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There’s been so much written about former England footballer Paul Gascoigne – aka Gazza – that you wonder what’s left to be said. If this feature-length documentary, shown in two parts on the BBC, is anything to go by, the answer is not a lot.
That’s not to say Gazza isn’t worth a watch, it’s just that it ends up being one long nostalgia trip at times, and probably doesn’t quite fulfil its brief.
Whereas 2020’s superlative Finding Jack Charlton – another movie about one of both football’s and the North-East’s biggest personalities – gives us plenty of fresh insights, interviews and footage, Gazza does little of that.
Granted, the subject matter differs as wildly as the two men’s careers at times, but there are moments when it comes across as an almost pointless exercise. For a start, there were that many people that declined to comment (plus several of those featured unfortunately passed away some time ago), that you wouldn’t have blamed the filmmakers for calling it a day. But they didn’t, and so ultimately an intriguing question is posed to the audience: who’s really at fault in this sorry tale of hero to zero?
And that’s what’s at the heart of the matter. To be honest, you’re less certain than ever about the answer, so the film does well at leaving you to make your own mind up, rather than producing too much of a one-sided affair.
But let’s get the biggest criticism out the way, which is that in terms of production and editing, this movie could have been put together by an A-Level multimedia student. Of course, most multimedia students don’t have access to archive footage, interviews and soundbites, but that’s all it is in essence – a collection of old tapes and TV extracts put together. Doing it in the right order and telling the story though, so as to keep things entertaining, is a different matter. This is especially true when you consider that, as previously mentioned, there’s almost nothing new here whatsoever; save the first and final couple of minutes.
The major secondary element of the piece is media attention, both wanted and unwanted. These were the days when the News of the World – defunct since 2011 – was still alive and kicking, and the truth about the infamous phone-hacking scandal was still light years away from emerging. Painting a picture of a one-time footballing idol almost entirely from this perspective was a wise move because not everyone was around to witness Gascoigne’s demise from afar, yet most people are well aware of how brutal the press can be. This makes the film more relatable for those not necessarily into football, or who were too young at the time. Yet it’s also clear that journalists have a job to do, no matter how cutthroat an occupation it might be, so again we’re left to draw our own conclusions. For example, some ways of getting a story are downright underhanded, but where do you draw the line between what’s acceptable and what’s not?
You’re also left wondering if things would have been different had Gazza’s fleeting club and England career played out in this day and age. The drinking culture has all but vanished from the game, but now we have what many people perceive to be a new breed of low-life hack: social media. Would Paul Gascoigne have fared any better with this as opposed to the tabloid press? Probably not.
Unlike the man himself, the film may not take any awards or accolades; but much like this story of a gifted footballer’s fall from grace, it’s laden with sadness. Gazza is now available on the BBC iPlayer.