Gazza’s ‘moment of madness’ … And mine

(Please be warned. This blog may be triggering)

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May 18th 1991

Not much was going on. Taurus. Emerald the birthstone.

I was in the psychiatric unit smoking room, half heartedly watching Gazza’s final. Paul Gascoigne’s star was rising as a new era for English football dawned. Tottenham were playing Nottingham Forest in the first FA Cup final since the World Cup of Italia ’90, a tournament that had captured the country’s imagination. Gascoigne’s tears had captured people’s hearts.

It was raining, and the nurses were sipping cups of tea behind the long observation window.

(Northern Somalia was declaring its independence, but was not to be recognised by the international community).

The dark days of Heysel and Hillsborough were behind us, and the new Premier League was just around the corner. And for the first time, baggy shorts were back on display, worn by the Spurs team.

Nothing happening today. No activities, few staff, no visitors. More rain. Mayhem down the corridor. I couldn’t be bothered to find out what was going on. I tried to focus on the game. But the obsessive thoughts would not relinquish their hold. The drugs don’t work. Nothing works. Why go on?

(The USSR was launching two cosmonauts to MIR space station. Helen Sharman, the first Briton in space was on board).

I walked out of the unit, through the car park, past the hospital canteen, up through the hospital grounds, past the tall water tower, up to the shops in Barnet High Street. And I walked up and down aimlessly trying to fight and ignore, trying to fight then ignore the mental anguish. Nothing worked. Why go on? This was going to be my life forever, right?

(France was performing a nuclear test on Murora Island).

While I was walking up and down…

In a wild, fateful foul on Gary Charles, Gazza’s came off worse in a collision that left him with a ruptured cruciate ligament in his right knee and facing a year out of the game. Gazza was carried off moments after Stuart Pearce had fired Forest ahead from the resulting free-kick. He burst into tears when the Spurs team doctor diagnosed the injury in the dressing room, and again when he lay in a hospital bed watching on television as his victorious team-mates went up to collect the trophy.

(High temperatures were being recorded at a nuclear power plant in North Korea)

Why do we do what we do? I walked and walked, and turned into Union Street. I walked up and down for minutes? Hours?

‘That was my dream,’ said Gascoigne. ‘I still get a lump in my throat when I talk about it now. I wasn’t bothered about lifting the trophy. As a footballer all you want to do is walk up those steps. You ask a lot of players, the FA Cup is bigger than a World Cup. I said, “Oh my God, turn the TV off”.’ The move to Italy still went through – albeit 12 months later and for £3million less than the original £8.5m transfer fee – but Gascoigne was never the same.

The white van turned into the road. I was in so much pain, I did not really care. I stepped out.

‘I tried to get a good challenge on him to let him know he was in a game. I just mistimed it. It was daft and I’m gutted about that. I’m just probably one of those players who couldn’t tackle. When I see the challenge I cringe myself. It’s the biggest regret of my career.’

I still regret what I did. But I am grateful to be alive. Please don’t do what I did. Or what Gazza did.

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