Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Thursday February 25 2010
One of the oft lamented perceptions of the modern game is of the "baby Bentley" culture. Young footballers being rewarded far too lucratively far too early in life, leaving them insulated and cocooned from the travails of the real world, symptoms of this manifest themselves in swollen egos and a sense of entitlement. Usually the consequences are unfulfilled talent and underwhelming careers, some young players wilt under the spotlight and are crushed by the hype, others become too accustomed to their own publicity, all are lambasted as being party to a modern cultural defect. However, this is by no means a modern phenomenon restricted to the days of Sky television and six figure weekly salaries. This brings me nicely to the career of Peter Marinello.
Marinello was a typical working class lad from Edinburgh. Like most working class kids from Edinburgh, the young Peter would pass every free minute he had available to him by kicking a football around. The young Marinello showed adeptness from a very early age and was signed up by Salvesen Boys Club at the age of 10. Salvesen had a reputation as one of Scotland`s finest juvenile sides and was something of a cradle of talent for the city`s big clubs, Hibernian and Heart of Midlothian. Marinello excelled at Salvesen and had to adjust to attention during the early phase of his adolescence, none more so than at the age of 15 after he single handedly demolished Port Vale`s youth team, Stanley Matthews, who was Vale manager at the time, would come to watch Marinello play and persistently tried to sign him for the Staffordshire side. Marinello was a shy lad, fond of his home comforts and so refuted Matthews` advances, even going to far as to turn down a £3,000 signing on fee and a wage of £40 a week as a 15 year old. Marinello was reluctant to leave home, but used the interest to cultivate the attentions of local club Hibernian, who signed him soon after.
Even as a callow youth, Marinello`s progress accelerated. He virtually skipped above the level of a Youth Team player and was swiftly playing in the Reserves as a 16 year old. He found fine form in the Reserve side too and by the age of 17, he was a regular in the Hibs first team. After superb solo goals against Rangers and Celtic, the publicity on Scotland went into overdrive, owing to his status as a maverick winger with a long mane of shaggy brunette hair, he was already being fitted into the made for measure "George Best of Scotland" tag. Marinello has subsequently outlined the booze culture which he was bred on in 1970s Scottish football. "Win or lose, have some booze" was an unofficial club motto. Marinello was getting a taste of the hard working, hard drinking, hard gambling culture of the 70s footballer whilst still in his teenage years. So, in the summer of 1970, when the bright lights of London came calling in the shape of a £100,000 transfer to Arsenal, Marinello felt he had made it.
The London media`s hyperbole machine cranked into overdrive. London finally had its answer to George Best. The working class, lank haired wing Lothario who could down pints with the same veracity he could full backs. Is already burgeoning reputation was sent into orbit after a fine solo goal on his debut against Manchester United. Football`s new playboy was attracting attention away from the pitch. Modelling offers followed, as well as a guest appearance on Top of the Pops, he opened nightclubs and also had an offer from a major record company to record a pop song. (Marinello now jokes that 70s technology wasn`t sophisticated enough to honey soothe his vocal chords). Nowadays, a team of slick suited, lascivious super agents and advisors would handle such affairs for young footballers, but in the early 70s, Marinello was left at largesse to deal with the attention on his lonesome. The young player began to get frustrated with his manager Bertie Mee however. Mee attempted to assuage Marinello by assuring him that he had been bought with the future in mind, hence his sporadic playing time. But Marinello did eventually begin to get a run in the side after an injury to Charlie George, but serendipity was not with Marinello as he developed a knee cartilage problem, causing him to sit out five months of the season. Of course, Arsenal went onto win the League and F.A. Cup double with Arsenal`s maverick celebrity, in a team renowned for its dourness, looking on from the sidelines.
In 1971-72, Marinello began to get more opportunities in the side. However, with the beam of attention firmly on him from a media eager for his superstar good looks and idiosyncratic playing style to be the equal of Best`s, the young Scot under whelmed. The young lad who ran upstairs to hide in his bedroom when Stanley Matthews had arrived in town found no such solace on the Highbury turf. However, something of a turning point in Marinello`s fledgling career should probably have arrived in April 1972, when Arsenal faced the mighty Ajax Amsterdam in the European Cup Quarter Final. The Gunners ran that legendary Dutch side very close with Marinello a star performer. So much so that he was singled out for praise by Johan Cruyff. What should have been a compliment only served to heap further pressure onto Marinello, which he clearly found difficult to handle. To this day, Marinello shrugs off Cruyff`s effusive praise, remembering instead a chance he had missed to put Arsenal through. "I am still reminded of that moment by Arsenal fans" he chimes wearily. But Marinello`s off the pitch exploits were taking their toll too, with tales of heavy drinking and heavy gambling. Then his wife Joyce gave birth to baby Paul in August 1972. Again, what should have been a positive turning point morphed itself into a negative one. Hard luck seemed to be latching itself onto his coat tails.
Joyce suffered an intense post natal depression and would consequently suffer episodes of manic depression thereafter, a condition which persists to this day. Marinello admits his lifestyle of drinking and betting was hardly helpful to his prone wife. Marinello became increasingly frustrated and forced through a move to Portsmouth in 1973. Arsenal`s next boy wonder had played 51 games and scored 5 goals. For a player vaunted as the new George Best, it was a very modest record. Marinello maintains that it was the biggest mistake he made in his career.
'At first, I found everything so different at Highbury from what I was used to, but I really regret not staying at Arsenal. I could see the chance to make a proper breakthrough with the Double-winning team splitting up, but I was just too impulsive back then and went after the money.'
Thereafter, a promising career ambled into mediocrity. Troubled by the pressure to fill the boots of George Best- on and off the pitch- as well as having to look after his young son and severely depressed wife, Marinello`s performances grew ever more listless and moments of brilliance were increasingly sporadic. He survived only two mediocre years at Portsmouth before acquiescing to the relative anonymity of Motherwell in the Scottish First Division. His career continued to amble from pillar to outpost, taking in short spells at Canberra City in Australia, then Fulham- where he ironically lined up alongside an ageing George Best- before again leaving the bright lights of London where his lifestyle was wont to spiral into decadent drinking and gambling. He again went searching for anonymity as he joined Phoenix Inferno in the U.S.A, before disjointed spells at Hearts and Partick Thistle brought the curtain down on a career that had promised so much and delivered so little.
The ingredients of media scrutiny, the playboy lifestyle that was given to him at a young age, then followed by a troubled domestic life all became too much to bear. Marinello`s career path is notable in its up and down trajectory, as soon as he found himself performing at a good level again, he would seek solace in the footballing outbacks of Australia or America. His career was blighted by the immense hype that bookmarked its beginnings; he spent the rest of his career trying to run away from the attention. But life had no intention of being quiet for Marinello, even in retirement he found controversy stalking him at every corner.
Following retirement in 1984, Marinello went into business with an old friend, pursuing the tried and tested ex footballers` route of purchasing a pub. The name of the bar- Marinello`s- won no prizes for originality but initially it looked to be a successful venture. Marinello and his business partner successfully converted a house into a profitable local pub in Edinburgh. Buoyed by success as a publican, Marinello became ambitious and opened a nightclub. But Marinello was ripped off by his business partner to the tune of £300,000. The Scot buried his problems in a torrent of drinking and gambling. He owed a large debt to a local gangster and even had to go so far as buying a gun to protect himself. Another business associate suggested an escape route for Marinello by inviting him to invest in a bar in Spain, enabling him to run abroad as trouble with local undesirables was in danger of escalating. In desperation, Marinello wired the monies to the seemingly concerned business associate, who also suggested Marinello hide out at the Skegness Butlins resort until the investment was ready. By now, Peter`s wife was being treated full time for depression, leaving him to look after his two children, residing in a third rate British holiday resort all the time fearing the wrath of gangsters. Another old friend heard of Marinello`s plight and lent him £400 and the keys to his Pierre d`terre in Bournemouth, where Marinello fled to with his mother and two children signed onto the dole. Eager for his last ditch Spanish investment to materialise, Marinello tried desperately to contact his business associate who was thought to be looking after the investment. After finally managing to make contact, the silent partner informed Marinello that the investment was ready and that a car would be sent for him and his family to whisk them off to the airport for the next flight to Marbella. The car never arrived, the flight was a fictitious product of the imagination and Marinello had lost another £110,000. Marinello went looking for the assailant with his handgun until the police intervened with a stiff warning.
But worse was to come. After being handed a bankruptcy order in 1994, Marinello`s son Jon became addicted to heroin. On one occasion, Peter even had to buy drugs for his hopelessly addicted son, feeling wracked with guilt that the traumatic nomadic lifestyle had been a contributing factor. With Marinello embarrassed by having to declare his farcical business dealings in court, whilst looking after a manically depressed spouse and heroin addicted son, the quiet life he had been trying to achieve since being hyped up as the next George Best seemed as though it could never eventuate. A semblance of calm has come to Marinello`s life following the storm. He now cares for his wife full time in Dorset and had a stint coaching Parkbury in the Bournemouth amateur leagues, until a hip replacement put paid to his ability to undertake training sessions. His son Jon has been clean of drugs for some years, the calm and quiet he has been looking for seems to have finally found him. Marinello is remarkably chipper about his experiences, referring to Arsenal as a "second family" he still sometimes works in the club hospitality areas and acknowledges in retrospect that it was he and not the club at fault for his slide into mediocrity.
He comes across as incredibly zen about his career, particularly at Arsenal where he has not a single bad word for Bertie Mee or Don Howe, instead admitting, "I wasn`t the most prolific of trainers and Geordie Armstrong played on the left wing and was a terrifically hard working player for the team. I was always a gambler, even as a player, taking on one opponent too many." Despite his short and underwhelming Arsenal career, Marinello maintains a fond attachment to Arsenal (he even once bought a racehorse with the late Alan Ball, which they called 'Go Go Gunner`), a gentlemanly disposition he maintains towards all the clubs he played, "I enjoyed playing for every club I signed for, especially Arsenal, Fulham and Motherwell, even at Portsmouth when we were struggling the fans were great.' Marinello`s is a tale of caution, that sometimes inestimable talent does not add up to becoming a great player at a big club, the focus and hyperbole has to be circumnavigated every bit as artfully as the sliding tackles and offside traps. Subsequent events in Marinello`s life taught him that the limelight isn`t always the most comfortable place to be. For Marinello, it was too much too young and set the pattern for an unpredictable life that not even his impudent swagger and elastic hips could escape.LD.
Date:Thursday February 25 2010
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