Monday, February 25, 2008

'Gazza' - Misguided or Misunderstood?

What to make of it all?

Last week PAUL GASCOIGNE was arrested and sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

The fallen soccer hero’s only companions while he remained holed up in a hotel room on a two-month drugs and booze binge were battery-operated parrots!.
It was reported that that the ex-England ace, 40, also wandered around the hotel with them under his arm, getting them to squawk 'Give us a kiss' and 'f*** off' to fellow guests.

One member of staff at the Malmaison Hotel said of Gazza; the other day he rang the desk to say one of his parrots had gone missing. The poor lad on duty didn't know what was going on.

He thought Gazza had a live parrot in his room and it had flown out of the window.
When he got to the room Gazza was stood there with a parrot under each arm making them say, 'F*** off, F*** off.'

He's also been answering the door naked. It got to the point where only male staff would be sent to his room.

One day he answered the door with 'MAD' scrawled on his forehead in what looked like eyeliner. He was clearly losing it, but he was just on his own all the time.
He had one or two visitors but there was no one coming regularly to see if he was ok.

His bizarre behaviour was revealed as Police confirmed that they were called to the Hilton Hotel in his hometown of Gateshead on Wednesday (20th February) following an earlier incident at the £240-a-night Malmaison Hotel nearby.

A hotel worker said in the latest incident that Gazza had set off the fire alarm, forcing guests to be evacuated. He added: The night porter was trying to get him to leave and Gazza grabbed him by the neck and started choking him. It didn't last long and then they kicked him out.

Gascoigne, who has fought a life-long battle with drink and drugs launched into his latest bender just before Christmas. He checked into the Malmaison three weeks ago — after he was kicked out of the Gateshead Marriott.

Gascoigne has been described many times as a wasted talent.
With the sensational recent events of the last week and well documented details that have come to prominence since his retirement from playing, it is tempting to see Gazza's successes as a player as monumental in the face of adversity.

Gascoigne had the talent to become one of England's most successful players of all time. However he had other things on his mind, such as his burgeoning alcohol dependence, lifelong bulimia, periodic cocaine addiction, depression, poor diet, a calamitous family life and numerous serious injuries.

That he achieved as much as he did is a testimony to the depth of his talent and his undimmed passion for playing the game.

Gazza was born in Gateshead in May 1967. He joined Newcastle United as an apprentice in 1983, made his league debut two years later against QPR and went on to make 107 League and Cup appearances for The Magpies, scoring 25 goals.

Despite being courted by Sir Alex Ferguson over a move to Old Trafford, he signed for Tottenham in July 1988 for £2.3m.

The 1990 World Cup Finals was a defining moment in Gazza's career.
Taken by Bobby Robson to Italia '90 in what was in many people's eyes considered a 'gamble' he become an integral part of an exciting 5-man England midfield, that helped England through the group stages, past Cameroon in the quarter-finals and into the semi-final against Germany. The pictures of Gazza shedding tears (right) after being booked against Germany (which would have ruled him out of the final) went all around the world and subsequently a new football star was born - Gazza the football celebrity!

Gazza-mania was as overpowering and as short lived as the remainder of Gazza's time at his footballing zenith.
For a season after his return from the World Cup Gazza played some fantastic football leading Spurs to an FA Cup Final, scoring memorable goals and continuing his fine form with England.

With a record £5.5m transfer to Italian giants Lazio looming, Gazza suffered a serious knee injury as a result of a reckless tackle in the 1991 FA Cup Final, (right) and he was never to reach the dizzy heights as a player ever again.
Worse, this was to be the first public example of the frenzied self-destructiveness that would come to dog him in later years......and in fact has to this present day!

After aggravating the injury further in an incident in a nightclub in October 1991 Gazza was out of football for a total of 16 months, before eventually finalizing his move to Lazio in September 1992 following a series of stringent fitness tests.
His time in Italy would be fractious, intermittently spectacular and blighted still further by injuries.

By 1993 — aged just 26 — he was already battling the booze. The following year he admitted beating fiancee Sheryl Kyle. She forgave him but within three months of their 1996 wedding he attacked her again.

Gazza's passion, skill and great goals won over the hearts of the Lazio fans.
Channel 4's live Football Italia show on Sunday's turned into a weekly diary of Gazza's life in Rome. Needless to say his debut was screened live and marked by a banner in the stadium which read: Gazza's Boys, we are here, to shag your women and drink your beer.'

Unsurprisingly there were moments of controversy too including a £9,000 fine for burping into a TV microphone, and the furore over Gazza's response when asked by a Norwegian camera crew if he had any message for the people of Norway ahead of their World Cup qualifier against England - 'Yes. Fuck off Norway' he replied.
In December 1993 he reported back after a Christmas break with a thigh strain, suffered getting out of bed!
Four months later he broke his leg in a freak training accident and spent a further year on the sidelines.

In 1995 a £4.3m move to Rangers led to a period of stability and arguably the most successful spell of his career. In 1996 Gascoigne picked up both the Players' Player of the Year and Football Writers' Player of the Year awards as he helped the Ibrox Club to their eighth league title in a row.

However Gazza again fell foul of his own foolhardy behaviour.
In January 1998 Gascoigne found his life being threatened by the IRA after he
mimicked playing a flute (symbolic of the flute-playing of Orange Order marchers, hated by the IRA) during an Old Firm match at Celtic Park, which was televised live on Sky Sports. He had previously done the same after scoring against Steaua Bucharest in a 1995 pre-season friendly which had gone largely unnoticed.
The gesture infuriated Celtic fans and Gascoigne was fined £20,000 by Rangers and was subjected to IRA death threats for around six months after the incident.

One other high point of his playing career came at Euro'96, where he was part of the England team that reached the semi-finals before losing again to Germany on penalties.
His brilliant goal in the 2-0 victory against Scotland will be remembered as much for the goal celebration as for the goal itself.

The 'dentist chair' celebration ( pictured right) was supposedly a gesture of defiance to those who had criticised his (and several other players) boozing antics on a recent trip abroad prior to the tournament.

Under Glenn Hoddle, Gascoigne was picked regularly over the next year and a half helping England qualify for the 1998 World Cup. But with injury and disciplinary problems affecting his game, he was left out of the final squad by Hoddle.

British tabloid newspapers showed pictures of a drunken Gascoigne eating kebabs in the early hours of the morning only a week before the final squad was due to be chosen. On being told he was out of the squad and to pack his bags, Gascoigne wrecked Hoddle's hotel room in a rage smashing a lamp and a chair and injuring his foot in the process, before being restrained.

His Rangers days were numbered when Dick Advocaat replaced Walter Smith at the helm.
In March 1998 he left Scotland and joined Middlesbrough for £3.4 million.
Personal problems limited his appearances for Boro and he later spent two seasons at Everton, and finished the 2001-02 season with the final few games of the Division One season with Burnley.


There have been a variety of views and opinions expressed since this latest episode from fans, current and ex-professional players, managers past and present and journalists alike:

Here are some of the comments I have read from football fans:

/'If he was a dog, they'd put him down.

/'Just to wish Paul Gascoigne a very speedy recovery. I was saddened to hear of this unfortunate incident. He is probably one of the greatest footballers of our time; we have all enjoyed watching him at his best, how about showing some support while he's at his lowest point to date?'

/'I'm sure he must have broken his head in that FA Cup Final, not just his leg.'

/'Unbelievably talented but prone to act like a fu*kwit off the pitch. Seemingly in terminal self-destruct mode. A shame we never saw him fulfill his true potential.'

/'Whilst he was an immense talent, he, like Best before him, let fair weather friends pump up his ego to gargantuan proportions, then left him wallowing in beer!'

/'Get well soon Gazza, you will always be a true legend, responsible for some wonderful memories.'

/'A bit like a footballing version of Amy Winehouse.'

/'Really sad to read this about Paul Gascoigne - a great player who brought pleasure to millions with his cheeky grin. We wish him well.'

/'Gazza is nothing without football, but unless he stays sober, he has nothing to offer it.'

/'He has had lots of help but still chooses to drink, add to that his other mental problems, OCD, trauma of seeing his best friend killed, (which he's had since childhood) and you have one very f***ed up individual.'

From Journalists:

/'The story began in tears, continues with tears, and barring a new age of miracles, will end in tears.'

/'Surely the only surprising aspect of Paul Gascoigne’s sectioning this week under the Mental Health Act is that it took them until now to lock him up. This man-child’s desire for self-destruction, demonstrated over many years of emotional incontinence, is so intense that he stands on the abyss.'

/'A talented footballer, who could make himself understood only when he had his boots on, has never come to terms with the demands of adult life, and never will. It is not quite a tragedy, as some have said, but it is very sad.'

/'Once regarded as one of the world's best footballers, Gascoigne's playing career was plagued by personal problems, many linked to his heavy drinking.'

/'I see no Greek tragedy in Gasgoigne's chaos. I feel as sorry for him as I do for any damaged, addicted person. The man had great talent and must, at his peak, have earned enough to buy out the local bank. But he was weak, not heroic. He lacked either a sense of responsibility or the inner resources to tackle his illness.
Everything, as is the case with every alcoholic, has always been someone else's fault, not his.'

/'Perhaps Paul Gascoigne can only be explained by the romantic myths of genius. One way or another, they say, artists pay for their art.'

/'It may be that all Gasgoigne wants to do is quietly continue his path of slow-motion self-destruction. If so, respect him, and respect his right to choose; but please do not sensationalise his illness.'

From ex-players/managers:

/Former England teammate Gareth Southgate, who now manages Middlesbrough, was confident Gascoigne would get well.
'He has shown a willingness to try to come through it in the past and he is obviously going to have to do that again,' Southgate said. 'He would do anything for anybody and, hopefully, people will do the same for him now because he obviously needs that help.'

/Sunderland manager Roy Keane, who often played against Gascoigne, said his problems stemmed from how players dealt with life after retirement.
'That is a problem, particularly with a lot of footballers when you stop playing, there is a massive gap in your life,' Keane said. 'We all pray that Paul finds a bit of peace and serenity because he deserves it.'

/'I do hope that things start working out better for Gazza,' Everton manager David Moyes said. Gascoigne played for two years under Moyes until 2002 — his last Premier League club.
'He is a good man, a good person and was always willing to help others. Everyone at this club will tell you that. When I have been around him he has proved to be a real gent. We all here hope he gets the help he needs.'

/Kevin Keegan was a player at Newcastle when Gascoigne first began his career in the 1980's.
He believes Paul Gascoigne's detention for mental health problems could be the best thing for him.
Keegan said, 'It's sad, but maybe what has happened now will be a turning point for him, and instead of looking on it as something that is really bad, this might be the best thing.'

Just a small sample selection of the mixed & divided feelings on Gazza.
On this subject YOU will have to decide for yourself what the score is...................

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Football Club Mascots - Love them or loathe them?

When Fullham's Billy the Badger sprang into a half-time break dancing routine in a bid to liven up the Craven Cottage crowd ( 3rd February v. Aston Villa) officialdom struck.
Billy was still jiving on the pitch as referee Chris Foy attempted to get the second-half underway, and in the end the official was forced to literally physically escort him off the playing area, (pictured right) much to the amusement of many of the fans, if not the players at least.

In honour of that recent and rather humorous incident I am going to post a piece on my blog on the subject of 'Football Club Mascots.'

Do the likes of Billy and Co. bring colour and fun to the game or are they simply irritating and annoying distractions???

Mascots are currently a strongly entrenched feature of the 'match day experience' in British football and almost every professional football club has one, usually a furry-suited local 'character' dressed up as a figure related to the club's nickname or crest.
The recent trend in mascots started in the late 1980's and early 1990's when clubs like Crystal Palace and Chelsea adopted the 'furry fools' as part of the 'lively, family-orientated' atmosphere promoted at football grounds.
Most league clubs were quick to follow suit and mascots soon became a perennial feature at most stadiums throughout the 1990's.

There were, though, a few earlier generations of mascots. From 1902-05 Manchester United had a St. Bernard dog called The Major, Millwall had a lion in the 1920's, and Leicester City had a fox character complete with bowler hat and stick in the 1940's.

Team mascots can be found rallying their supporters at most league clubs, from Arsenal's (Gunnersaurus Rex) to Southend United's (Sammy the Shrimp).
Some clubs even have real animals as their mascots instead of the overgrown, cuddly variety!
Derby County have Private Derby the ram, and Hereford United have a bull.

Modern mascots do have more use than teasing fans and having the odd kick-around with opposing mascots.
Some are a tribute to iconic figures from a club's history. Lofty the Lion of Bolton Wanderers, is named after Nat Lofthouse, a club hero during the 1940's and 50's and Wycombe's Bodger is named after Tony Horseman ( called Bodger because of his job in the furniture trade), the club's all-time leading goalscorer.

Exactly how many millions of pounds have been lured into football by the presence of a sweating, unemployed actor in an animal costume has never been established. What is beyond doubt is that the unchoreographed antics of various club mascots has become part of the modern day ritual at a game.

Being a mascot isn't all fun and games. While it may be fun to dress up and entertain large crowds, it can be physically demanding and sometimes quite dangerous. Costumes can weigh up to three stone and mascots are susceptible to injuries, particularly to their knee and ankle joints.

The profession appears to attract a particular kind of local exhibitionist!
As most mascots are fans, and don't get paid, they can sometimes get carried away.
Frisky behaviour and pitch-side pranks have led to some mascots being sent off!

Cyril the Swan of Swansea City was fined £1000 by the Welsh FA for bringing the game into disrepute after running on the pitch to hug a goalscorer.
Hercules the Lion of Aston Villa was sacked from his job after making inappropriate advances towards Miss Aston Villa, while Wolfie of Wolvehampton Wanderers and Bristol City's Three Little Pigs were involved in an on-pitch match day brawl.
In a separate incident Preston North End's Deepdale Duck had to be dragged off the pitch by his wings after losing his cool!

These exploits have led the Football League to make plans for a Code of Conduct for mascots. In response, some of football's furry friends have threatened to go on strike unless improvements in their working conditions are made.

Being a mascot is a serious business!

FYI - The annual charity Mascot Grand National takes place every September at Huntington racecourse along with The Mascot Awards, which includes categories for 'Best Turned Out Mascot' and 'Most Ugly Mascot.'