Just the other day, the BBC did a documentary on “Gazza.” Not Paul Gascoigne, but his ghastly alter-ego.
It was a sympathetic piece, painting the player as the victim of dark forces who used him for their own ends and then celebrated his misery.
It’s a one-sided view I’ve never wholly accepted.
Are there people whom the media builds up and then destroys?
Of course there are, and there are plenty of examples out there. But all of these people also shamelessly used the media for their own self-promotion at the same time, and for a while at least revelled in the spotlight.
That they learned, late, and to their cost, that the media beast eats its own young should only surprise those of them who have no sense of history. He wasn’t the first and he won’t be the last. Not even close to it.
I didn’t watch it. I read the reviews instead.
I have no real interest in watching it, because I have no real interest in him or in the hacks who raked through his bins and tapped his phones and bribed his “mates” for stories that they could slap on their front pages.
They all belong in the same gutter as far as I’m concerned, and those hacks expressing their remorse and shame is as phony as all the many times Gazza himself has been forced, reluctantly, to grovelling for mercy and understanding.
There is a part of me which has some residue of compassion for this guy, and it’s hard even for the toxic mess he leaves everywhere behind him to detract from the obvious emotional issues that he has, and I can’t hate someone for that no matter how some of these issues have manifest themselves.
I think there’s always been a yob lurking underneath it all though and I see some of his behaviour as deliberately, wilfully offensive.
Friends of mine down in England, who think of the guy with a lot more warmth than I do, tell me that he’s misunderstood, that he’s been steered off the rails more than he’s gone off them, and I do have a certain sympathy with that view … but only up to a point.
There is one thing I’ve never had the least doubt about though; the worst thing that Paul Gascoigne ever did in his life was sign for Rangers.
Of all the clubs out there in world football that he could have gone to, that was – hands down – the most disastrous possible choice.
And Ibrox fans who mourn the state he’s gotten himself into and lash out at the world which sometimes disdains him – and rightly so considering some of his conduct – are once again missing a very big part of the puzzle here; they are at least partly to blame for the way this guy’s life has turned out, and for the monster Gazza became.
There were – and are – people at Ibrox who are even more responsible.
For it was inside that club that this guy morphed from being a roguish man-child into a twisted bigot.
Ibrox chewed this guy up and then spit him out.
Its leadership knew that this was a guy with a mess of problems but a huge talent that they could utilise for a brief time before they ditched him, and they tried to squeeze everything they could from the guy before that happened.
It was during his time at Ibrox that his drinking got out of control. It was during that spell that he assaulted his then-wife. It was during his time at Rangers that he fell head-first into the swamp of bigotry and bile which had almost swallowed up the likes of Terry Butcher, who only snapped out of it after an entreaty from his own wife.
Gazza was made for that kind of atmosphere.
People tend to forget that his first time of “playing the flute” was during a pre-season friendly just after he’d signed.
He claimed others at Ibrox told him to do it and that the connotations were unclear. But they were clear enough when he did it in front of the Celtic fans.
This guy embraced all of the lunacy that club had to offer. He immersed himself in it. He and that club, with its hard drinking culture, laced with sectarian undertones … they were made for each other.
How could he no swallow all that?
The bigot who rampages through the press on occasion, racially abusing his own bodyguards and appearing in front of baying mobs to shout Loyalist slogans was born in, fed by and let loose by those inside Ibrox who made sure that by the time he left he was “one of their own”; the very last thing a guy already carrying a ton of baggage needed.
Ibrox players share stories about him, regularly, which are, I suppose meant to make you shake your head with admiration but instead, in the full light of what we know he is now, actually stun you with their selfishness and stupidity, such as the tale about the League Cup Final against Hearts at Celtic Park where he scored two second half goals after Archie Knox had told him to go down to the director’s box at half time and have himself a stiff drink.
You hear constantly about how people inside Ibrox tried to keep him on the straight and narrow, but it’s clear from stories like that how much they encouraged his boozing when it suited their ends and how often they stirred the sectarian soup using him as the ladle.
Yet this is the club that he most loved playing for.
I’ve never felt truly sorry for him, and I don’t know what it would take me for me to do so, believing as I do that he’s gone so far beyond acceptable conduct that he can never be redeemed.
But there was a certain ladishness to him before he went to Ibrox that you could find in any number of other players from his generation … but he emerged from that club wholly transformed and poisoned by its atmosphere and mind-set.
To this day, Ibrox fans never acknowledge that simple fact.
When they mourn Gazza they are mourning what they made him, and many of them worship him for the very things so many of the rest of us can’t stand him for. They never get it, and they never will.
When they bitch about what the world did to “Gazza” they are, as usual, looking in the mirror.