It was while Gareth Southgate was looking ahead to England’s game against Scotland and reiterating the importance of “emotional control” in these fixtures that his mind went back to Euro 96 and the kind of sketch that probably felt perfectly normal then bearing in mind the identity of the man around whom the story revolves.
Those were the days when Paul Gascoigne’s team-mates felt a collective sense of duty to help, in the carefully chosen words of Southgate, “calm him down” – or to be brutal about it, “get him out of our hair for a couple of hours” – and one ploy was to send him fishing in the afternoon with David Seaman, knowing the only occasion when England’s most talented player could be guaranteed to sit still was if he had a fishing rod in his hand.
On the day of England-Scotland it was out of the question and Gascoigne, a Rangers player at the time, was hyped to the point his team-mates were starting to think he might spontaneously combust. “I’m not sure emotional control was his style,” Southgate recalls, with an element of unmistakable fondness. “So, Bryan Robson made him a little fishing rod with a line dangling from it. Not a real fishing rod but something they created out of the stuff they found in the medical skip. And there was Gazza, sitting on the side of the big bath in the Wembley dressing-rooms, with his fishing rod. Pretend fishing, because that was the only time he ever relaxed.
“God knows what he was actually fishing for but presumably whatever might have been floating in the bath, which was probably more pleasant before the game than it was after. Funny, but that was the sort of bizarre thing that would go on when Gazza was around.”
It did the trick, bearing in mind Gascoigne’s contribution to a 2-0 victory included an expertly manoeuvred up-and-over to put Colin Hendry on his backside followed by a right-footed volley past Andy Goram for what was later voted the goal of the century in one television poll. The celebration was not bad either, lying on the ground while his team-mates squirted drink into his mouth to re-enact one of the more infamous nights involving England’s players. “Only he could have done that celebration,” Southgate says. “I mean, how does it even cross your mind? ‘Oh yes, got to do the Dentist’s Chair.’”
That goal will feature prominently in the video montage the Football Association has put together, on Southgate’s request, for England’s players before Friday’s World Cup qualifier and an occasion the caretaker manager is absolutely determined will not pass with the opposition having a better understanding of the sporting enmity that exists between the sides.
One story Southgate recalled was of the Wembley crowd cheering Patrick Kluivert’s consolation goal in England’s 4-1 defeat of Holland, their next match at Euro 96 after the Scotland win, on the basis it meant the Dutch qualified on goal difference at the expense of Scotland. The video regales England’s finest moments against the old enemy, going back to the 1930s, with an unapologetic bias that means the players will not be getting a history lesson about Jim Baxter’s ball control or the Scottish invasion of Wembley, 1977. It does not, Southgate confirmed, feature “any keepy-uppies or anybody sitting on the crossbars”.
Southgate, it may be no surprise to learn, was not among the players who accompanied Gascoigne to a Hong Kong club, having been given a free night by Terry Venables, and were photographed, in various states of disrepair, strapped into a leather chair while tequila was poured down their throats.
The man now angling to become England’s full-time manager is willing to admit it was a close call. “That was the night Terry had cut the squad,” Southgate says. “He had left out Ugo [Ehiogu], Wisey [Dennis Wise], Peter Beardsley and a couple of others [Rob Lee and Jason Wilcox]. I had got pally with Stuart Pearce and I said to him: ‘We’re having a night out with the lads.’ He said: ‘Nah, in my experience of England if you go out for a drink it’s as if nobody has ever drunk before in their lives – my advice is swerve it.’ I’d just got in the squad. Sometimes advice like that is good.”
Twenty years on Southgate bristled slightly when it was put to him that England, post Euro 2016, and Scotland, 18 years since competing in a major tournament, had never met with the two teams at a lower ebb. “History sometimes paints a slightly rosier picture of the past,” he countered. “There have been tournaments in the past when we haven’t qualified. There have been matches and tournaments, when I was growing up, with defeats that were considered the worst-ever.
“I was with Gordon Taylor [the chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association] on Saturday and he said: ‘I can remember 1950, losing to America, and everybody was saying the same thing then.’ Maybe we colour the past with a different view but I don’t think England’s games in the past were always as great as our memories think they were.”
The point remains that the qualifier is one England dare not lose on the back of a traumatic few months and, however much Southgate tried to argue his own position was immaterial, it is a huge occasion for him personally given the common perception that he will be offered the job full-time on the back of a strong performance.
“The last game at Wembley was an incredible atmosphere, probably as good as I’ve seen at the new Wembley,” he said, recalling England’s 3-2 win in August 2013. “It’s a special fixture. These are the games you want to be involved in and, if I go back to my days working as a TV broadcaster, the viewing figures will be five times that of a Premier League game. What more could you want?”
Southgate intends to tell his players they “have a chance to make some history or to play in a game that people will remember forever and that’s incredibly powerful. I want them to be aware of that and pitch it in the right way so the performance level is right and we are not over-emotional.
“We have to be cool-headed,” he added. “But it’s the oldest international fixture, with all the history between the two countries, and, if the players don’t understand that already, – and I’m pretty sure they do – we’ll make sure this week they are aware of it. I want the players to understand the importance of the shirt. We have to embrace the emotion of the occasion. Scotland’s mentality for a game like this will be unquestionable. Their spirit will be unquestionable. We’ll have to better that and outplay them.”
The Guardian Sport