The second test event at Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium is looking like quite a special occasion.
That event, which will take place on Saturday, March 30, will be a Spurs Legends match against Inter Milan Legends. Spurs fans are already excited at the prospect of former players like Robbie Keane, Darren Anderton, and Jurgen Klinsmann putting that famous Lilywhite shirt on once again to help christen a beautiful new stadium.
The word “legend” is doing a lot of work here with some of the supporting cast. Gary Mabbutt and Micky Hazard are club legends, but Pascal Chimbonda and Nayim? Not so much.
More players taking part in the exhibition will soon be revealed by the club, but one certified Tottenham legend hasn’t received a formal invite yet, and, to be honest, probably shouldn’t receive one.
Paul Gascoigne’s troubles after retirement have been well documented. Since his playing days ended, “Gazza” has dealt with alcoholism and other mental health issues. It really is a sad story.
Gascoigne was one of the most naturally talented players to ever play the sport in England. His personality, marked by humor and an easy-going attitude, became just as legendary as the goals he scored. The iconic cockerel that stood atop White Hart Lane was damaged and dented, not by the German blitz during WWII, as some thought, but by Gascoigne with an air rifle.
Unfortunately, the Gazza stories became significantly less enjoyable after his playing career ended.
In a 2004 biography, Gascoigne admitted to being violent towards his ex-wife Sheryl during their marriage. In 2015, a restraining order was taken out against the 51-year-old after he harassed an ex-girlfriend and assaulted a photographer.
In August of 2018, Gascoigne was arrested at a station in Durham, England after he allegedly sexually assaulted a woman on a train. A few months later he was officially charged with sexual assault. In January, he went before a judge and said he had “done nothing wrong” and “cannot wait” for his upcoming trial in October.
Alcoholism is a disease. People with mental health issues need to be supported, not ostracized, but sexual assault and domestic violence are something entirely different. Those crimes cause real pain and can not be excused by alcoholism, even if booze played a factor in the moment.
Update: Gascoigne tweeted on Friday that he would be playing in the game.
I don’t see any issue with Gascoigne being invited to watch the match from a box in the stands, but putting him on the pitch, and thus encouraging thousands to cheer for him, is a step too far, especially while his sexual assault case is still unresolved. The charges haven’t been dropped. In fact, he’s technically out on bail right now.
It’s a tricky line for the club to walk.
Spurs reached out and supported Aaron Lennon when he bravely took a leave of absence from the game to deal with his mental health. They have also offered assistance to former players like Jimmy Greaves and Ryan Mason, who continue to deal with health issues. I think it should be a club’s duty to help ex-players in positive ways like this.
But that shouldn’t apply to players dealing with legal issues of their own making, especially ones that cause such harm to others.
Rafael Van der Vaart will take part in this match despite the fact that he admitted to striking his ex-wife Sylvie during his career. She later said she forgave Van der Vaart, and he later said “It was very foolish of me. I’m an idiot. I’m very sorry. It should never have happened.” Thus, his participation in the match also makes me a bit uncomfortable.
Gascoigne, a repeat offender, has yet to offer up a similar apology.
What sort of message is the club sending if Gascoigne is paraded around on the 30th as just another club legend? Survivors of sexual assault walk among us and support Tottenham just as we do. How should those people feel if Gascoigne is out there kicking a ball like he isn’t currently facing those same charges?
Gascoigne is 51, but you’d be forgiven for thinking he is much older. Alcohol abuse has taken its toll. He is not in playing shape like a bunch of these other ex-players are.
No one is advocating that Gascoigne be completely excommunicated from the Spurs family. He is an indelible part of Tottenham’s history. There are ways to keep him involved with and connected to the club that does not include putting him in a public role where survivors of sexual assault and abuse have to decide whether or not to cheer for him. If Spurs are truly a club for all fans, they should think very carefully what kind of message playing Gazza sends to those fans.
This just seems like a bad idea all around. I think it would be best for all parties if Gascoigne is left on the bench for this one.