celebration against Celtic in the Old Firm derby.

Gascoigne moved south of the border to Championship (then known as Division One) side Middlesbrough where he teamed up with former international colleague Bryan Robson.

To go from the nation’s sweetheart in the summer of 96 to a second-tier also-ran (which is essentially what he was on Teesside) in the space of 18 months was quite the plummet, though his downfall certainly wasn’t helped by the fact he’d joined a team brimming with, erm, people who like the odd tipple shall we say?

Paul Gascoigne's infamous flute celebration
Paul Gascoigne’s infamous flute celebration | Bryn Colton/Getty Images

Despite winning promotion back to the Premier League that season, Boro’s drinking culture within the club was well documented with Andy Townsend, Paul Merson and even members of the coaching staff inadvertently aiding Gascoigne’s continued demise.

Gazza piled on the pounds, though – despite having barely featured for the Teessiders even in the second tier – Hoddle gave the nation’s sweetheart one last chance to prove his fitness in the sweltering La Manga heat.

It didn’t go to plan.

By this point issues in Gascoigne’s private life were beginning to impact his on-field performances, and his forays into the local town on drunken escapades along with his shocking time keeping did little to impress the England boss.

Paul Merson and Paul Gascoigne at Middlesbrough
Paul Merson and Paul Gascoigne at Middlesbrough | Stu Forster/Getty Images

Just a year earlier Hoddle had told Gascoigne he’d be an automatic starter at World Cup 98 if he maintained his fitness levels, though the devil on his shoulder that’s nagged much of his life continued to get the better of him.

It was last chance saloon time for Gazza. If he could still produce the goods on the pitch then surely the circus that came with him was almost worth the gamble? The problem is he couldn’t produce on the pitch.

The Boro man turned in two dismal performances in friendlies against Morocco and Belgium just days before Hoddle’s 22-man squad would be announced.

Finally the day of reckoning came. Each player was given a time slot in which they were to attend a meeting with the England boss, but Gazza couldn’t hack the pressure of it all and was found drunk on a golf course with his teammates forced to throw him into the pool to sober him up.

Glenn Hoddle prior to World Cup 1998
Glenn Hoddle prior to World Cup 1998 | Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

When his allocated time slot finally came he waited nervously outside the door to Hoddle’s room, but his anxiety soon took over and he went in search of former Newcastle teammate and current England coach Glenn Roeder to ask what was going on.

Roeder had been sworn to secrecy by Hoddle and so refused to divulge any information to Gazza when asked, but the pair were good friends from back in their Newcastle days and Gazza could tell from his face that it wasn’t good news.

Time slots were out of the window now.

Gazza stormed into Hoddle’s room in floods of tears, screaming at the England boss before taking his anger out on just about anything that stood in his way. Like the bassist in a rock band Gazza went mental, smashing lamps and booting the door before having to be dragged out of the room by Paul Ince and David Seaman.

The trail of destruction left in his wake was unbelievable, with medical staff forced to give him Valium to calm him down before tending to the severe gash in his leg that he’d picked up during his moment of rage.

The England squad in La Manga
The England squad in La Manga | Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

As news of his omission from the squad reached his teammates there was an air of disbelief – a reaction mirrored by the English public just days later.

Gazza was England. He was one of those players who you could list about 100 negatives about yet always offer the reply: ‘yeahhhhh, but it’s Gazza’.

It wasn’t to be. Paul Gascoigne – probably the most talented English midfielder in many people’s lifetimes – would never play for England again.

Was it the right call given his lack of form, lack of concentration and lack of fitness? Probably, but then again, it’s Gazza. You just never know.

Source: 90 Mins

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