3 OCTOBER 1992, Page 47


The lager and the lingo

Frank Keating

AFTER 17 months injured (accompanied by about 17 years' worth of headline hulla- baloo), it predictably took less than half a proper match on Sunday in Rome for Paul Gascoigne to be clattered back into his physiotherapist's lap by a couple of narrow- eyed Italian defenders from Genoa. David Lacey reported in the Guardian how Gas- coigne 'was screening the ball from Fortu nato, his marker, and failed to see Borto- lazzi's challenge coming from the opposite direction'. Quite: Italian defenders spe- cialise in the double whammy. In the Tele- graph, lain MacLeod also winced — 'the level of commitment in Italy is altogether more ferocious and he will have to ride the tackling'. In just 27 senior league matches in Italy so far this season, players have already been admonished with 98 yellow warning' cards and 14 'early bath' red ones.

You wish Gascoigne and his undoubted talent all the best, but fear the worst. The majority of such trips by British players have ended in tears. Offhand, down the years, I suppose the lucrative Italian jobs taken by such as John Charles, Liam Brady and Graeme Souness have been considered successful and, in a more limited way, those of Trevor Francis and Ray Wilkins. But some have been disasters. On the whole, we

travel badly. The crucial necessity is to first learn the lingo — as did the estimable goody-two-shoes Gary Lineker, when he went to play for Barcelona. (I remember seeing him off from Heathrow, Teach Your- self Spanish under one arm, and Homage to Catalonia under the other.) But another dashing fellow in the No.9 shirt, the Welsh- man Ian Rush, was not so diligently pre- pared. When he arrived back at Liverpool airport after a calamitous and short sojourn with the Rome club Juventus, he per- plexedly fingered his moustache and whined, 'Well, it was so impossible, it was like going to a different country, like.'

Thirty years ago, Jimmy Greaves also returned home pronto, complaining that AC Milan made him drink wine instead of lager with meals.

Denis Law went with Joe Baker to Turin at about the same time. In his autobiogra- phy, Denis explained why he was happy to hotfoot it home: 'We couldn't enjoy a cou- ple of quiet beers. The Italians thought wine part of everyday life. But to be seen drinking beers was to be regarded as an alcoholic, and in no time at all someone would be reporting Joe or Ito the club and we would be carpeted in front of the direc- tors.'

So no beer on a Saturday night and then, adding injury to insult, being kicked all round the park on a Sunday afternoon. No wonder even his best friends worry for young Gascoigne. He says he will learn 'to speak Eyetie' by Christmas. `Ow!', I'm afraid, is a pretty universal word.

And, to be fair, it is not all one-way traf- fic. Foreign players in England also have their difficulties with the lager and the lingo. In 1987, when Gascoigne was playing for Newcastle United, the club signed the Brazilian star Mirandinha. His first game came a week after he had enrolled for lessons in English. In no time an ugly tackle floors him. On runs the trainer — 'How are you, lad?' Replies the prostrate Brazilian, offering his hand, 'I am very well, thank you. How are you? I am very pleased to meet you.'