It’s hard to think of a greater expression of sheer bilious venom to have ever been captured on disc than Bob Dylan’s 1965 top ten single, ‘Positively 4th Street’. ‘You’ve got a lot of nerve/to say you are my friend’ snarls Dylan in the opening line. ‘When I was down/you just stood there grinning’. Its lyrical target remains the subject of speculation, but at a time when Dylan was delving into more obscure and oblique lyrical realms, the song is a uniquely direct collection of grievances spat out at the disgruntled folkie audience from the newly-electric troubadour. The time-honoured ritual of kicking a man when he’s down, especially when the kickers in question built the man up in the first place, is particularly pungent in this country. The British media – and to an extent (it has to be said) the general public – like nothing better than the downfall of a famous name they once lauded and applauded; when the Law gets involved as well, the one-time darling doesn’t stand a chance.
A quarter of a century ago, Paul Gascoigne was one of the most famous people in the country. Already recognised as a prodigious talent by regular followers of football, his role in the England team’s unexpected route to the World Cup semi-final in 1990 caught the eye of the fair-weather fans that only pay attention when the national side does well in a major tournament. Receiving a yellow card in the battle with the Germans, Gascoigne’s realisation that he would therefore miss the final should England make it provoked something nobody had ever seen a participant in such a masculine pastime reduced to before – he burst into tears. Overnight, ‘Gazza’ became a national treasure for wearing his heart on his sleeve, an instant household name whose emotions placed him under the scrutiny of a spotlight his emotions were ill-equipped to deal with.
England manager Bobby Robson had described his star youngster as being ‘daft as a brush’, and Gazza certainly played the joker within the England team, his evident hyperactivity and childlike enthusiasm for being the class clown masking a deep insecurity and emotional vulnerability at the root of his manic persona. When his career didn’t quite pan out as it should have, Gazza found the intense press intrusion into his private life and personal relationships a downside to the fame he had embraced with such gusto in the aftermath of Italia 90. The trajectory his life followed thereafter uncannily echoed the route taken by that other outstanding football talent produced by the British Isles, George Best. The demon drink took hold and after one final glorious hurrah on the pitch with Euro 96, Gazza ended his days as a player turning out for lower league clubs seemingly to make ends meet. It was a sad winding down to a playing career that should have ended on a far higher note.
Sport, like many other areas of society, has become adept at smugly patting itself on the back of late via various initiatives allegedly aimed at stamping out prejudices towards ethnic minorities, women, homosexuals and the mentally ill. But its ability to aid those within it that have suffered as a consequence of previous inaction on the part of sporting authorities is fairly limited. Paul Gascoigne’s alcoholism and mental illness have received precious little assistance from football’s governing bodies; some fellow team-mates have done their bit to help him out, but Gazza has paid the rent in recent years by joining the after-dinner circuit. A man whose natural talent on the field of play is the kind today’s England side would die for has been relegated to a graveyard it’s difficult to imagine contemporaries such as Gary Lineker or Alan Shearer enduring.
Throughout the years since he retired from playing, Gazza’s difficulties have been reported on with obscene relish by the tabloid press. The ‘How the mighty have fallen’ subtext to every telescopic lens image of Gascoigne staggering around dressed in wino chic is appalling, though who would expect anything less from the press? Unfortunately, Paul Gascoigne is not emotionally equipped to cope with that kind of intrusive voyeurism and one suspects the dream headline craved by the pack who persist in slavering over his every misstep would be the one announcing his premature death.
And now poor old Gazza has been subjected to another irredeemably corrupt British institution – the Law. Today he was found guilty of ‘Racially Aggravated Abuse’, following an ill-timed and innocuous throwaway rehash of an old unfunny Bernard Manning joke during one of his ‘An Evening with Gazza’ events in Wolverhampton. The fact that the utterly reprehensible Crown Prosecution Service (a pusillanimous stain on this country’s legal profession beyond compare) chose to pursue this charge all the way to court merely because it could is despicable enough, but the box-ticking, self-righteous piety encapsulated in the summary of the District Judge at Dudley Magistrates’ Court reads as a last will and testament for common sense within British Law.
After praising the contemptible CPS for bringing the case to court, District Judge Graham Wilkinson pompously declared: ‘As a society it is important that we challenge racially-aggravated behaviour in all its forms. It is the creeping low-level racism that society still needs to challenge. A message needs to be sent that in the twenty-first century society that we live in, such action, such words will not be tolerated.’
And yet the CPS is tolerated, despite its jaw-dropping catalogue of sanctimonious moral crusading and politically-motivated pursuance of those whose crime has been to utter a mistimed gag in public or to have indulged in a consensual intimate encounter with a willing participant decades before that has now been reclassified as post-therapy rape. Fined £1,000 for ‘threatening or abusive words or behaviour’, were Paul Gascoigne clued-up on the rancid and redundant institution that dragged him into court he might well ask what the monetary value would be of a suitably fitting fine the CPS should receive for its deplorable record over its lamentable 30-year existence. I suspect the amount is incalculable.
© The Editor