It was just after the 1990 World Cup when Spurs came to play Hearts in a pre-season friendly. It was only a few weeks since England had lost out on penalties to Germany in a semi-final best remembered for Paul Gascoigne’s tears at the realisation that his yellow card would rule him out of any final. Thousands of Hearts fans went along to the match, as much to taunt Gascoigne and Gary Lineker as to cheer on our own side.
It wasn’t long into the match before the abuse, particularly that of Gascoigne, started. Every touch of the ball was greeted with boos and jeers. The Hearts fans were having fun at Gascoigne’s expense, hoping against hope to rile him and make him lash out.
But then, while the referee’s back was turned, Gascoigne made a series of gestures behind the official’s back, then stopped abruptly and smiled as soon as the referee turned to face him. The crowd laughed in unison in a way I didn’t think was possible at a football match. Yes, I’d heard cheers, chants and howls in unison – but laughter rippling around all four sides of a football stadium? Even a dog or a streaker running on to a pitch never elicited this kind of response.
From that moment onwards, Gascoigne played to the gallery at every opportunity and the Hearts fans cheered him. By the end we were singing “There’s Only One Paul Gascoigne”. I had never before seen, and haven’t since, a footballer turn a crowd of haters into number one fans within 90 minutes. Whatever else possessed him in later life, at that moment you could see that he possessed a very special gift; and it didn’t matter we only drew 1-1.