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Gazza: My Story by Paul Gascoigne with Hunter Davies

Release date: 18th June, 2004
Publisher: Headline

List Price: 18.99
Our Price: 11.39
You Save: 7.6 (40%)
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Towards the end of this book, Paul Gascoigne is asked, "Of today's younger players, who do you admire?" to which he replies, "Beckham, of course, not just for his football but how he has handled the media and his commercial work. I buggered up all that." It's a comment which ultimately the reader may feel is better suited to an appearance nearer the beginning as it effectively sets the tone for the whole 370 pages.

Today, Paul Gascoigne should probably be winding down on an even more successful playing career than the one he enjoyed. Although he would be the first to acknowledge that he has never been the sharpest knife in the drawer, a career extension in football coaching and possibly management would almost certainly beckon. Lucrative product endorsement and sponsorship contracts would ideally have provided the most comfortable of financial cushions. Instead, Gazza is a recovering alcoholic, a George Best with dignity; he neither owns a house nor a car, but a man who, for all his faults, is difficult to dislike.

The depths to which Gascoigne fell are graphically illustrated as soon as one opens the book's cover. The endpapers are a reduced version of his "Path to Recovery", a handwritten account of his life from 1967; it was originally written in chalk and coloured crayons on a sheet of brown paper measuring over 6' by 3' and finishes with a startling block capital cry for help. By the end of the ensuing prologue, this reader wondered how such a star, a player so exalted, a footballer endowed with such talent, a man earning so much money, would have needed to issue such a heart-wrenching scream.

Paul Gascoigne was undoubtedly one of the most naturally talented footballers this country has ever produced although, as everyone knows, he was as daft as a brush. This combination allows writer Hunter Davies to mix some brilliant footballing memories with occasionally very funny anecdotes - although I really cannot believe that the Newcastle United side of 1984 celebrated victories with a glass of Harvey's Bristol Cream! Similarly, the tale of Gascoigne being summoned to Terry Venables office for swearing at his then club manager induces more raucous laughter.

In 1988, Gazza left Newcastle for the bright lights of London and Tottenham Hotspur. With hindsight, it is easy to say that this was a bad move, but the young Gascoigne could hardly be blamed for leaving a club offering him £250 a week and going to one paying £1,500. Nevertheless, one wonders how he would have fared under Alex Ferguson's tutelage; he actually promised the Manchester United manager that he would sign for the Old Trafford club, but Spurs wooed the impressionable Geordie (and his mates) and snapped him up ahead of two Scots - Kenny Dalglish, Liverpool's manager, being the other.

Of course, it was during Italia 90 that Gascoigne came to prominence which resulted in him being courted by most big teams in Europe. In addition, the sponsorship and endorsement offers came in at such speed that Gazza reckons within 12 months of the World Cup, he'd earned "millions". Even these were not as straight forward as they should have been - the story of how the Brut contract was lost combines amusement and pathos, a de facto summary of the footballer's life.

The book chronicles Gascoigne's career in similar vein from Lazio to Rangers, Euro 1996 - another playing pinnacle - to Middlesbrough, where the drink and drugs begin to have a devastating effect and onto Everton, Burnley, Arizona and finally China.

Ultimately, Gazza: My Story offers a sad, reflective, often very funny tale which serves to illustrate the need for talented but poorly educated young footballers to be properly advised by people they can trust.

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