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Paul Gascoigne and Golaco! Our 90s love affair with Italian football

Gazza and Golaco! Our unforgettable 90s love affair with Italian football

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UPDATED:

13:13 GMT, 22 November 2012

Golao! It’s Portuguese for 'fantastic goal', but for football fans growing up in the 1990s it had a different meaning.

It meant the start of Channel Four’s unmissable Football Italia programme on a Saturday morning.

My kids thought it was actually 'Go Lazio'. That didn’t matter. What did matter was waiting for the bouncy ball around the Italian themed Channel Four logo, listening to the theme music – it was 'I’m Stronger Now' by Definitive Two – and waiting for the evocative shout that meant the programme was about to begin.

Scroll to the bottom for video of the opening credits and a stroll through memory piazza

When in Rome: Paul Gascoigne won over the Lazio fans by scoring in the derby

When in Rome: Paul Gascoigne won over the Lazio fans by scoring in the derby

At the helm: James Richardson

At the helm: James Richardson

Maybe we started falling for all things Italian after somebody at the BBC brilliantly chose Nessun Dorma as the theme music for the 1990 World Cup.

But if anything extended the romance from four all too short summer weeks into a 16-year love affair, it was James Richardson’s brilliant presentation of the country’s domestic football each weekend.

And Gazza. Of course. You couldn’t forget Gazza.

On Thursday night he’s heading back to Rome as guest of honour to watch Lazio play Tottenham in the Europa League, and what better reminder that the 'daft as a brush' genius, whose tears in Turin helped lift English football from its lowest point, was also responsible for a revolution in the way TV presents the game.

Gascoigne had co-operated on a
documentary with production company Chrysalis charting his fightback
from injury to enable his move to Lazio to go ahead, and when it was
finished said to the producer Neil Duncanson it was a shame nobody would
be able to see his games now he was fit.

So
Neil asked the Italian Federation for the rights to cover Lazio’s
matches, was told he could have the whole of Serie A instead, and so the
show was born.

And what a show. The first coup was for Richardson as the affable, easy going presenter to put Gazza at ease and suddenly England’s most iconic footballer was a TV man too.

Each Saturday morning we shared his Italian adventure with him, driving round Rome in open top sports cars, wandering behind the scenes of Lazio’s training ground, or sitting outside pretty pavement cafes.

Let's talk football: Gascoigne and presenter Richardson dealt with the big issues in Serie A

Let's talk football: Gascoigne and presenter Richardson dealt with the big issues in Serie A

Outside broadcast: Gazza spoke to the viewers - while driving through the streets with the top down

Outside broadcast: Gazza spoke to the viewers – while driving through the streets with the top down

That was part of the secret. It was the first football show that moved you out of a studio and took you from your front room into a different world.

Richardson would sit with his cappuccino and a couple of croissants on the streets of Milan or Genoa, holding up the pink pages of the Gazzetta dello Sport to bring us the headlines, and chatting through the games and the goals to come.

On a cold, wet, winter’s morning it was pure escapism.

At its peak it pulled in nearly a million viewers every week, and while Match of the Day might have never lost its place as the must-see football programme on British TV, Football Italia ran it a mighty close second.

There was always a competition to win a trip to Italy to see a game, but it felt like you were there anyway.

Fancy a coffee: Richardson never went hungry or thirsty when he presented Football Italia

Fancy a coffee: Richardson never went hungry or thirsty when he presented Football Italia

Italian football then was where the riches were, and where Europe’s best players flocked to perform.

They didn’t encourage characters in English football in those days.

It was the age of 4-4-2 when words like 'workrate' and 'industry' were becoming the buzz phrases for our coaches.

And POMO, the position of maximum opportunity, which basically meant you lumped the ball as far as you could and chased after it.

The Italians played with the ball at their feet. They caressed it. They passed it.

Milan had the money to pull in Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard. And they had showmen like Fabrizio Ravenelli who folded his shirt over his head every time he scored a goal.

They had crowds full of passion with gigantic flags who brandished firecrackers. Even the refs had character, with the boggle-eyed Pierluigi Collina bringing out red cards with a flourish of his right arm.

Dutch courage: AC Milan had (from left) Frank Rijkaard, Marco Van Basten and Ruud Gullit in their ranks

Dutch courage: AC Milan had (from left) Frank Rijkaard, Marco Van Basten and Ruud Gullit in their ranks

It ran from 1992 to 2002 on Channel Four, then limped through a few more seasons on Eurosport and Bravo before the plug was pulled on the last programme in 2008.

Maybe by then the Premier League’s money and glamour had seduced us away from the romance of Italy, or maybe we all just grew up and moved on.

But Football Italia will always have a special place in our memories.

And how fitting it will be if Gazza and the rest of the crowd in Rome tonight get to shout for one more time: Golao!

What an intro – Football Italia had a proper tune at the start

Mo Farah wants to run London Marathon in 2014

Olympic hero Farah on track to become marathon man in London

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UPDATED:

21:00 GMT, 1 October 2012

Mo Farah wants to make his marathon debut on the streets of London – but only after he has won more track gold at next year’s world championships.

The double Olympic champion has outlined a plan to race the 5,000m and 10,000m in Moscow next August before a likely switch to road running for the London Marathon in April 2014.

The 29-year-old, who has seen plenty of sleepless nights in recent weeks after the birth of his twin daughters Amani and Aisha, pulled out of the Great North Run last month through fatigue but said he will soon start training once more.

Marathon man: Farah appears at a London school on Monday

Marathon man: Farah appears at a London school on Monday

‘I’ve had a couple of weeks off and now I’m hopefully going to get back into it slowly,’ he said. ‘I’ll go back to America to do the training. We’ll have to apply for the passports for the kids and go through the whole VISAs thing.

‘I’d like to see myself go through from Olympic champion to world champion to longer distances – and see what I can do for the marathon.

‘It’s a different pain. I’ve done a 20 mile run and that’s tough. The speed the guys run you need to be training, training. Alberto (Salazar) knows what he’s doing. He’s known as a marathon coach so hopefully he’ll get me through.

‘I’ll think about the track for the world championships and then at the back of my mind I’ll know when I’ll do a marathon.

Mobot: Farah makes a guest appearance at Harlequins v Saracens on Sunday

Mobot: Farah makes a guest appearance at Harlequins v Saracens on Sunday

‘I’d like to do London, that would be the first one, because you run in front of 80,000 people in the stadium and if I was running on the streets of London it would be great support. It would motivate me more than anything else.

‘As a kid I did the mini-marathon so it would be rude not to do the full marathon. We’re not going to step yet, we’re still going to do the track.’

Farah, speaking at the publication of the 'Move It' report which encourages young people to participate in sport, said he feels he can dominate long-distance running in the way Kenenisa Bekele has done for Ethiopia ‘as long as I stay motivated and hungry as I can. That’s what great athletes do.’

He added that he sees his long-term future in England – as he would miss the football too much by staying in Portland, Oregon, where he currently lives.

Paul Gascoigne: a player Lazio and Tottenham have in common

It was ice cream for breakfast and beer for lunch… but as a player Gazza was beautiful!

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UPDATED:

06:48 GMT, 20 September 2012

Tottenham and Lazio will be forever entwined by one man and the clubs had barely been drawn to meet for the first time when thoughts turned to Paul Gascoigne.

Lazio's general manager Maurizio Manzini quickly proposed that Gazza should be guest of honour at both Europa League ties, unaware that this is perhaps easier said than done.

The 45-year-old is tackling health problems and addictions and has declined an invitation to attend Thursday's game at White Hart Lane for 'personal reasons'.

Comic: Paul Gascoigne wore these funny glasses at a press conference

Comic: Paul Gascoigne wore these funny glasses at a press conference

Cult figure: Paul Gascoigne spent time at both Lazio and Tottenham Hotspur

Cult figure: Paul Gascoigne spent time at both Lazio and Tottenham Hotspur

It is a bitter-sweet tale of brilliance and self-destruction, sprinkled with what-ifs.

Next week marks 20 years since Gascoigne's Lazio debut. What if, indeed.

'Italy in the Nineties was the No 1 league to test your ability and Paul had everything to be a success out there,' recalled his friend Glenn Roeder.

'He had the close control and vision. He made goals and he scored goals.

'In a way, he was made for Italian football. The big problem was the injuries.'

Gascoigne's 6.7million transfer was wrecked by a knee injury in the 1991 FA Cup final, only to be hastily revived because Spurs needed the money.

Complex negotiations ensued and a new fee of 5.5m was agreed, complete with expensive insurance to cover the worst case scenario, which Gazza flirted with when he cracked the knee-cap on his injured knee in a Newcastle nightclub.

The original transfer had included Roeder, once Gascoigne's team-mate at Newcastle, who had remained close and had agreed to move his family to Rome to provide a steadying influence.

Roeder's playing career was coming to an end at Watford and he planned a sabbatical to study coaching in Italy while allowing Gazza to lodge at the family home.

Folklore: Gascoigne only managed to score six goals during his time in Rome

Folklore: Gascoigne only managed to score six goals during his time in Rome

Folklore: Gascoigne only managed to score six goals during his time in Rome

Folklore: Gascoigne only managed to score six goals during his time in Rome

This idea was short-lived. It collapsed after the injury but the pair did spend a fortnight in Rome in August 1991 as Gascoigne got to know Lazio.

They saw a friendly against Real Madrid and travelled with the squad to a cup tie against Andria, a lower league club from a town on the Adriatic coast.

'Two things leapt out,' said Roeder. 'At the end of lunch, the captain waited for everyone to finish eating before asking the manager, Dino Zoff, if the players could retire to their rooms for an afternoon nap.

'Gazza also found it strange that players were offered a glass of wine with the meal. Whether this was culture or to help them relax and sleep, I don't know. Gazza declined the wine and ordered a coffee.

'After the game, when they'd won, the players were back at the hotel drinking coffee and Gazza couldn't get his head around this. He's thinking: “Now the lads should be drinking wine, celebrating”.'

Italian football had a reputation for supreme professionalism. The players arrived on time for training twice daily and listened respectfully to any instructions.

'All of this was good for Paul,' said Roeder. 'He was a wonderful example to young players at the training ground because he loved his football.

'At Rangers, he'd drive to Ibrox the day before a game and demand to play head-tennis against Walter Smith and Archie Knox in the home dressing room.

Today: Presently Gascoigne is struggling with health problems

Today: Presently Gascoigne is struggling with health problems

'They'd pull a net across the middle of the dressing room, it is so big, and the trick was to land the ball in the corners and make it ricochet under the benches.

'The problems Gazza had in his life came when football wasn't there for him. When training wasn't long enough or he was injured and when he finished.'

As the Premier League launched in 1992, Channel 4 bought the rights to Serie A and more than three million tuned in for Lazio's first game against Sampdoria. Gascoigne was injured (somewhat inevitably) but made his debut a fortnight later against Genoa.

He secured his place in Lazio folklore in November 1992, heading a late equaliser in a derby against Roma.

More classic Gazza moments followed: gliding runs, precision passes, broken bones, indiscipline and practical jokes.

Fans from all teams embraced his boozy image. They threw Mars Bars, he ate them.

He took a shine to pranks involving a tunnel which plunged the team bus into complete darkness as it exited the Olympic Stadium.

Once he mocked up a road crash and sprawled next to his scooter to shock Zoff, who always occupied the front seat of the bus. Other times he would appear alongside his manager totally naked with daylight flooding back into the bus as it emerged from the tunnel.

'I loved that boy,' said Zoff once. 'He was a genius, an artist but he made me tear my hair out.

'The pity was we saw the beauty he was capable of only so rarely. He destroyed that beauty with his drinking and his eating.

'He ate ice cream for breakfast, he drank beer for lunch, when he was injured he blew up like a whale. But a player Oh, beautiful, beautiful.'

Beautiful: Dino Zoff (left) remembers Gascoigne with some fondess

Beautiful: Dino Zoff (left) remembers Gascoigne with some fondess

In four years at Lazio, Gascoigne scored only six goals, playing fewer than 50 times.

But he is cherished, as Manzini's reaction proves. 'Sometimes I wonder how it would have worked out if I'd gone out there,' said Roeder.

'But I don't know. Gazza seemed to have his best periods in Italy when he was left alone to concentrate on his football, without family and friends going over for a holiday and behaving like they were on a holiday.

'He had games for Lazio where he was top class. It's just a shame we talk about pockets of great play rather than season after season as it should have been.

'He was without doubt the most gifted and by far the most naturally talented footballer this country produced in his generation.'

London 2012 Olympics: Michelle Obama supports Serena Williams in her Games quest

Serena inspired on Olympic quest by support from Michelle Obama

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UPDATED:

21:05 GMT, 28 July 2012

Olympics 2012

Serena Williams returned to Centre Court on Saturday, three weeks after winning her fifth Wimbledon singles, title and made a winning start to her Olympic campaign – with America’s First Lady Michelle Obama in her corner.

The wife of the President of the United States was in the Williams family box, as the personal guest of Serena’s sister Venus, and saw Serena progress smoothly through her first-round match against Jelena Jankovic, 6-3, 6-1.

Face in the crowd: First Lady Michelle Obama supports Serena Williams against Jelena Jankovic

Face in the crowd: First Lady Michelle Obama supports Serena Williams against Jelena Jankovic

Up and running: Williams made a winning return to Wimbledon

Up and running: Williams made a winning return to Wimbledon

‘It was great seeing Michelle there,’ said Serena. ‘It just made me want to play better. We’re here for our country and to play well. I loved her dress, which is always nice.’

Wells Fargo Championship: Rory McIlroy surges up leaderboard

McIlroy closes in on leaders as Simpson holds one-shot advantage at Quail Hollow

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UPDATED:

00:15 GMT, 6 May 2012

Local boy Webb Simpson retook the lead heading into the final day of the Wells Fargo Championship as Rory McIlroy roared into contention.

Simpson, whose home is less than a mile from the Quail Hollow venue, shot a three-under 69 to lead by one from fellow Americans Ryan Moore and DA Points on 14 under.

But it was Northern Irishman McIlroy who had the day's most eye-catching round, as his six-under 66 took him to 12 under par, two shots off the lead.

Narrow advantage: Webb Simpson sits at the top of the leaderboard

Narrow advantage: Webb Simpson sits at the top of the leaderboard

The 2010 champion birdied four of the first five holes and was six under through 11, but from there could only manage one more birdie and a second bogey at the 15th and 16th.

'When you get off to a good start like that, you birdie the first three holes, it gives you momentum early, and it's something you can just go with,' McIlroy told www.espn.com.

'I think that was the key to the round today, to get off to that kind of start.'

McIlroy, who hit a course-record 62 in 2010, also had a stroke of luck when his tee shot on the 18th hit a spectator on the backside and rebounded towards the fairway.

Closing in: Rory McIlroy had an impressive third round

Closing in: Rory McIlroy had an impressive third round

Simpson carded five birdies against two bogies, while overnight leader Nick Watney, Simpson's house guest for the week and playing partner for the day, was level for the day to sit in a share of fourth alongside McIlroy.

'I don't want to get ahead of myself,' Simpson told www.pgatour.com. 'I look at the leaderboard and there's so many great players within a shot or two. So I know it's going to be a tough day.

'I know I can go out and shoot four under and get beat by two or three.

'This is one of those golf courses where if conditions are right you can get a string of birdies going.

'You saw McIlroy a few years ago shoot 10 under. Knowing that, my expectations aren't too high.

Improving: Lee Westwood and Phil Mickelson enjoyed better rounds

Improving: Lee Westwood and Phil Mickelson enjoyed better rounds

'Obviously I want to go out there and try to win, but all I can do is kind of control what we're doing.'

Watney was set to share second with Moore and Points until he found a creek to the left of the fairway on 11 and bogeyed.

A shot behind him and McIlroy were Rickie Fowler, who carded a five-under 67, and Stewart Cink.

After barely making the cut, Phil Mickelson and Lee Westwood both had better days, going four under to sit in a share of 30th on five under, in a group which also contained Scotland's Martin Laird.

Gary Neville called up by Stuart lancaster to restore pride in England squad

England coach Lancaster calls up Neville to restore pride in his squad

Gary Neville has been asked by England interim coach Stuart Lancaster to address his players during their pre-Six Nations training camp.

Sportsmail understands the former Manchester United full back is ready to accept the invitation to join a host of guest speakers from outside rugby as the new England management team look to restore pride in the Red Rose jersey.

While the RFU have yet to receive confirmation that the Sky Sports pundit is willing to make an appearance at the camp – being held at West Park RUFC in Leeds – it is thought he is likely to attend.

Call-up: Neville has been asked to speak to England's rugby side

Call-up: Neville has been asked to speak to England's rugby side

Neville would be the latest sporting figure to be recruited by Lancaster, who has already lined up talks by Dave Brailsford, the British Cycling performance director, England cricket managing director Hugh Morris and England rugby league captain Jamie Peacock.

There will also be an appearance by a former corporal in the British Army, Simon Brown, who was badly injured in Iraq.

The head of England’s interim coaching panel – also featuring Graham Rowntree and Andy Farrell – is taking these innovative steps in an attempt to provide timely motivation and inspiration for his young squad and also re-establish a sense of passion and pride in representing their country.

Innovative: Interim coach Stuart Lancaster

Innovative: Interim coach Stuart Lancaster

It is hoped that Neville will play a major part in fostering that renewed zeal for national service in the aftermath of a World Cup campaign which led to accusations of players being more interested in the pursuit of financial reward and sponsorship deals.

England will gather in Leeds a week on Monday and, prior to the guest appearances, a busy schedule will include an assessment of the shortcomings in New Zealand. Lancaster has temporarily moved the squad away from their familiar base at Pennyhill Park in Surrey in an attempt to enhance the feeling of a fresh start and ‘re-connect’ with the English rugby public.

Crossing codes: England's rugby league captain Jamie Peacock

Crossing codes: England's rugby league captain Jamie Peacock

Brown was with British forces in Basra in 2006 when he was shot in the face, losing sight in one eye and retaining minimal sight in the other. He eventually came to terms with his injuries, did a teacher training course and has become a motivational speaker.

Asked what his message will be, he said: ‘You guys are the cream of English rugby, you are young, talented and, player for player, you can stand against the best in the world.

‘Be proud to wear your national shirt. Rugby is fun and you are earning money doing what you love to do. How many of us wouldn’t offer up limbs to have the opportunity to put on our national shirt and you guys have that opportunity.’

Arsene Wenger relieved as star guest finds the perfect gift for Arsenal"s birthday bash

Wenger relieved as star guest finds the perfect gift for Arsenal”s birthday bash

They sang “Good old Arsenal, we”re proud to say that name. When we sing this song, we”ll win the game.”

Even by the standards of football songs, it is a particularly daft ditty.

But grown men and women stamped their feet and clapped their hands and bellowed the tune as if it were grand opera.

Just champion: Arsene Wenger saw his side leap back into the top four

Just champion: Arsene Wenger saw his side leap back into the top four

They were holding a birthday party at The Emirates and they were determined to enjoy it.

Arsenal Football Club was 125 years old, a singular anniversary for a remarkable institution.

They celebrated with the sense of style they have carried through the decades.

On the previous day they had unveiled statues of a significant trinity: the founding father Herbert Chapman, the implacable captain Tony Adams and Thierry Henry, who best epitomises their contribution to the modern game.

Legend: A fan poses with the statue of Thierry Henry

Legend: A fan poses with the statue of Thierry Henry

Before the match they staged a parade of the ancients.

Charlie George, Ian Wright, Terry Neill, David O”Leary, George Graham, Frank McLintock; fuller of figure and grey of hair, but north London gods every one; smiling, waving, remembering.

Time and again the club invoked its past.

The great grandchildren of David Danskin, a founding member, brought out the match ball.

And when referee Howard Webb tossed the coin, he did so with a sixpence, the coin which those founders used to chip in for the purchase of their match ball.

But one important figure stood apart from this outpouring of nostalgia.

Arsene Wenger had a match to win, points to be won, players to instruct.

He made no concession to the occasion, his lined face full of that frowning intensity which is as much a part of Arsenal”s tradition as the cannon on the badge.

Welcome back: Thierry Henry was among the crowd as the club celebrated their 125th anniversary

Welcome back: Thierry Henry was among the crowd as the club celebrated their 125th anniversary

When we contemplate the great Englishclubs of glittering pedigree, the trinity of Arsenal, Manchester Unitedand Liverpool leap to mind.

When we consider the most gifted contemporary managers, then it is Wenger”s name which emerges, alongsidethe old gentleman at Old Trafford who is at once his keenest foe and most distinguished opponent.

The similarity between Sir Alex Ferguson and Wenger is more marked than either would admit.

Setting a precedent: But will there be a statue of Arsene Wenger to go with Herbert Chapman

Setting a precedent: But will there be a statue of Arsene Wenger to go with Herbert Chapman

Both are driven by ferocious ambition, both are afflicted by selective myopia and both share the samecore values of the game: the respect for possession, the cherishing of self-expression and the nerve to gamble that skill and flair will carry them through all the important tests.

Of course, events sometimes mock their preparation and Wenger”s anxious frown remained in place through most of the frozen afternoon.

When they come to cast him in bronze – surely the merest formality – they will have a ready file of familiar poses.

At various times yesterday, he could be found with arms flapping wide in impotent protest, or seated on his bench with body bent in that familiar, almost foetal, position, or simply standing with arms folded, head shaking, bewilderment personified.

His vision has created impressive teams, and those teams have built a stunning stadium.

But the game does not always bend to the will of its favoured sons.

Waiting for inspiration: But Arsene Wenger was rewarded with a great goal from Van Persie

Waiting for inspiration: But Arsene Wenger was rewarded with a great goal from Van Persie

After the match, he would confess hisunease; the certainty that Arsenal would score a goal, coupled with thedoubt that they would keep their defensive concentration to the close.

“Today was an historic day for us, with so many people coming back here,” he said.

“When it is a day for celebration, it is not easy to keep the focus.”

And so, with Everton resisting and time evaporating, Wenger waited for something wonderful.

The goal was well worth his wait.

Flying Dutchman: Robin van Persie kept up his scoring streak by opening the scoring for Arsenal

Flying Dutchman: Robin van Persie kept up his scoring streak by opening the scoring for Arsenal

Alex Song, a player who has blossomedspectacularly under Wenger”s tuition, floated a subtle, incisive, inch-perfect chip into the stride of Robin van Persie.

The striker adopted the perfect shape for the volley, struck it emphatically and drove the ball low and true into the net.

It was a work of art, sheer perfection, and Wenger bounced upon his bench as his players came clamouring in celebration.

“He delivered something very special,” he would say.

Later, Wenger would mock the notion of a personal statue: “More statues!” he said. “We”ve had some great players at Arsenal, the place will be full of statues.”

But we suspect that, like Ferguson in Manchester, the notion does not displease him.

For he relishes his own commanding part in the 125-year history of his club.

Relaxed last night, with the frown lifted and the stress suddenly eased, he smiled at the celebrations.

Then a thought struck him: “We won one-nil,” he said. “Another tradition.”

One-nil to the Arsenal. Cue another song, another victory, another era.