The funny story of how Gazza set an ostrich loose at the Spurs training ground

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Paul Gascoigne

Paul Gascoigne’s personality off the pitch wa as colourful and unpredictable as it was on it.

The legendary midfielder is regarded by many Spurs fans as one of the greatest to ever pull on the famous lilywhite shirt but those who know him best always speak of his quirky behaviour and his practical jokes.

Football.London has now relayed an excerpt from the book, ‘Our Gazza: The Untold Tales’ – a collection of stories and memories by John Richardson, in which Gazza’s former Spurs teammate, Paul Stewart, narrates some funny stories from their time at the club together.

Stewart, who like Gascoigne joined Spurs in 1988, revealed that the former England international had once set an ostrich wearing a Tottenham kit, loose in the training ground.

Stewart said: “Every day he would be up to something, causing havoc with his jokes. I got on well with Steve Sedgley, who later joined us from Coventry City and who we both knew from the England youth and Under-21 set-up. He was nicknamed ‘Long Neck’ for obvious reasons.

“One day, whilst Venners was taking training, all the players were on the pitch in a circle around the halfway line. Gazza was late. As always, the boss was asking me where he was, like I was his minder.

“Just as I was about to make an excuse, Gazza turned up with someone alongside him, carrying a brown sack.

“The sack was moving as if something was in it, and just as Venners was about to rollick Gazza for being late, the bag was opened and an ostrich ran out wearing a Spurs shirt.

“There was a number 7 and SEDGLEY written on the back. The lads just fell about laughing. This ostrich was running around our training ground in a white Spurs shirt, with the whole team watching.

“Everyone, the kids, the training staff, the apprentices, stood open mouthed or in hysterics. Venables’ face was a picture. The bird went running off in a panic and he had some job getting it back.

“I am not too sure what the animal rights people would say if they knew that Gazza had a bird from the local zoo dressed in a Spurs shirt loose on the training ground.

“He claimed that he had ‘borrowed’ it from Broxbourne Zoo. We were never able to verify if that was the case.”

Gascoigne’s problems since retirement have been well documented and Stewart admitted that the midfielder was already showing signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

He said: “Off the pitch, Paul was a strange combination; shy, but a real practical joker; one of the brightest young talents in the game, but so insecure as a person; generous, funny, apparently happy go-lucky, but riven by strange habits, doubts, medical conditions, quirks of character,” he said.

“In the early days, if we went out for something to eat together, he would finish off his main meal then he’d order three desserts and make himself ill. I never understood. It was hard for me to know even what to say.

“I had not seen anything like that before. It became an everyday aspect of life with Paul Gascoigne. At home, Gazza’s behaviour was just as bizarre. He was showing the first signs of his obsessive-compulsive disorder.

“If we were driving to a game together – which we often did, as we were sharing a house – he would tap the rearview mirror all the time because it had to be exact, precise for him. He had to do things his way.

“On other occasions, no matter how important the match was, he would want to return home. It could be Manchester United, but he would make me turn back to check if he had locked the door, or if the remote for the TV was in alignment.

“He would go upstairs to the bathroom to see if the towels were straight. One day, we were running really late for a game. I was driving to White Hart Lane on the A10 and he said he had forgotten something and insisted we go back, which meant driving the wrong way down a dual carriageway.

“He had a wallet with a flap where he kept his credit cards. He was holding this wallet up in the front seat, pretending it was a police warrant card while I was flooring it because we were so late.”

Stewart also narrated a funny story about how Gazza found out where he lived when came to meet him down at Bournemouth.

Steward added: “Gazza’s eccentric behaviour continued long after the Spurs days. He rang me one Friday night after I had finished playing– my daughter Chloe was still at school, it was around 2001,” remembered Stewart.

“I used to go out on a Friday with my mates, so I turned the phone off. He called about eight o’clock at night. I did not phone back, then at 8am when I turned the phone on again I found I had been bombarded with calls from him and messages on the answerphone saying he was coming to Blackpool to see me.

“Then there were a series of messages asking: ‘Where do you live?’ Around lunchtime the next day, he arrived and I said: ‘How did you find me?’ He got someone to drive him up to Blackpool from London, and went into the Tesco down the road.

“He just went in and started shouting: ‘Does anyone know where Stewy lives?’ Unbelievably, there was a mate of mine in there who saw him and said: ‘I know, it is North Park Drive but I don’t know the number’.

“So Gazza came to the top of the street, looking in windows to see if he could see any photos of my kids on the mantelpiece. One poor fella found a slightly drunk Gazza looking through his window first thing in the morning shouting ‘Have you any idea where Stewy lives?'”

“When Gazza eventually turned up at my home, it was a lovely summer’s day so we had a barbecue in the back garden. For a bit of fun, he started going through his phone ringing up famous people.

“Eventually he got through to Robbie Williams and made him sing his hit ‘Millennium’ down the phone to Chloe and her school friend, who could not quite believe it. Chloe recalls Gazza encouraging her to cycle down the drive, while he waited at the bottom to stop the traffic in case she came onto the road.

“He tried to take a photo. It didn’t work, so he just threw away the camera. He was full of fun, full of laughs, a great fella just to be around when he was on form, but he was also completely unpredictable, hard to fathom and a nervous wreck at times.

“When he was ringing random people on his phone, he could not get through to TV presenter Dale Winton. So he left a load of abuse on his answering service because he didn’t answer straight away. I am still not sure why he had the number for Dale – but that was Gazza, totally unpredictable and capable of doing anything at any time.”

Spurs Web Opinion

Gazza’s colourful personality is why he seems to be revered by most of the players he played with and managers he worked under. There is a case to be that we are seeing fewer and fewer eccentric personalities in football, with all players media trained and expected to be robots during interviews.

The emphasis on discipline and athleticism has also weeded out mavericks who are reliant on their talent instead of hard work. As a fan, I believe the game is worse as a result of losing these types of personalities.

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