As a player at his peak, there were few who could get close to Paul Gascoigne. Italia ’90 is over-romanticised in many quarters, but it did possess one truly world-class side: West Germany. In the infamous Turin semi-final, Gascoigne faced off against a team that matches up pretty well against most winners of the tournament throughout history, Brazil of 1970 aside. Olaf Thon, the junior member of the German midfield “only” won 50 caps and appeared in two successive World Cup finals. Alongside Thon, Lothar Matthaus and Thomas Haessler earned over 100 caps in their outstanding international careers. Yet Gascoigne dominated them that night, at least right up to his yellow card in extra time
He probably had another 12 months in him as an absolutely world class player, scoring 19 goals in only 37 games for Spurs in the 90/91 season, and earning the attention of Lazio. After his knee injuries, his greatness became sporadic, though it was still comfortably good enough to inspire a declining Rangers side towards 9 in a row. Walter Smith did a stoic job keeping Gascoigne largely on track for three years (in a playing sense) while Gascoigne returned the favour by scoring and creating the goals that helped obscure the fact that Smith’s signings around that time, such as Jonas Thern, Oleg Salenko and Sergio Porrini, were average at best. Rangers did very well to get more than £3m for Gascoigne from Middlesbrough, and it looked an even smarter move when he combusted after Glenn Hoddle dumped him from England’s France ’98 squad.
As a player, a case could probably be made in isolation for him being in the Scottish Hall of Fame. Brian Laudrup has been admitted having only played one more season in Scotland, although his off-field image would be the polar opposite of Gascoigne’s. Terry Butcher only played for four years up here too, though his tenure is bolstered by eight years managing Motherwell and Inverness, plus some extra kudos for his never to be forgotten stint at Easter Road.
As stated elsewhere, drawing the line between morality and footballing merit is not easy. The inspiration for sporting Hall of Fames comes from the United States, and the NFL equivalent already contains an alleged murderer, a sex offender, and a player once banned for a season for gambling offences. Recently we have had the surreal scene of America’s foremost sports writer arguing that a Super Bowl winning player’s case to be in the Hall had to be considered on playing merit only, despite the fact he is currently serving a 20-year jail sentence for attacking women across four different states.
Others in the Scottish Hall of Fame have had off-field controversies too, Hughie Gallacher was one of the original inductees in 2004, but his life was marred by on-field suspensions and personal tragedy linked to alcohol abuse. However, the potential admittance of Gascoigne seems a step too far. Each of his admitted offences could be grounds enough to keep him out, but considered in their totality his candidacy seem outlandish; racism, drink-driving, and assault (both on strangers and those closest to him). Football fans can be the biggest hypocrites, happy to overlook the sins of those who turn it on at the weekend for our chosen team. But I do not think it is too pious to say that it is a step too far to admit him to the Hall of Fame.
There is no doubt Paul Gascoigne has been let down by those close to him throughout his life. Some, able to quench their own urges, were happy to build their own careers on the backs of nights out and tabloid stories of excess with him. Plenty more have made fortunes through association with him while his own funds are largely exhausted. We now have a travelling circus where Gascoigne appears in towns throughout Scotland, presumably to bolster his depleted bank balance. Much as he was as in footballing terms at Middlesbrough and Everton, his public appearances reveal him to be a shadow of the man once he was. Those advising him are equally culpable, but his performing schedule seems to promote bigotry, as locals in Alloa, Irvine and elsewhere can testify. Even if Gascoigne took little notice of being refused entry to the Hall of Fame, it would at least send a message to those currently advising him that there is a line that should not be crossed. Admittedly, we live in an era where a man who sends racist and homophobic text messages is considered suitable by some people to be Performance Director of the SFA. Nevertheless, there is simply no case for the committee members to sully the Hall of Fame by admitting Paul Gascoigne.
Written by Jim Douglas