Gazza's moment of madness - 20 years on

Paul Gascoigne (r) fouls Gary Charles
Gascoigne's infamous tackle on Gary Charles in the 1991 FA Cup final

"When I see the tackle, I cringe myself."

By his own admission, Paul Gascoigne is still haunted by his infamous lunge at Gary Charles in the opening stages of the 1991 FA Cup final between Tottenham Hotspur and Nottingham Forest.

The challenge ruptured a cruciate ligament in Gascoigne's right knee and remains the biggest single regret of his glittering, but often controversial, footballing career.

And the mental scars from that day at Wembley remain for the former England star long after the physical ones have healed.

In an interview with BBC Radio 5 Live Sport, Gascoigne, 43, revisits the agony of a moment 20 years ago that shattered his dreams and cast a shadow over the rest of his playing days.

"I remember Charles coming down the right," he recalls. "His touch brought him inside and I was off balance. I tried to get a good challenge on him to let him know he was in a game."

It wasn't a good challenge - for Spurs or Gascoigne. It yielded the free-kick from which Stuart Pearce gave Forest the lead. And it meant a premature end to what should have been a momentous day for Gascoigne, who was playing his last game for the North London club before a move to Serie A side Lazio.

"I got up and knew I wasn't feeling right," says Gascoigne. "I got back in the wall and Pearce scored but I wasn't bothered about that. All I was thinking about was my injury."

Seconds after the game kicked off again, Gascoigne crumpled to the turf in agony, his participation in the final over and a lengthy spell on the sidelines about to begin.

As his team-mates battled back to beat Forest 2-1, a Paul Stewart strike and a Des Walker own goal denying Brian Clough the only major trophy to elude him, Gascoigne lay in a hospital bed drinking hot chocolate.

He had just about managed to keep his emotions in check as he tried to take in what had happened and what his injury might mean but the tears poured down his cheeks as the Tottenham players prepared to collect the trophy.

"The minute I started crying was the minute they started walking up the steps," he says. "That was my dream. I still get a lump in my throat when I talk about it. I wasn't bothered with lifting the trophy, I just wanted to walk up those steps."

Gascoigne would not be walking anywhere following, in his words, "the terrible tackle", and he subsequently apologised to Charles for the challenge.

"A week before that Cup final, I did a coaching video for kids, showing them how to tackle properly otherwise they would do their knee in," he says. "But that's exactly what I did. I didn't tackle properly and did my knee in."

While prostrate in the Wembley dressing room after leaving the pitch on a stretcher, Gascoigne was told he would be out of action for at least nine months.

The injury had not only wrecked his Spurs finale, it had also jeopardised his £5.5m move to Italy.

However, Lazio stood by the midfielder as he battled back to fitness, although, once restored, the former Newcastle United player only occasionally touched the heights in his three seasons in Rome.

In retrospect, Gascoigne says he should have stayed at White Hart Lane. "I think I left a bit too early because I was loving it at Spurs," he says. "I had everything."

It certainly appeared that Gascoigne had the footballing world at his feet. He joined Tottenham in a £2m deal from Newcastle in 1988 after shooting to prominence with the Magpies.

Then came an England call-up followed by Italia 90, which turned the prank-loving footballer into an international star and household name.

"After the World Cup in 1990, I knew the pressure would be on me to perform just about in every game because I'd had a good tournament," he says.

Indeed he had. His genius helped Bobby Robson's England reach the semi-finals before their elimination by West Germany on penalties.

As for the pressure, Gascoigne seemed to revel in it.

"If ever I got man of the match, the next game I would tell myself that I had to get man of the match and score," he recalls. "If I scored a couple, the next game I had to get three. That was the way I was. But I was enjoying my football."

His infectious attitude seemed to rub off on his team-mates. The season following the World Cup, Spurs lifted the FA Cup, securing a famous win over North London rivals Arsenal in the semi-finals.

It was a stunning 30-yard free-kick from Gascoigne after only five minutes that proved the catalyst for a shock 3-1 victory.

Gascoigne's performance was the more remarkable because he was barely match fit, having undergone a double hernia operation a month before the semi-final.

"I remember the free-kick," he says. "I didn't know what to do with it. But then Gary Mabbutt came up and said have a shot."

Gascoigne took Mabbutt's advice and broke the deadlock in stunning fashion, David Seaman's outstretched right hand failing to stop the ball flying into the top left-hand corner of the net.

"I used to practise those kicks when I was little," says Gascoigne. "I've caught it absolutely perfectly and it flew in the top corner."

And what did it feel like to score such an important goal?

"I could not believe I had caught it so well," says Gascoigne. "I heard the roar and I was off. It doesn't matter what is in front of you, you just want to keep on running.

Archive - Gazza's excitable interview after FA Cup semi

"Unfortunately, a couple of the lads caught up with me and nailed me to the ground, jumping on me. But I just remember the smile on the face of Terry Venables and the excitement."

Gascoigne could not contain his excitement at the final whistle, giving a typically bizarre interview to the BBC's Ray Stubbs.

In it, he made reference to the story going around before the game that the Arsenal players had already ordered their suits for the final.

"I told all the guys about this," says Gascoigne. "I think that geed them up. Going into the dressing room before the game at Wembley - a packed house - the excitement was unbelievable. I started talking in the dressing room and Terry Venables let me get on with it. I kept saying: 'Remember the suits, guys. Remember the suits.'"

Then came the final and the infamous tackle on Charles.

Many felt Gascoigne, who says he was given valium on the eve of the game to calm him down, was lucky to be on the pitch following a chest-high tackle on Garry Parker with only two minutes gone.

In fact, Gascoigne himself wishes he had been sent off following that incident. It would have spared him the anguish that soon followed.

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