My first sighting of Paul Gascoigne was in 1987, when he was playing for Newcastle. I didn’t exactly fall for him that day but I certainly looked twice. There was, as they say, ‘something about him.’ His giftedness was self-evident; he was a natural. You could tell that from his touch. However the ball came at him, fast, medium or slow, he welcomed it; he took it in his stride.
His appearance was unprepossessing. He was plump, twitchy and pink-faced, and on the small side. And he was cheeky in a puerile sort of way. He was always looking to nutmeg defenders when it would have been easier to pass them by. He wanted the ball all the time: for throw-ins, free kicks, corners–goal-kicks, if they had let him. He seemed fragile but he wasn’t: there was a mean streak underneath the puppy fat. He was always glancing behind him, or from side to side, even when the ball was nowhere near. He talked a lot, played to the crowd, or tried to. At nineteen, Gascoigne came across as a trainee star, a star whose moment was–well, any second now.
I was intrigued by the way he related to his centre forward, a Brazilian called Mirandinha. Mirandinha had not long before scored for Brazil against England at Wembley, and when Newcastle signed him there had been a small fuss in the press. Wags said that the Newcastle board thought they were signing Maradona. For the most part, though, the appearance of a Brazilian in our English league was seen as a matter for great celebration. We would learn from Mirandinha. He would bring sunshine to our drizzly field of play.