Gone fishing. One man and his rod, a pitiful shell of the exuberant clown who courted the limelight and never escaped it, shuffles towards the camera.
Then the credits roll – and the glorious nostalgia of those twinkling feet, garden sprinkler tears and insatiable daftness gives way to sadness at the betrayal of a superstar on the altar of celebrity. Paul Gascoigne brought much of his misfortune upon himself, from necking booze on the 7.30am train from Stevenage to Darlington every Monday, on the way to a new week’s training at Middlesbrough, to the untethered recklessness of his tackles in the 1991 FA Cup final.
And a new, two-part authorised documentary does not gloss over the demons of a confessed wife-beater. But there is a also sense that, for all the authenticity of his genius on the pitch, Gascoigne was deserted by most of the ‘friends’ – famous or otherwise – when the music stopped.
Now 54, Gazza was moved to tears by the final cut of the BBC chronicle of a 10-year period – from the rise of Gazzamania at the 1990 World Cup to his violent tantrum in England manager Glenn Hoddle’s hotel room following his exclusion from the 1998 tournament.
His enduring regret? “Injuries, they killed us,” he said. “That, or maybe playing in China – it was really interesting being there, but it definitely wasn’t my footballing highlight. I really wish I’d managed to play in another World Cup, though. There are definitely lots of things I look back on with sadness, things I’ve done that I wish I’d done better or not done; also things that have happened to me, but you can’t go back, you have to keep going on.”
Current England players hoping for tips on the pitfalls of fame, from paparazzi hiding in trees or car boots to phone hacking and opportunists with phone cameras, will be none the wiser from the two-hour compilation from the archives. But in between the goals and the gaffes, the binges and the bravado, there are numerous reminders of the bottom line: Paul Gascoigne was a wonderful footballer, up there with the Boys of ’66 among our national treasures.
And he does not regret his scenic route to fame – at least not the parts with a ball at his feet. Gazza said: “I loved it, to be honest. Opening shops, switching on the London lights, recording Fog on the Tyne, doing adverts. I enjoyed every minute of it. Highlight, I think, was the World Cup in Italy. The fans were phenomenal, I had the best time playing my football with my mates, great weather, I had such a great time.
“I was probably the fittest I’d ever been, and I even managed to have a few games of tennis and a couple of cocktails on the sly when Bobby Robson wasn’t looking. It was really emotional watching everything back. There’s a lot that wasn’t good or perfect, but when it comes to the past you can’t change it… and the good things I would repeat in a heartbeat.”
*Gazza, Wednesday 13 April, BBC 9pm and BBC iPlayer