"There's a hole in the ceiling, about three-foot round" - Andy Townsend on life as Gazza's housemate 1 month ago

"There's a hole in the ceiling, about three-foot round" - Andy Townsend on life as Gazza's housemate

"I said, 'What are you doing? What are you f***ing doing?!'"

Andy Townsend thought he had seen it all in football, especially during his Italia 90 and USA 94 experiences with Ireland, but nothing could prepare him for living with Paul Gascoigne in the late 1990s.

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The former Chelsea and Aston Villa midfielder moved to Middlesbrough in the summer of 1997 and never forgot the welcome Italian striker Fabrizio Ravanelli gave him when he arrived in Teeside. Sitting on a treatment table, Ravanelli shook Townsend's hand but then asked:

"Why you come here? Why you come here?"

"I thought that was crap," Townsend says. "I wanted to say, 'For the same reasons as you, mate, I'm just not getting paid as much'."

It mattered little, though, as Ravanelli was soon off to Marseille. Brazilian star Juninho headed off, too, but 'Boro signed Paul Merson, Paul Gascoigne and striker Marco Branca, as well as Townsend, and gained immediate promotion back to the Premier League.

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In a wide-ranging interview, on All To Play For, Andy Townsend spoke about his Middlesbrough days, and [LISTEN from 38:30 below] what it was like to share a house with 'Gazza' and deal with his ever-growing Obsessive Compulsive Disorder quirks.

Paul Gascoigne Paul Gascoigne and Paul Merson of Middlesbrough celebrate a return to top flight football, in 1998. (Credit: Stu Forster/Allsport)
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Andy Townsend on living with Gazza

After four seasons with Aston Villa, including captaining the side to a League Cup win, Andy Townsend joined Middlesbrough in 1997. "We had some good players," he says, "but we were all the wrong side of it, really."

Townsend picked himself up a place to stay in a cosy little village called Yarm, not far from Darlington. Paul Gascoigne got himself a house in Seaham, 30 miles away and not far from Sunderland. The problem, says Townsend, is Gascoigne became convinced the rented house was haunted.

"Gazza said, 'I'm seeing some s**t going on here. I don't like it'."

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Townsend offered to stay with Gascoigne a few nights a week, to help him settle in and to assuage any fears about the rental being haunted. He recalls his Boro teammate always being keen to get out and about after training sessions at the club wrapped, around 2pm. That often included 36 holes [forget about 18] of golf, with Gascoigne often pleading to play nine more, before it got dark. "I wouldn't mind if he was any good, but he was hopeless!"

When they got back home, there would be snooker and pool challenges 'for a couple of quid', with Townsend only half-joking now when he says he is owed around £7 million for all the games he won.

Townsend also remembers Gascoigne struggling with the early stages of his OCD, which he would eventually receive help for. "He wanted everything tidy in the house," says Townsend, "as part of it, but I didn't even know what it was all about, at the time."

"I'd get up in the morning and go in to clean my teeth. When I get back to the bedroom, my f***ing bed is made... I was thinking, 'Jesus Christ, is there really some sort of spirit in here, following me around?'

"I get outside and Gazza is there, going, 'I couldn't wait 'til you got up, so I could go in and get that bed sorted out for you'."

One late-night/early-morning incident really drove home the unique sensation of sharing a house with Gascoigne and that need to have a sense of control, when all else was going to hell around him.

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Paul Gascoigne

The leaky toilet and the snooker table

On one occasion, Andy Townsend and Paul Gascoigne went out for a meal at a restaurant and got a taxi back to the Seaham house. The driver was invited in for a few games of pool and Gascoigne asked if it might be possible for him to drop the two players into training at Middlesbrough, the next morning.

"He could have said no, the cab driver, but he was being ever so nice so said yes," Townsend recalls. The driver took a spare bedroom, upstairs, while the Boro midfielders finished off their night with a few more games on the snooker table.

Early the next morning, it was time for training but there was a problem. There was an en-suite in that spare bedroom but the flushing mechanism on the toilet was broken. Once the toilet was flushed, the water kept coming and coming.

At some stage that night, the toilet was flushed.

"Sure enough," says Townsend, "I'm coming downstairs the next morning and just here this water flowing. I open the door to the snooker room and, I kid you not, there's a hole in the ceiling, about three-foot round. There's water pissing out of the ceiling and the snooker table has been f***ing destroyed. The balls are floating about.

"All of a sudden, Gazza is coming down the stairs and he can hear the noise too. 'What? What is that?!'

"I shut the doors and tell him not to worry about it. We need a plumber, yes, but we've got to go to work. But, as soon as I mentioned the plumber, he's twigged that the guy upstairs has flushed the dodgy loo. 'That f***ing idiot!'"

Townsend was trying to get Gascoigne out the door to training, thinking of what plumber they could call and keeping Gascoigne from completely unloading on the poor taxi driver, who had not known his flush would cause such carnage.

There was no stopping Gascoigne from assessing the damage, though.

"One of the funniest things I've ever seen," he recalls, "Gazza is in his flip flops. He drops his training bag down and squelches his way across the room. There's all shit and dust and plaster, and horrible crap all over the snooker table.

"Gazza gets the triangle down from off the light, gets all the reds together and he's trying to f***ing set the balls back up!

"He takes the triangle off, and all the reds start floating away on the water. And I went, 'What are you doing? What are you f***ing doing?!'"

Townsend said that snooker table incident was just a taste of a "scream" of a time living with Paul Gascoigne.

"I played against the best Gazza, when he was with Spurs, and he was always the man to watch," he says. "We never got to quite see the best of him at Middlesbrough but, every now and then, flashes of this brilliance would just come out... he was amazing."

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