I just came across Gary Lineker’s Twitter feed. His profile picture is a great example of someone capturing the critical moment.
If you’re not English, you possibly don’t know the story in full, but you can tell from the image that there is something massive happening here.
England have not won a World Cup since 1966. It’s a point of great contention for us as a nation, since we lay claim to inventing the game. We have some of the best footballers in the world in our country, we have a Premiership which is watched and supported globally, which deals in massive sums of money, and yet this one trophy, every four years evades us entirely.
In 1990, England were playing West Germany in the semi-finals of the World Cup. Playing Germany, even West Germany as it was then, is always loaded for us because of our recent history. Old rivalries die hard in England – it’s one of our cultural characteristics. Try asking a Yorkshireman if they’re from Lancashire or vice versa and see what the response is, and you’ll get what I mean.
England were playing up a storm, and Paul Gascoigne, who was like a young Wayne Rooney in his day, was on fire. Then he made a dodgy tackle which got him booked.
We’ve fielded some pretty shocking sides in our time, but with this particular England team, we really felt that maybe, just maybe, we could reach the final with this team. There was an incredible optimism. So when Gazza got his yellow card, he lost it. This yellow card meant he wouldn’t play in the final should England go through. And even at that point in the match, it felt inevitable that England would be, could be, should be, in the final.
Gary Lineker, walked over to Gascoigne to check he was okay, then turned towards the England manager, Bobby Robson on the bench, pointed at his eye and mouthed ‘keep an eye on him’.
In the next couple of minutes, Gascoigne began to cry, and then to weep, to howl like a boy who’d had his dreams snatched from him.
In typical style, we then lost to the Germans on penalties, and it was the last time I bothered to watch a football match in full for about 20 years. Little did we know, gripped to our tv screens, watching one of the most compelling and memorable moments in football, that as Gascoigne wept we were witnessing the moment when his inexorable rise to fame and glory would begin to turn, and to take a terrible downward plummet. A fall that would take him through alcoholism, and into mental illness which would leave him in the sad shadow of the greatness he could have achieved.
‘Keep an eye on him’, said Gary to the England manager, and inadvertently to all of us watching through the camera. But we didn’t, and by 2010 Gascoigne had to be taken away from the side of a crime scene where he claimed he could negotiate with the serial murderer Raoul Moat.
All of that is this one image: Gascoigne’s despair, the realisation dawning in his eyes, Lineker’s knowing look that it was all about to turn sour. The critical and decisive moment.
What intrigues me is that though this is clearly a decisive moment for Gascoigne, it seems to be a decisive moment for Lineker too. He continues to be successful, and could have selected an image from his playing past, or a glamorous presenter shot, or even him in a silly costume selling us crisps. But instead he chose this, perhaps the moment that guaranteed his future success and sealed his reputation as ‘Mr Nice Guy’, just as Gascoigne’s future success slipped through his fingers.
There are always two sides to every story, two faces, two directions, two endings.