The moment Paul Gascoigne turned to celebrate with the Spurs fans, a new hero was born. To this very day it remains my favourite ever Gazza goal. It showcased everything that made him such a great footballer. It had skill, determination and above all the improvisation that only a real genius can muster at will. The fact that we lost the game 3-2 to Arsenal at White Hart Lane can not dampen this memory. I was seven years old and Gazza had transformed me from a fan into a full on Tottenham obsessive.
A few years later he would go on to score technically a better one against Arsenal, but this was pure Gazza at his inventive best, I loved Chris Waddle, but from that moment I worshipped Gazza.
In the early September sunshine, my former hero Waddle collects the ball in midfield and slips a wonderfully weighted ball through to the on running Gazza. As he approaches the area he is challenged but momentum takes him through, but in the tackle he loses his right boot. This fact doesn’t hinder him, the first shot is saved but as the rebound comes back to him, with his sock coming off, he controls it, shimmies round the keeper and slides it home. I still remember the commentator saying:
“Gazza scores his first ever goal for Tottenham, and that was without his boot!!”
That sentence remains imprinted on my consciousness to this very day. At the end of that season my mum gave me the VHS of all the goals Spurs scored in that season, it remains the greatest gift I have ever been given. My obsession with Gazza was already in full bloom, but that 58 minute long VHS took it to the next level.
I was seven years old and Gazza had transformed me from a fan into a full on Tottenham obsessive.
The 1988/1989 season wasn’t a vintage one for Spurs, but for me it remains one of the most important in my football watching experience. I didn’t know or care who the pre-Tottenham Gazza was, all that mattered from that moment on was what he did in the Tottenham shirt.
At Spurs we have always prided ourselves on fielding some of the greatest attacking players to ever have laced up their boots. Now in my early thirties I have spent hours reading up on the 1960’s teams, the late 70’s and early 80’s sides, but they belonged to another set of fans. Even today when I listen to some Podcasters hark back to the old days, I feel pride at the great names, but they don’t belong to me and my age group. We can appreciate them, but can we love them?
This is perhaps why Gazza is such a legend in our eyes. He belongs to me and my school friends; Gazza is my Glenn Hoddle, my Blanchflower, White and Greaves. Gascoigne may not have achieved what the others did, but I will be eternally grateful to him for giving me and countless others the gift of Tottenham.
Like most Spurs fans of my age when we think back to Gascoigne, it’s the FA Cup run of 1991 that we remember fondly. That season saw us lift the cup for the 8th time and deny Arsenal what would have been their second League and Cup double. The glorious cup run of that year, is down in no small part to the brilliance of Gazza who at times dragged us on his own to the final.
As my father hails from Italy and my mother from the Lake District, the family traditions of who to support never happened with me. I was allowed to choose my own team free from guilt or pressure, this combined with financial and crowd safety issues of the time, was why I grew up without the weekly visits to White Hart Lane.
I never got to see Gazza play live, eventually my father took me to the 1991 Charity Shield vs Arsenal, but that was in the aftermath of that tackle which meant that I had to make do with only a lap of honour from my hero.
I thought I would never see Gazza live, that was until the greatest day of my life a few months later.
As a pretty decent goalkeeper, I was called up to represent the Borough of Barnet at football. The manager hadn’t yet decided who would be the number 1, so I shared duties with another keeper. Our home ground was Chase Lodge in Mill Hill, the then Spurs training ground. I was due to play the second half, so I spent the first 45 minutes on the sidelines when someone called over to me:
“Hey keeper, do you want a game?”
Turning round Gascoigne was stood in front of me, I couldn’t respond I just nodded.
“Go in nets then and bring the ball.”
We walked together over to a spare pitch; he asked me a few simple questions, which at the time was similar to making me describe Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. I barely answered, in truth I could barely move, the only thought in my head was:
“I am about to play football with Gazza.”
After what seemed like hours, we arrived at the pitch and Gazza sent me to go in goal. For the next 10 minutes or so, using the leg he hadn’t ruptured in the cup final, he started taking free-kicks against me. I was 10 years old in a full size goal, I would like to say I saved all of them but the truth is I only saved one. Taking pity on me he put one close to me which I managed to push onto the post. Then just as quickly as it had happened, he said thanks, turned away and started jogging round the training ground.
I played the second half of my game but I can’t even remember if we won or lost. For the entire 45 minutes I was in goal all I wanted to do was get home as quick as possible to tell anyone that would listen what had just happened. This was 1991/92, mobile phones for a 10 year old didn’t exist and neither did digital cameras, this moment exists only in my memory and it will be one that I will cherish until my final days.
He belongs to me and my school friends; Gazza is my Glenn Hoddle, my Blanchflower, White and Greaves.
It’s painful for me to see the modern day Gazza, the one who attempted to visit Raoul Moat with a fishing road or the mumbling shell on stage last week at a charity event. I try not to ponder what the future holds for the man that hasn’t only thrilled millions of Spurs fans, but at two major international tournaments captured the hearts and minds of the world.
When Gazza cried in 1990 in Turin, I cried along with him and in 1996 even though a staunch Italy supporter by then, I celebrated his goal against Scotland as if he was still wearing the Hummel Holsten kit. Gazza has played for many clubs since he left Tottenham, but he remains intrinsically linked with our club. At White Hart Lane on Saturday I along with many others clapped and sang his name, Gazza faces the biggest battle of his life now; I can only hope he finds the strength to come through it.
I would really just like to say a big thank you.
Thank you Gazza for giving me and countless others Spurs, thank you for the memories and life changing moments. The goals, the vibrancy and sheer joy of just simply playing football, I wish you with all my heart the best.
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