The never-ending world of the ‘Gazza joke’

In October 2011, I  wrote the piece about ‘the Gazza joke’ for the old Iain Dale blog. With Gascoigne in rehab in the US, people have joked that it’s time for him to be visited by someone with fried chicken and a fishing rod. Yawn. Dale’s multi-author blog closed in December and with it went the archives, so I’d thought I’d repost here:

THERE was much confusion on Thursday afternoon about what might be happening in Libya. It was all over whether Colonel Gee had been captured, or captured and wounded, or wounded and killed, or killed and then brought back to life by conflicting news wire reports. And all that before the age-old question of how to spell his surname was finally resolved.

Yet through the mess of reports, it didn’t take too long – maybe minutes, possibly seconds – before someone you know made a joke about Gazza turning up with a fishing rod to see a cornered Muammar Gaddafi. He’s not a bad lad, Gazza coughs in his Geordie accent, as our collective imaginaton dreams up the scene.

To call it a joke is unfair, however. Gazza and his fishing rod has gone beyond that. It has instead become a staple part of our exchanging of stories about the hunt for any fugitive now. I mean, nobody actually talks about Gazza and his fishing rod to be funny any more, surely. The humour hollowed out by adamant recycling, it’s now more of a figure of speech.

In fact, we have reached the stage where people will now speak about Gazza and his fishing rod almost subconsciously, spoken as commonly as courtesy words like hello and thank you. Man gets home from work: ‘Hi darling – did you see they caught Gaddafi today, quite a gunfight I would have thought – of course Gazza must have turned up with his fishing rod at some stage –what’s for dinner?’ The man has not even realised he has casually referenced Gazza and his fishing rod. The conversation is over, he’s onto his bangers and mash.

Osama Bin Laden was another trapped terrorist who was supposed to have been visited by Gazza and his fishing rod during the final moments before he was thrown to the sea. But the crucial development this year, and why Gazza and his fishing rod is now no longer a joke and more just an everyday phrase, is that it can now be applied to anybody or anything having a rough time in public.

The News Of The World. We knew that would close when Gazza and his fishing rod turned up in reception. Liam Fox. We knew he’d resign when he was visited by Gazza and his fishing rod and asked for a parliamentary business card. We will know that C-Beebies are not going to make another series of In The Night Garden only when we are told that Gazza and his fishing rod has been to meet Iggle Piggle on the Ninky-Nonk.

And yet, as Gazza and his fishing rod transfers from joke to phrase, updating the traditional image of a hooded old man with a scythe with a bleach blonde jester as it does, we must surely guard against forgetting from where it was derived. Gazza, of course, took his fishing rod (and beer and chicken) to see Raoul Moat on a Northumbrian riverbank in July 2010. This was during a stand-off between a fugitive killer and armed police, a story too easily digested as a film script rather than real life. People died, a policeman was blinded. Gazza himself sounded all over the place during a radio interview he gave that night, to the extent that you can’t listen to it back without flinching.

In 50 years time, we may still be talking about Gazza and his fishing rod to denote anybody considered doomed. Perhaps we will use it for any crud situation we find ourselves in, missing a bus or losing your house keys. With each telling, the events of that night in Rothbury will become less revered.

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