Since he last kicked a football in the Premier League back in 2002 (for Everton), the life of Paul John Gascoigne has become a national soap opera. Fuelled by a tabloid press who use the former England star’s battle with alcoholism to sell copies, we’ve watched his relapses, run-ins with the police and health problems through closed fingers, hoping the next rehab stint and recovery will last.
New documentary Gascoigne is, in part, an attempt to focus on the good times that went before all that. Directed by Jane Preston (best known for 2011’s Graffiti Wars), it centres on an extended interview with the now 48-year-old himself plus fond memories from Gary Lineker, Wayne Rooney and a twinkly-eyed José Mourinho.
Told chronologically through archive footage, we watch Gazza’s rise from a tubby kid kicking a tennis ball around the streets of Newcastle to “the most gifted English player of his generation”, the tears flowing at Italia ’90 and, of course, Gazzamania with its pop singles and Gazza-themed duvet covers.
There are poignant moments, too. Even when Gazza’s joking about kidnapping an ostrich to take to training, or being told off by Glen Hoddle, there is a vulnerability that is difficult to watch. A childhood tragedy in which he saw a friend die in a car accident and, more recently, the effects of being targeted in the phone-hacking scandal, are mixed in with the hagiography, offering some insight into a mind we casually file under “troubled genius”.
What emerges most strongly, though, is a portrait of a man who found – and gave – joy on the football pitch, more than any player from these shores before or since. Despite awful injuries, he lit up stadiums wherever he played and gave us, as Rooney points out, the most iconic England goal of all time when he double-volleyed past Scotland at Euro ’96. As ever with Gazza, you’re just left hoping the memories make him as happy as they do the rest of us.
Gascoigne is out on 15 June on DVD, Blu-Ray