Who can forget Gazza at Euro 96. Thrills, drama and controversy always surrounded Paul Gascoigne as a player. Here Greg McKay tells the story of one of Gazza’s greatest moments.
In November 2019, the late Kobe Bryant wrote an article entitled ‘Igniting the Imagination of Youth Athletes’. In the piece, Bryant explained that he’d come to understand that one of the best ways to teach his daughters how to navigate society and accomplish their goals was to ignite their creative imaginations through something they cared about – sports.
Growing up playing football on patchy fields in suburban Maryland, this link between imagination and sport didn’t become apparent to me until I witnessed one of the most sublime moments in the history of the game.
Magic Moments In The Beautiful Game: Gazza At Euro 96!
The 1996 UEFA European Championship was the first international tournament of which I have a detailed recollection. While World Cup ’94 was held in the United States and I attended matches, I don’t remember much other than Roberto Baggio blasting his penalty over the bar and my uncle and dad incredulous that a player of his quality could miss the target.
The main reason for vivid memories of Euro ’96 wasn’t necessarily the matches I watched live, but rather the VHS videotape of all of the goals of the tournament, which I’d received as a Christmas present at the end of the year.
For ten-year old me, that video was like the television show ‘The Office’ for many millennials today. I’d put in on when I had little else to do because it was familiar and comforting.
Even years later I can recall many of the highlights from the tournament, whether it’s Davor Suker’s breathtaking chip over the imposing Peter Schmeichel or Oliver Bierhoff almost single-handedly bringing Germany back from the brink to lift the championship trophy.
THAT GAZZA GOAL AGAINST SCOTLAND
Yet, no moment from the tournament stuck in my consciousness like Paul Gascoigne’s goal for England in the group match against Scotland. In some ways it was an odd finish to be etched in my mind in a positive way. My dad is from Glasgow, and the entire family are card carrying members of the Tartan Army. In our house, the English weren’t the folksy ‘Auld Enemy’, just the enemy.
Though it’s entirely possible watching the goal on repeat did long-lasting damage to my sensitive Scottish psyche, the brilliance of that moment is all that remains.
Following a long clearance from David Seamen, Teddy Sheringham brought the ball down and laid it off to Darren Anderton. Gascoigne had made an intelligent run from midfield into the space Sheringham cleared and Anderton played a looping through ball for the surging English midfielder.
With the rugged Colin Hendry closing quickly, Gascoigne pulled off a moment of unmatched, delicate ingenuity, flicking the ball over Hendry’s head and finishing with a stunning volley inside the near post.
Then, in what is still engrained in my memory, Gascoigne celebrates by laying down, arms out-stretched to be mobbed by teammates, as if to say “are you not entertained?”
GAZZA THE LEGEND
Gascoigne’s precocious finish was also the first goal I remember practicing over and over and over in the back yard. I’d pop the ball past an imaginary defender and try to volley it into the small net in the back corner of our yard.
More often than not, I had to climb the neighbor’s fence to retrieve it from their bushes. Unfortunately, I played that oh-so-90’s position of ‘sweeper’ at the time and never made it further up the field in my football career than central midfield so my opportunities to imitate Gascoigne in a match were, shall we say, limited.
Following Gazza’s goal, there were a number of plays I tried to replicate in the safe confines of our yard. Ronaldo’s goal against Lazio where he jukes back and forth multiple times until the goalie simply falls over or Zidane’s stunning left-footed volley against Bayer Leverkusen in the 2002 Champions League final.
Attempts to mimic these magical plays undoubtedly led to more than a few frustrating moments for coaches over the years. I’d rarely give up the chance of the extraordinary, with often unremarkable outcomes. Though the results may have been mixed, what the Gascoigne goal gave me more than anything was an expanded imagination.
Just as reading a book like ‘Call of the Wild’ as a child took me to a far off place where the possibilities are limited only by the mind, watching the true artists of the game create moments of beauty led my football imagination to run wild.
As I began dreaming about what I could accomplish with a touch of the ball, football became not just a sport to play with friends on weekends but a means for navigating through the world and chasing goals.