Paul Gascoigne outside Stevenage Magistrates Court on 5 August. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Why do we still remember Paul Gascoigne's best moments so fondly?

By now his credit is all used up.

If you look closely enough, Gary Lineker can still replicate that expression.

Usually he reserves it for an uncomfortable spot of live television during the Olympics or even the sight of one of Mark Lawrenson’s adventurous dress shirts on the Match of the Day sofa, but it is impossible to forget where the former Leicester City and England striker first found that particular look.

It came nine minutes into extra-time of England’s World Cup semi-final against West Germany on a warm night in Turin in 1990. Lineker, like millions of captive eyes across the world, watched with mute horror as a young Paul Gascoigne - England’s enigmatic tyro - produced a tired two-footed lunge on Thomas Berthold and deservedly received the booking that ruled him out of the rest of the tournament.

Despite only being a footnote to England’s penalty exit, the 23-year-old’s resultant tears made the papers the following morning, but it was Lineker’s grimace- often captured in the background of Gascoigne’s personal agony - that echoes with particular relevance today.

The news that Gascoigne - a million miles away from his footballing nadir in Turin - has been fined £1,000 after admitting to a drunken train station assault earlier this month, is no longer surprising, nor, sadly, particularly newsworthy. 

The first decade of Gascoigne post-football, much like his final years as a professional, has been a sad parody of his tabloid persona. Tales of meat pies, cat droppings and late night takeaway brawls replaced those sporadic, iconic, moments of quality for once he was known. Where once he could balance these exploits with a glorious piece of skill on a Saturday afternoon, he now needs acclaim to be able to walk to the shops.

The truth, however you dress it, is that Gascoigne never recovered from that night in Turin.

Paul Merson, a disciple of the ‘Tuesday Club’ drinking culture at Arsenal in the late 80s and early 90s, shares similar wild stories to those attributed to Gascoigne, however the key difference being that ‘Merse’ has managed to pull himself out of his funk and into gainful employment.

‘Gazza’ has pointedly failed to do either.

It is with some irony that Gascoigne’s latest downward spiral has coincided with ESPN’s decision to pull the plug on ESPN Classic: the broadcaster’s nostalgic TV mantelpiece. The channel - a common port of call for drunken students and insomniacs - acted as a constant time capsule where, in true Bill Murray- Andie MacDowell fashion, it was forever June 1996 and Gascoigne’s last great moments in an England shirt were relived in glorious sunshine.

Perhaps Gascoigne, now one of those drunken revellers, has himself sat in front of the screen at 3am reviewing that moment during Euro 1996 that his agonising slide failed to convert Alan Shearer’s pinpoint cross and catapult England into a first major final in 30 years. 17 years later, we’re still waiting.

It seems sad that a new generation will no longer be able to stumble across Gascoigne’s peculiar charms on a satellite backwater - even more so because they won’t be grabbed by his statistics in the record books.

You see, Paul Gascoigne’s enduring appeal was never about numbers. Players whose careers are cherished for their aesthetic qualities rarely are. Tottenham fans will talk about his free-kick against Arsenal in the 1991 FA Cup semi-final rather than his career-threatening kamikaze tackling that followed in the final.

Rangers supporters speak about the creative renaissance that spelled domestic domination in the mid-1990s rather than his sectarian flute celebration that courted controversy and ire.

And England followers will forever remember that goal against Scotland in 1996 rather than his hotel room meltdown after failing to make Glenn Hoddle’s 1998 World Cup squad.

Perhaps wrongly, we have always chosen to remember the best of Gascoigne wherever possible. His heartfelt honesty and vulnerability as he staggered around the Stadio delle Alpi with his England shirt yanked up from his navel bought him that much.

However, with no new football memories to enjoy, the Dunston-born entertainer is well and truly out of credit.

A group of celebrity friends and admirers paid for the cash-strapped Gascoigne to undergo a course of rehab in the US earlier this year, yet at no point was there any confidence that his personal torment was at an end.  

For every George Best style story - and Gascoigne’s slippery slope continues to echo that cautionary tale - there are unlikely examples of a substance-abusing phoenix emerging from the flames.

Yet no one appears to see this as a remotely plausible end to the story.

When Lineker returns to our screens with Match of the Day later this month, watch closely for that familiar fleeting grimace when he is forced to talk of young current players treading Gascoigne’s path. You’ll recognise it, whether ‘Gazza’ will too is a different story.  

You can follow Cameron on Twitter here.

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Rarely has it mattered so little if Manchester United won; rarely has it been so special they did

Team's Europa League victory offers chance for sorely needed celebration of a city's spirit.

Carlo Ancelotti, the Bayern Munich manager, memorably once said that football is “the most important of the least important things”, but he was only partly right. While it is absolutely the case that a bunch of people chasing around a field is insignificant, a bunch of people chasing around a field is not really what football is about.

At a football match can you set aside the strictures that govern real life and freely scream, shout and cuddle strangers. Football tracks life with such unfailing omnipresence, garnishing the mundane with regular doses of drama and suspense; football is amazing, and even when it isn’t there’s always the possibility that it’s about to be.

Football bestows primal paroxysms of intense, transcendent ecstasy, shared both with people who mean everything and people who mean nothing. Football carves out time for people it's important to see and delivers people it becomes important to see. Football is a structure with folklore, mythology, language and symbols; being part of football is being part of something big, special, and eternal. Football is the best thing in the world when things go well, and still the best thing in the world when they don’t. There is nothing remotely like it. Nothing.

Football is about community and identity, friends and family; football is about expression and abandon, laughter and song; football is about love and pride. Football is about all the beauty in the world.

And the world is a beautiful place, even though it doesn’t always seem that way – now especially. But in the horror of terror we’ve seen amazing kindness, uplifting unity and awesome dignity which is the absolute point of everything.

In Stockholm last night, 50,000 or so people gathered for a football match, trying to find a way of celebrating all of these things. Around town before the game the atmosphere was not as boisterous as usual, but in the ground the old conviction gradually returned. The PA played Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, an Ajax staple with lyrics not entirely appropriate: there is plenty about which to worry, and for some every little thing is never going to be alright.

But somehow the sentiment felt right and the Mancunian contingent joined in with gusto, following it up with “We’ll never die,” – a song of defiance born from the ashes of the Munich air disaster and generally aired at the end of games, often when defeat is imminent. Last night it was needed from the outset, though this time its final line – “we’ll keep the red flag flying high, coz Man United will never die" – was not about a football team but a city, a spirit, and a way of life. 

Over the course of the night, every burst of song and even the minute's silence chorused with that theme: “Manchester, Manchester, Manchester”; “Manchester la la la”; “Oh Manchester is wonderful”. Sparse and simple words, layered and complex meanings.

The match itself was a curious affair. Rarely has it mattered so little whether or not United won; rarely has it been so special that they did. Manchester United do not represent or appeal to everyone in Manchester but they epitomise a similar brilliance to Manchester, brilliance which they take to the world. Brilliance like youthfulness, toughness, swagger and zest; brilliance which has been to the fore these last three days, despite it all.

Last night they drew upon their most prosaic aspects, outfighting and outrunning a willing but callow opponent to win the only trophy to have eluded them. They did not make things better, but they did bring happiness and positivity at a time when happiness and positivity needed to be brought; football is not “the most important of the least important things,” it is the least important of the most important things.

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