Gascoigne: Dark days are behind me

Anyone with an ounce of compassion must be delighted to see Paul Gascoigne making a successful return to the game this season.

Anyone with an ounce of compassion must be delighted to see Paul Gascoigne making a successful return to the game this season.

Gascoigne played his first full game for new club Boston this weekend, a remarkable feat in itself given what he put his body through in the dark years of his life.

Indeed, as his gradual triumph over adversity moved to the next level following the Pilgrims’ 2-1 win over Cambridge, the achievement of coming through 90 minutes unscathed earned him the praise from the most unlikely of sources.

A text message on his mobile phone from celebrity couple Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan awaited the 38-year-old after the game, congratulating Gascoigne on his comeback.

“It was brilliant to hear from them,” Gascoigne said. “They’ve just come back from their holidays and saw the result so they sent me a text saying ‘well done and good luck’.

“These are the sort of nice little buzzes that gives me a lot of pleasure these days.”

Lean, tanned and sporting a bleached-blond goatee beard, Gascoigne looked physically and mentally sound.

In the pre-match warm-up he knocked the ball around with his new team-mates with a playful exuberance while joshing merrily away with home supporters, many of whom had turned out solely to get a glimpse of vintage Gascoigne.

Unfortunately, the former England international failed to sparkle against Cambridge and was left chasing shadows for most of the game.

His frustration spilled over in the 65th minute when he was shown a yellow card following a clash with Justin Walker. Gascoigne was chopped down in full flow by Walker and reacted angrily by flailing an arm in the direction of the Cambridge midfielder.

Although he was nowhere near at his best, Gascoigne still did enough to warrant his place in Steve Evans’ side and allayed fears he does not have the engine or the legs to cut it in the often hostile arena of League Two.

Gascoigne has clearly taken to life in Lincolnshire. Away from the trappings that can come with living in a big town, Boston is an ideal choice for a man still trying to exorcise the demons of alcohol.

Although the scars of pushing himself to the limit still run deep, he has thrown himself into his role as player-coach at York Street with characteristic zeal.

He said: “I’m really enjoying the coaching and playing side. Credit to the gaffer, he lets me have my say before a game, at half-time and at the end of the match.

“Personally, I was really fit until I got the perforated ulcer [that kept him sidelined for the start of the season] and I haven’t trained for a month, but I’m feeling good again now.

“I’ve still got my tricks, my skills and my passing though, and that saves me a lot of energy in a game.”

Gascoigne’s rehabilitation is an ongoing process and whether he fully recovers from the bleak years of excess is anyone’s guess.

For the time being at least though, things are going along nicely on and off the football field.

Being tee-total has also sharpened his senses and he insists helping Boston’s young players progress as footballers is the only high he needs these days.

He added: “I don’t have drink in my life anymore so I look for other buzzes. Helping the kids out is the way I can do that and this is something that gives me a lot of pleasure.

“I’m not going to have a drink ever again in my life because I haven’t got a drink left inside of me.

“I was out of it two years ago but now I like to think I’m a role model and I’m proud of myself for getting it together again.”

“I’m just glad to be back doing what I love.”

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