There's only one Paul Gascoigne

Last updated : 22 March 2002 By Richard Oldroyd

Now, though, Stan and Barry Kilby have gone and signed possibly the only player who could have come to Burnley and proved me wrong. Paul Gascoigne can have a similar influence to Wrighty. In fact, Gazza can probably do more.

One of my earliest memories of watching football came twelve years ago. I was in Greece, on holiday, and I was six years old. I enjoyed playing football, and was vaguely aware that it could be a passionate sport. Sitting in a car whilst my dad listened to the Orient match ensured that much.

That holiday coincided with Italia '90. Out there, I watched the drama of the semi-final unfold in front of me. I don't think I knew entirely what was happening, but I could appreciate that these were the best footballers in England, and that they were playing the best footballers from a different country. To be honest, although I was watching the game, it didn't affect me greatly.

Then one of the players started crying. This interested me greatly, because I don't think I had ever seen a grown man cry before, and I suppose this outpouring of emotion surprised me. It made me watch the football a little more intently than I had done before.

That game was the first that I ever watched properly. Like many of my generation, I became a football supporter on the back of that World Cup, a competition which raised the profile of the game in this country to unprecedented levels. And I suppose it is fair to say that Gazza became the enduring icon of Italia '90 – not just because he established himself as one of the finest talents in the world, but because he wore his heart on his sleeve. Ordinary people – whether old, or like me, young – could identify with him on a level that transcended football or sporting competition, because he revealed himself to be an ordinary, vulnerable human being.

The next season, I took my first steps as a Burnley supporter, in an environment a world away from the intense media circus of the world cup. Turf Moor in early 1991 was a stadium filled with the echoes of past glories, whilst the team on the field struggled to live with that history. My favourite Claret at that time was Roger Eli; why, I don't really know. He was a good, honest lower division player, but he certainly had nothing in common with the players I had watched on the telly, and I accepted that fact without question, never really expecting that any of the players I had seen play in the World Cup would ever play for Burnley – certainly not the star of the show, the man whose skill and tears had caught the attention of the world.

Now he is here. He was one of the best players in the world; he could have been about the best but for his legendary vices. He still is one of the most enthusiastic and open of footballers. Like Ian Wright did, Paul Gascoigne will give everything for this football club. He simply doesn't know any other way. And while he is here, he will get the one thing he really craves: adulation. Gazza needs to be loved, and he will be revered in Burnley for as long as he stays. With the appreciation of the crowd behind him, Gazza can still perform. Look at the message boards on the Internet, look at what Everton fans say about him: to a man, they believe he is good enough to deliver. He might not have that burst of pace anymore, but he remains one of the best passers of the ball, or set piece specialists in the English game. And he still has a trick or two left in the locker. He showed that on Wednesday night.

But let's not get carried away here. Gazza won't get us promoted, Stan will. It is Stan who has spent the past three and a half years gradually building a side capable of making the Premiership. Gazza, will, hopefully, be the final piece in the jigsaw – but one high-profile individual shouldn't overshadow the contribution of the rest of the squad. And Stan deserves the credit he is taking, along with Barry Kilby, for pulling off what is undoubtedly a tremendous coup. But that represents one hell of a turnaround from the position just two weeks ago, when a large number of the Clarets faithful turned on their manager and their team. Apparently, against Norwich, the performance wasn't good enough, the manager had let promotion slip away and the players weren't trying. Now, with Gazza and David Johnson on board, we are suddenly world beaters again. The change is so dramatic as to be embarrassing.

If nothing else, signing Paul Gascoigne should remind everyone how far we have come. Once again, we have a manager who commands enough respect throughout the game to attract the biggest names in the game to Burnley, even though he can justifiably feel he doesn't always receive the support his record deserves. And Paul Gascoigne is a player who just a couple of months ago, was talking about playing for England again. When you contrast that with where we were when Gazza was at the height of his powers, it is a sobering reminder.

The clown prince of football is a Burnley player. Savour that thought. Enjoy it, and tell anyone who will listen. Don't forget the past; don't forget who has made all this possible. But for the time being, settle back and enjoy the ride. Lets see how far the combination of Paul Gascoigne and Burnley can take us.