There was once a time when Celtic and Rangers could still compete with Europe’s biggest clubs for football’s top names.
The Glasgow rivals were a more attractive option than some Premier League teams, so when it was rumoured that Paul Gascoigne, one of the best midfielders in the game, was going to call time on his Lazio adventure, Rangers made their move.
Manager Walter Smith had read the reports and quickly explained to his chairman, David Murray, Rangers had a big opportunity to steal a march on their rivals – this is a man Sir Alex Ferguson was gutted not to have at Man United.
“I said, ‘Look, we’ve got an opportunity here.’ Then, Rangers and Celtic could still compete [with English clubs for players]. The chairman got in touch with the president at Lazio,” Smith told The Scotsman.
“It was the end of the season so I got on a flight to Rome, the people at Lazio gave me his address. He stayed in the hills outside Rome. I just got a taxi and went up and doorstepped him.
“I said ‘I’m here to get you to sign for Rangers’ and he said ‘okay.’”
Chelsea, though, were also plotting their move at a time when the club’s board were trying to enhance the image of the club in Europe. The Blues snapped up Ruud Gullit and thought Gazza would further boost them.
And despite the injury problems that followed him from Tottenham to Lazio, combined with the wages a player of his stature could command, manager Glenn Hoddle thought it was a risk worth taking. If the midfielder was returning to England, they were sure Stamford Bridge was his next stop.
Smith even thinks the player’s agents at the time wanted him to go to England.
However, Chelsea’s then chief executive Colin Hutchinson told the Official Biography of Chelsea: “[Gazza] listened to what Glenn had to say about football and he was his usual jocular self. He was fine, but it was always very clear to us that while he was joking and he was polite it was really sorted that he was going to Rangers.”
And he was right. Lazio received £4.3m and Gascoigne was a Ger, greeted by thousands outside Ibrox upon his arrival in July 1995.
In total he scored 39 goals in 103 games during his time in Scotland, winning two league titles, the Scottish Cup and League Cup.
But he was a hero by his fourth league game when scored against Celtic in a 2-0 win and ended his first season by scoring a hat-trick against Aberdeen to secure the title.
His second goal, to put Rangers 2-1 up after being 1-0 behind, combined a mixture of skill, strength and determination.
Plus, had he not met Ally McCoist then football fans will never have known about the time Gazza broke into his Rangers’ team-mate’s house to make himself a sandwich.
He left a mark in Scotland and was on the verge of being indicted into the league’s Hall of Fame in 2018 only to have his nomination withdrawn due to concerns about his well being.
Former England midfielder Steven Gerrard, who now manages Rangers, called Gazza his ‘hero’.
“A player I admired an awful lot. I bought the VHSs, the CDs, the shirts – all the memorabilia that comes with Gazza.”
Gary Lineker, who played with Gascoigne at England level called his former teammate “the most naturally gifted technical footballer that I played with.”