For the first time in years England fans up and down the country exploded in joy over a goal that was scored in a friendly. Jamie Vardy’s flick at the near post past the best goalkeeper in the world Manuel Neuer was very much the kind of goal Paul ‘Gazza’ Gascoigne would have scored, and in many ways, the two are remarkably similar.
In other ways they are nothing alike, Gascoigne was one of the best players of his generation and perhaps the most gifted to ever wear the shirt of the Three Lions while Vardy, although a remarkable success story, will never be remembered as a world class player. We will leave that to Dele Alli.
Where they do draw comparison though is the way both have them have captured a nation.
Gascoigne put smiles on football fans’ faces at a time when the sport was in the doldrums. The Geordie made his first-team debut for boyhood club Newcastle United in 1985 – the same year of the Heysel disaster, the same year as the Bradford fire disaster and four years before Hillsborough. Football in England around that time was also a period where pitch invasions were commonplace all over for reasons of violence and not those of celebration more typically seen in 2016.
Gazza’s brilliance helped provide the sort of distraction that only sport can from such dark times he also made a big contribution to the transformation of football with his dazzling displays at Italia ’90. Those tears in the semi-final against west Germany put football in a good light again and would lead to the formation of the Premier League two years later which has led to a more commercialised game but also a safer one that more traditionally welcomes families as opposed to just dads and sons.
And this is where Vardy comes in. Due to the amount of money in the Premier League the so-called ‘top’ teams dominate. Chelsea and Manchester City, who 20 years ago were not typically challenging for titles, have been crowned champions three of the last four years thanks to Russian and Abu Dhabi billionaires respectively.
This year, however, some new kids are in town: Leicester City, and Vardy is the poster boy.
While football is thankfully no longer trapped in the unmitigated horror that is constant tragedies and a fear of going to matches, the modern fan is so disillusioned with the game due to ever-increasing ticket prices and football players being multi- millionaires that the beauty has been in danger of being lost but Vardy is bringing it back.
Just over a decade ago, Vardy was playing non-league football with Stocksbridge Park Steels after being released from his beloved Sheffield Wednesday. In 2012, as England were preparing for their last European Championships, Vardy was still in the Conference with Fleetwood Town and now he is one of the top scorers in the country’s top division and will probably be on the plane to France in the summer.
People enjoy Vardy because the Leicester striker could be one of them. The man playing with mates in a park and ten years later stepping foot in the Premier League in true cliché ‘Roy of the Rovers’ stuff. Gascoigne is much the same, the local lad who supported and played for local club and, it would not be unfair to say, did not possess the most athletic stature, but this again endears him to the people who watched him. That could be me.
Although, to both Vardy and Gascoigne, there is a darker side.
Gascoigne has had a very troubling and very public battle with alcoholism and has admitted to being violent to now ex-wife Sheryl during their marriage whereas Vardy has been filmed being racist to a Japanese man in a casino but we don’t like to remember these events, perhaps wrongly, but such is sport. It gives us great memories and we don’t want them tarnished.
If England do the impossible and win Euro 2016 Vardy will have gone one better than Gascoigne and done the thing Gazza always dreamed of – leading England to a major tournament win.