Roy Reyland, former Spurs kit man and fishing partner to the troubled England star, talks about life working and fishing with Paul Gascoigne
It was late one Friday night, back in the early 90s, and there was a knock at my dressing room door. Surprisingly, it was Gazza and his mate Jimmy Five Bellies, and Gazza looked in a right old state.
“We were shootin’ pigeons on the East Stand,” he explained.
I cleared away the laundry and laid Gazza out on the table. Jimmy explained what had happened: Gazza had climbed up on the rafters, and was shimmying along with his air rifle - he didn’t want to shoot the pigeon; he wanted to blow it to smithereens. And just as he was inches away, Gazza gently started to squeeze the trigger, when suddenly the pigeon flew into life and flapped away! It totally shocked the Geordie who fell off the roof with an awful thump. Jimmy had dragged him over to the dressing room, wounded.
And there sat the most influential midfielder of his generation, on my dressing room table, bleeding and bruised. I called the physio right away to patch him up so he could play the next day, but of course, we had to keep it a secret from Terry Venables!
I had already been Tottenham Hotspur’s kit manager for over a decade when we signed Paul Gascoigne. I thought I’d seen it all: the pranks, the bust-ups and the glorious Cup runs, but the British transfer record of £2m sealed a player that would change the history of the club, and my life, indefinitely. I knew the minute I met the lad that he’d still be making headlines 20 years later.
On one of Paul’s earliest pre-season tours to Scandinavia, we’d been given a day off and the local guide laid on golf, sightseeing and various pastimes to keep the players entertained for an afternoon.
"The last we saw of the vehicle, it was tearing round the corner and poor John was clinging on for his life! Gazza drove all the way down to the M1."
“Have you got any fishing?” Gazza had enquired, and immediately I knew we were kindred spirits.
So me, and the other Spurs fisherman, Paul Stewart and Steve Sedgley, were given some fly fishing rods and a lift to a nearby lake, which was a tremendous idea. Gazza was a proper fly-fisherman and very talented, but we stood on that bank fishing for two hours, and we’d not had a single bite. Gazza was getting restless. Then all of a sudden we saw this other fella out in a boat, and he was catching loads of fish! Gazza was watching him reel in fish after fish, filling his net with some amazing looking specimens. We were all getting mightily annoyed, and stared out at the lake where our floats remained motionless on the water.
Then, suddenly we heard, “Way eye, I’ve got one!” But Gazza wasn’t anywhere to be seen.
We looked up and down the lake, and then we saw him, submerged in the water, fully clothed, and reeling in a huge fish, over his head. All you could see was his hair! Gazza waded back to the shore with this fish above his head like the FA Cup, and we took it back to the hotel, where the chef cooked it and Gazza gave it to Terry Venables, for his tea. It was the freshest fish he’d ever tasted.
But for Gazza, this episode was to become an early glimpse of his typically bizarre behaviour: When Gazza was involved, more often than not he’d find himself right up to his neck in it. I remember when he first signed for Spurs; Gazza found a ‘run-around’ guy called John Coberman. John was a Jewish boy, who used to do a lot of errands for players at Spurs, but Gazza took him under his wing. At the training ground one day, in Mill Hill, Gazza turned up with a massive motor home that he’d bought his Father.
Being Gazza, he’d bought a top of the range, big American jobby, and when he drove into the training round everyone was amazed- we'd never seen anything like it. Then he told John that there was some kind of rattle from up on the roof, and without question, John was climbing up on the roof to check it out. But it was all a ruse, and Gazza quickly started the engine, and backed it out of the drive, put his foot down, and sped down Page Street towards McDonald’s. The last we saw of the vehicle, it was tearing round the corner and poor John was clinging on for his life! Gazza drove all the way down to the M1, and when he finally returned, I’ve never seen anyone look as ill as John. He was as pale as a milk bottle!
But that was to be just the first of a million pranks Gazza would play at Tottenham. He became famous for them. We used to have a secretary called Irene at our Mill Hill training ground, and she had a big soft spot for Gazza. He used to take the mickey out of her something rotten. One day, he came out of the dressing room and went to her office, stark naked, and said, “Irene have you got a towel?” Now, why would Irene have a towel! It was just to embarrass her.
Irene said, “Gazza, put it away and go inside I don’t find you funny!” every day was like this.
Every day he’d find something or somehow to wind someone up. He’d put deep heat in people’s pants, and he’d find that so funny. He needed to be loved. Sometimes I thought he worked too hard at it, because he was a folk hero among the staff anyway. Although Terry Venable and his assistant Alan Harris would often be pulling their hair out. But Gazza got away with it all because he was brilliant. Whether it was a training ground game, a first team game or an England international, Paul Gascoigne played with the same energy and eagerness to win.
"He used to take the mickey out of her something rotten. One day, he came out of the dressing room and went to her office, stark naked, and said, 'Irene have you got a towel?'"
I used to say that you needed two balls when he was playing: One for Gazza, and one for the rest of the team. I lost count of the times I watched Gazza pick the ball up on his own 18-yard box, and drift past three players. Before you knew it, he was bearing down on goal. Gazza was simply terrific, and so strong he’d just shrug people off.
His best goal, of course, was his 1991 FA Cup semi final free kick against Arsenal. I watched it from the bench, sat next to Terry Venables. We all knew Gazza could hit the ball, but I remember Terry shouting from the bench, “Don’t shoot!” “Don’t shoot!” But Gazza was taking a massive run up. “Don’t shoot!” Terry pleaded, from the bench, rising to his feet. But Gazza sprinted towards the ball and Terry was still shouting: “Don’t…..great goal.” It was so funny.
In all the years I’ve known Gazza, I know that he just needs to get something to sink his teeth into: Be it fishing, pranks or football, when Paul Gascoigne sets his mind to something, he will inevitably become the best.
And I can tell you that there’s a Paul Gascoigne beneath the pranks, and all that madness and the tabloid scandals; there’s something much more to him than those plastic fake breasts, and most people only caught a glimpse of it when his tears fell in World Cup 1990. But I can tell you, from my view from the riverbed, that he’s a sensitive, shy bloke and all that madness was just a front.
Roy Reyland’s memoirs, “Shirts, Shorts and Spurs” is out now.
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