By Dave Smith.
You can’t fail to have been impressed with Southampton this season (apart from the fact their manager still won’t conduct a post or pre-match interview in English!) and for me their stand-out performer, consistently, has been Adam Lallana.
Never more so than at the weekend when he celebrated his call-up to the England squad – in front of the England manager too – with a man of the match performance and a super solo goal which had me thinking…are you Aaron Ramsey in disguise?
The grace, style, power, balance, skill and composure when it counted was reminiscent of Ramsey in his pomp, as the Arsenal midfielder has been since day one of an incredible season. And Lallana isn’t far behind on the basis of his performance in the 4-1 win against Hull.
Yet whilst the way Lallana danced through a toothless Tigers’ defence drew immediate comparisons with Ramsey, my mind wandered back a decade or two when a certain Paul Gascoigne was the master of the mesmerising run from midfield into the ranks of bewildered back lines.
A young, devil-may-care Gazza made his name in an average Newcastle side he orchestrated in the lofty way Andre Previn might have conducted the Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band; leading defences a merry dance yet alone a Floral Dance.
Football’s latest, and some would say greatest, national football hero did the same on many occasions for Spurs – I can instantly recall a magical FA Cup goal against Portsmouth – and, of course, he raised our spirits and our hearts many times in an England shirt.
In the build-up to the 1990 World Cup there was a mass media debate about Gazza’s possible inclusion in Bobby Robson’s final squad. Would the England boss take a gamble on a wayward genius he would later describe as ‘daft as a brush’?
A maverick Wembley cameo capped with a wonder goal against Czechoslovakia just weeks before the announcement of the World Cup squad provided the answer. As did the look of delight, disbelief almost, on the face of Robson as Gazza weaved his magic. He knew; so did we.
Gazza’s performances at Italia 90 until the tears and traumas of Turin more than justified his inclusion. I’m sure we all still get goose bumps when we still think about that wonderful adventure – much in the same way he underlined his name in English football history six years later.
The date: June 15, 1996; the venue: Wembley Stadium; the occasion; England’s 2-0 win against Scotland at Euro 96. Who could forget that marvellous moment when Gazza turned Colin Hendry inside out before volleying home the best goal of the tournament; his career, perhaps.
The celebratory re-creation of the infamous ‘Dentists Chair’ incident in Hong Kong will live long in the memory, as will Gascoigne’s subsequent comments about his wonder goal, and continued taunting of the Scottish defender he left trailing in his wake.
‘Aye, it wasn’t a bad goal was it? Not sure Colin Hendry enjoyed it though – they’re still trying to screw him out of the Wembley pitch!” – Classic Gazza.
So how did the tormenter of the Tartan Army become such a legend in the Scottish heartland as a Glasgow idol – on the blue half of the great city at least..? I’ll tell you.
As the chief football writer on SHOOT magazine I was assigned to report on a ‘day in the life of Gazza’ during his career rejuvenation at Rangers. After watching a routine training session and enjoying lunch at Ibrox, an Adidas photo shoot followed before delving into the ‘real world’ of Paul Gascoigne.
An afternoon spent fishing on the banks of one of Scotland’s many beautiful lochs was followed by a few cheeky pints at Gazza’s local in Kilbarchan and an impromptu ‘England v Scotland’ game of pool; myself and Gazza taking on two fervent Scottish football fans. The result: England 2 Scotland 0 – a familiar score.
After last orders it was back to Gazza’s rambling, multi-bedroom mansion and a late supper. On close inspection of his fridge, which contained two slices of left-over pizza, a bottle of milk and a can of Gillesipies’ Irish stout, Plan B needed to kick into action.
A quick phone call from the great man to a local Indian takeaway saw a Far East feast fit for a family of five arrive (he didn’t have to pay; an autographed photo sufficed) and we sat up until the wee small hours devouring our free delivery.
A normal night for some, you might think, but perhaps not the ideal preparation for a honed athlete who, two days later, would be playing in the penultimate game of the domestic season – a Rangers’ title showdown with Aberdeen.
What sort of shape would he be in come the big day, I wondered. I needn’t have worried. True to form, he was the star of the show and capped an incredible hat-trick with a solo goal which raised the Ibrox roof (click on the image below to see it). Rangers were champions: Gazza the hero.
The delight on the faces of his adoring public was eclipsed only by the broadest of grins on Gazza’s face, as wide as the Firth of Forth itself. This was his moment; his stage. As Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel once sang ‘Come up and see me, make me smile’. We all did.