Gazza, review: how England's most gifted footballer was destroyed by fame and by himself

Former England, Tottenham and Newcastle midfielder Paul Gascoigne - BBC
Former England, Tottenham and Newcastle midfielder Paul Gascoigne - BBC

I met Paul Gascoigne once. He won a prize at the British Book Awards for his autobiography, Gazza: My Story. Afterwards, he spotted me in a corner, notebook in hand, and asked if I was writing about him. He took a seat and proceeded to tell me, a complete stranger, his problems. He cried.

His desire to be liked was almost overwhelming. I didn’t write up a word of it, because it felt cruel to take advantage of someone in such a mess.

Two Paul Gascoignes exist in the public eye: the gifted footballer he once was and the sad, shambolic figure he became. Gazza (BBC Two) did not follow this trajectory to its end, but gave us plenty. It opened with Gascoigne at a fishing lake. Could we see where this was going? A throw forward, surely, to the bizarre episode when he turned up at the police stand-off with killer Raoul Moat, proffering fried chicken, cans of lager and a fishing rod?

But this two-part documentary confounds expectations. We never get as far as the Moat incident, because it ends in 1998, when Gascoigne was dropped from Glenn Hoddle’s World Cup squad (smashing up Hoddle’s room as he went).

And despite the man himself making a fleeting appearance in the opening and closing moments, he was not interviewed. Instead, film-maker Sampson Collins wove together archive footage and the recollections of others: his mother and sister, his friend Linda Lusardi, his teammates and his lawyer. All seem to have watched helplessly as this once guileless, clowning big kid was destroyed by a combination of fame and self-sabotage.

Sampson turned the tabloid press into the villains of the piece, and their behaviour was deeply unpleasant. But a special mention must go to Jane Nottage, Gascoigne’s former PA, who sold him out in a tell-all book then had the nerve to tell this programme that nobody in his team was taking care of “this vulnerable human being”.

What has always complicated the story of “lovable” old Gazza is the domestic violence. His treatment of ex-wife Sheryl was included here, but you could tell the film-makers didn’t quite know what to do with it. His family and friends spoke of Sheryl in disparaging terms. His old Spurs teammate, Paul Stewart, was the only contributor to condemn his behaviour. You can agree that Gascoigne was a victim – of the press, of his own success – but he wasn’t the only one.