Paul John Gascoigne’s turbulent life has been tinged with sadness and tragedy since his humble beginnings on Tyneside when his demons first surfaced and football became his only refuge.
The second of John and Carol Gascoigne’s four children, he initially lived in a council-owned family home that boasted just one upstairs room and a shared bathroom at 29 Pitt Street, Gateshead.
His first memory was of being pushed along his street eating a fishcake and the nearest thing the family came to a holiday was a day trip to Whitley Bay while Christmas meant carol-singing to purchase sweets or cigarettes for his parents whom he saw argue violently.
Domestic violence, this time between siblings, escalated when his hod-carrier father headed to Germany in search of work where he spent a year while his wife ended up with three jobs to make ends meet.
Not surprisingly, the young Gascoigne was beset with insecurities and in his autobiography, Gazza, he revealed he started contemplating death aged just seven when walking home alone after playing football.
“Suddenly I was scared and I ran all the way home, screaming and crying,” Gascoigne, 41, said.
“I got into bed with me Mam and Dad, squeezed in beside them, cuddled close. I didn’t tell them why I’d been screaming. I just sort of hid it in my head.”
Death stare him in the face at the age of 10 when he took his friend’s little brother, Steven Spraggon, to a local shop but while Gascoigne was “mucking around” the youngster died after running out into Derwentwater Road and was knocked down by an ice-cream van.
“I was on my own with him for what seemed like ages,” Gascoigne recalled. ” It was the first dead body I’d ever seen and I felt Stephen’s death was my fault. I still go over the accident in my mind. Just speaking of it can make me cry.”
Gascoigne’s father returned from Germany but familial stability was still absent as he suffered a brain haemorrhage and never worked again.
“It was around this time I started displaying peculiar twitches and making lots of noises,” Gascoigne said in his memoirs ghost-written by Hunter Davies.
That was when his inability to sleep without lights materialised and psychiatric help for a schoolboy who suffered depression at the age of 13 and stole to fund an addiction to gaming machines.
There was no need for counselling when he came to football as he excelled for Redheugh Boys’ Club and Gateshead Boys before joining Newcastle as an apprentice in 1983 and he was nicknamed ‘Gazza’.
The chunky, curly-haired youth’s brilliance was recognised by manager Jack Charlton whose disciplined approach worked wonders and he was made youth-team captain.
His reputation grew in the victorious Youth Cup Final against Watford when he scored a sumptuous 30-yarder.
“You’ll have to wait a thousand years to see that again,” Charlton said to assistant Maurice Setters.
Gazza was handed his Newcastle debut by Charlton in 1985 and spent three more years at St James’ Park – winning the Barclays Young Player of the Year Award in 1988 in the process – before Tottenham fought off Manchester United’s advances, signing the midfielder for a British-record £2.3-million.
He prospered under Terry Venables – his weekly wage rose from £120 to £1,500 -and earned a place in Bobby Robson’s England squad at the 1990 World Cup where his performances and his tearful reaction to the booking that would have ruled him out of the final bewitched the planet, invigorated the national game and sparked Gazza-mania.
The BBC Sports Personality of the Year underlined his potential with scorching free-kick past Arsenal’s David Seaman in an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley.
With a lucrative move to Lazio in the offing, Gascoigne had the chance to quit Tottenham on a high in the final but badly damaged a knee with a rash challenge on Nottingham Forest’s Gary Charles.
Hospitalised, Gascoigne gained a Cup winner’s medal but his career was in ruins and he ended up waiting more than a year before making his Lazio debut after his rehabilitation was hindered by a Newcastle nightclub fracas.
Accompanied by life-long friend Jimmy ˜Fivebellies’ Gardner, Gascoigne failed to settle in the Eternal City before heading to Rangers in July 1995 and reviving his career with a hat-trick that clinched his club the Scottish championship.
Yet, his penchant for self-destruction was still apparent though and he was subjected to IRA death threats when he provocatively mimicked Orange Order flute-playing in an Old Firm game at Celtic.
Indeed, Gascoigne’s off-the-field problems have been a recurrent and damaging theme of his life with late-night binges and a stormy, violent relationship with former wife Sheryl ensuring a string of unpleasant front-page headlines.
In March 1998 he returned to England to play for Middlesbrough but his time on Teesside is best remembered for the day he wrote off the team bus before being checked into the Priory Hospital to receive treatment for stress, depression and drink problems.
He could no longer rely upon football as a crutch and he was left distraught when he was omitted from Glenn Hoddle’s England squad for the 1998 World Cup as memories of his extraordinary goal in the Euro 96 clash with Scotland faded.
Later, another unfulfilling move to Walter Smith’s Everton followed before disappointing spells with Burnley, Boston and Chinese club Gansu Tianma as well as an unsuccessful trial with MLS side DC United.
He tried his luck at management with Kettering Town but lasted 39 days before dismissal as the club owners blamed his continuing alcohol problems.
His habit was no doubt responsible for the emergency surgery he required for a perforated stomach ulcer as his 40th birthday celebrations took a turn for the worse and his health – “both physical and mental” – spiralled downwards.
It was a reality check for Gascoigne whose handful of honours and 57 England caps are the only tangible rewards for the most gifted player of his generation.