NEWCASTLE United and England legend Paul Gascoigne is to make a sensational return to the pitch to help cash-strapped Darlington FC.
Gascoigne’s agent last night confirmed the star’s plan to play in a money-spinning friendly game next month.
Quakers manager Dave Penney has organised the game with his assistant, Martin Gray, to raise money for the club, which was placed in administration in February.
The game at The Northern Echo Darlington Arena will pitch the club’s 1999-2000 playoff finalists against a side packed with famous names past and present from the region.
Among those already linedup are former Darlington stars Marco Gabbiadini and Bernie Slaven, ex-Sunderland defender Kevin Ball and Middlesbrough manager Gareth Southgate.
Five fans’ places will also be sold to the highest bidders.
Penney said: “We’re delighted stars such as Bernie and Gareth, along with his senior staff, are prepared to help Darlington.
“The game will be fantastic entertainment and a superb end to the season. We hope to get a big crowd at the game – it will be a great day out for all the family.”
Gazza last played a professional game in 2004. The same year, he was one of the stars who pulled on a shirt to play a fundraising match the last time Darlington went into administration.
Then, more than 14,000 fans turned out to watch an array of star players, including Kenny Dalglish, Bryan Robson, Chris Waddle and Peter Beardsley.
But it was Gazza who stole the show in an entertaining match that raised £100,000 – enough to ensure the club’s survival.
Gascoigne is widely regarded as the most gifted footballer of his generation.
He won an array of accolades, an FA Cup winners medal, 57 full England caps, and had spells with Newcastle United and Middlesbrough.
Since he retired, Gascoigne had a brief spell as manager of Kettering Town, but has been plagued by a number of personal problems.
He has undergone therapy for bulimia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder and alcoholism.
Last year, he was sectioned under the Mental Health Act following an incident at Newcastle’s Malmaison Hotel.
Last month, in an emotional radio interview, he described how his drug-induced paranoia led him to insanity and that his heart failed three times.
He also revealed he has been in contact with Argentina coach Diego Maradona and that he would love to return to management at Newcastle United.
Last night, his agent, Stuart Skinner, said Gascoigne was working in the gym to return to fitness and hoped to play “ten to 15” minutes of the game in Darlington on May 3.
Christine Balford, commercial director of Darlington Football Club, said: “Gazza’s profile is very high and that is what we need. We are delighted he has agreed to play.”
Ms Balford added: “Dave and Martin have done fantastically well to organise this game and attract big names to The Northern Echo Darlington Arena. We hope the crowd will be the biggest of the season.”
Tickets, which go on sale on Friday, will be £10 for adults and £5 for children. Corporate and sponsorship packages will also be available. For more details, call 01325-387000.