Paul Gascoigne has today been charged with sexually assaulting a woman on a train.
The incident was the one I highlighted in my articles when we heard he was going to be made an inductee at the Hampden Hall of Fame. That incident had happened only weeks before the news broke. He had been bailed and released pending inquiries.
Those inquiries are now over.
Look, this is not the place to discuss his guilt or innocence or even his character.
We’ve gone over much of that already, in detail. No, this is the moment for sober reflection of what almost happened here, and what would have happened had certain people in the game, in the media, and in the stands got their way.
Let’s for a moment peer into the abyss.
Scottish football came within an ace of paying “tribute” to a man who was facing those charges even as the ink was drying on his invite.
Had he attended that night, a man who beat his wife and then tried to intimidate her into silence, facing the prospect of that charge, would have stood on the same platform as Julie Fleeting, the first woman player ever inducted.
Fleeting has done as much for women’s football in the UK as anyone; I cannot believe that she would have been happy to stand there that night – a great night for female players – with him. It is an insult to her that anyone ever thought otherwise.
I know that a panel of ex-players and media people made up that list; it is incredible that they thought this would fly.
With his history of behaviour of the worst sort, this was a PR disaster waiting to happen … with Julie Fleeting on the same stage it would have reached the level of grotesque.
In the aftermath of the decision to withdraw his invite, a lot of media outlets erupted in anger.
Sevco just went completely tonto.
Steven Gerrard went further than anyone, in one of the most ill-judged statements I have ever heard when he praised Gascoigne as “a footballer and as a man.”
I have no doubt he still believes this; Gerrard, after all, has some pretty strange friends back in Liverpool, and is, at the end of the day, manager of Sevco so a wife beater and a racist as a role model probably isn’t that much of a stretch.
Nevertheless, I cannot believe that he was not aware of how crass his comments sounded outside of the football bubble.
I think Gerrard is proving a spectacularly bad guardian of his own reputation; that is of no concern to the rest of us though.
The Gascoigne Personality Cult has always been harmful to those in its general vicinity, above and beyond the damage it does to him, and so we can perhaps forgive Gerrard on this one as he’s not the first and won’t be the last.
No, it was the reputation of the game itself that some of us were – and are – concerned with here, and some of those who have been entrusted to guard it should feel a profound sense of relief today that their own personal blindness did not inflict enormous harm on the national sport.
I would feel better if I thought more of them recognised that.
I would feel better still if I thought that some of those who do recognise it actually cared.
We had a close escape here.
I hope some finally acknowledge it, in private if not in public. It is not enough to pat themselves on the back. It’s high time they behaved with some sense of responsibility instead of like teenage fan-boys dealing with one of their idols.
Whatever else Gascoigne might be, the idea that he’s a role model is surely at an end.
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