It all, basically, started with a miss. A penalty miss. A swing of the left foot, striking the ball to right hand side. A penalty miss. From a man who would five years later, go on to be, for a time at least, a hero of mine. But still, a penalty missed. He would later become a hero of mine, through a penalty scored. Yet on this date, Gary Mcallister, or Gary Mac, as he is now known around these parts, missed a penalty that was sold by Graham Durie, and bought all ends up by referee Pierluigi Pairetto (thanks, google).
The game I'm talking about, of course, is England vs Scotland. Euro 96. This is the first game I ever remember. This is the first game I ever remember, and I don't really remember very much of it.
The fact of the matter is, I have a terrible memory and this by-and-large is the first memory I have that I can put a date to (again, thanks google). There are pictures of me before this date in Liverpool shirts. Even one picture my blue-nose Grandad was probably very proud of, where I am in an Everton shirt. I also look particularly happy about that fact. A far cry from the time I punched a good friend in the face repeatedly during the 3-3 all Derby day game of 2013. This is a story for another day, and something my Grandad wouldn't have been particularly proud of. Neither am I, but these things happen, and we live and learn.
Anyway, I digress. The aforementioned 78th minute penalty was saved by a quick movement of David Seaman's elbow. The penalty itself was so poor that Seaman nearly dives past it. However, he doesn't and said save brings a corner, and that corner brings a foul and a free kick to England.
Now, this next play is where England really take centre stage. Describing Scotland's misery was only the beginning. The warm-up act. The real reason I remember this match is because of the piece of unbelievable skill that follows this free-kick.
There is absolutely no doubt that my love of football started with this goal. No doubt at all. It all started here. I love this goal so much that I could watch it all day. And all night. I could get drunk to this goal. I could get drunk ON this goal. If this goal was a person, I would get drunk with this goal, and during the early hours declare my love for this goal and hug and kiss this goal. There is absolutely no doubt that my love of football started this this goal.
My family have told me before that I watch too much football. That I talk about football too much. I have had girlfriends previous who have been unhappy with my obsession with the beautiful game, and how they would wish, just for once, I didn't have to watch something like Aston Villa vs Stoke on a Monday night, how maybe we could do something else. Films are good? Eating out would be lovely? But then I would have to watch the match on repeat tomorrow, and Tuesdays are Champions League nights. So that's just impractical. (I am single right now; who would have thought it?)
Well, family and former girlfriends have below to blame for becoming the football enthusiast I am today:
David Seaman punts the ball forward and it is controlled and passed well by Sheringham to Anderton who doesn't need a second touch to send Gazza through on goal with a really fine chipped pass. Now, even though the pass was magnificent, for me there is no way on earth Gascoigne should be scoring here. For a starter for ten he gets a free run through the middle of the park, with McCall letting him sprint free without even a thought of tracking back. But this happens all of the time during matches, and anyhow, Hendry is in an alright position to have one eye on Gazza. No need to worry just yet. As the ball bounces in front of Gazza, Colin Hendry is in a good position, and isn't too tight to the man, so that when the attacker controls the ball, he can force him out wide. Easy. No problem. No need to worry. Just yet.
Any ordinary, run of the mill, non-batshit mental player would have continued with the script above. But Paul Gascoigne is a genius. A crazy, flawed, brilliant, footballing genius.
I watched a documentary on Paul Gascoigne once, and all the usual aspects of his life, footballing or otherwise, came up. The drinking, the private life problems, everything. Yet, there was one thing that he said that will always stick with me. He said that when he was playing, he saw the way the match was going a few seconds before everyone else. That is really easy to say. I could say that about myself. Anyone can claim anything they like at any time given the right platform, and people would believe them. But this goal goes a lot of the way to showing that maybe, probably, he was onto something there.
As the ball comes down, Gazza doesn't once look to see where Colin Hendry, one of Scotland's central defenders, is. Not once. He's not arsed. Paul Gascoigne knows football. He knows defenders. Most of all; Paul Gascoigne knows that Paul Gascoigne is boss at footie. Put in to less vague terms, Gazza knows Colin Hendry is going to come across and try and push him wide left of the goal. This means two things. Hendry's momentum to the left will make it slightly harder for him to change direction quickly if he needs to. The second, and most important thing; if Gascoigne can change direction quickly, say, with a chip towards his own right hand side, Colin Hendry isn't where Colin Hendry, usually, should be. Where he needs to be. Where Scotland need him to be, which is goal side of the player. So that is what Paul Gascoigne does. And it goes to plan majestically.
Now, I have just described the build-up to the goal. It took me a while to get my head around, in terms of forming semi-coherent sentences and making sense of the whole thing, technically, but after a few minutes, I knew what I wanted to say and write. The genius of this goal is, however, Paul Gascoigne. With all of his flaws, critics and demons, probably had about a second to think about what he wanted, no, what he needed to do to score. In fact, to not even score. Let's forget that scoring is even an option. He had about a second to think about what he needed to do to get into a position when he could get a shot off. He scored a brilliant controlled volley in an international derby between to hugely fierce rivals, and that wasn't even the impressive part. Before we go any further, let's finish talking about the goal.
The ball comes down from the air. Once Gazza chips the ball over Hendry's head, and once Hendry gives him a little help by losing his footing, and just before the ball hits the ground, Paul John Gascoigne connects beautifully with the football to send it riffling beyond the helpless, and probably slightly impressed Andy Goram.
The celebration of the dentist chair, with its actual meaning completely lost on my 7 year old self, was the icing on the cake. I loved it. My dad loved it. Gazza clearly loved it, and the whole of the English sporting public absolutely bloody loved it. This was the goal that was to go down as the best English goal of modern times, and changed weekends, evenings and lunch breaks for the rest of my life.
When I was seven, as I was at this time, I didn't think about this goal as I have just described above. I wasn't a genius as a kid. Yet I do remember what I thought; "What was that?! That was brilliant."
I don't know how much would have changed had I not had seen that goal. Chances are, it could have been Michael Owen in '98 that sparked my love for football. Yet, I would rather a crazy, loveable, working class Geordie kick-start my one true love, than a standard, comparatively normal personality such as Michael Owen.
All I have left is to say "thanks Gazza, you crazy bastard."
You ruined my education and countless romances. And I wouldn't change it for the world, pet.