Gordon Marshall recalls League Cup wins at Hearts

Former goalkeeper Gordon Marshall pictured at his home in Edinburgh. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Former goalkeeper Gordon Marshall pictured at his home in Edinburgh. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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WHAT a long career Gordon Marshall had between the posts – all the way from the 1950s when goalies were known as “custodians” and right through to the 1970s when art-house cinemas permiered a flick called The Goalkeeper’s Fear of the Penalty.

And I’ve got plenty of time to contemplate the length of service on the drive to his home through a west Edinburgh estate which seems to be taking me all the way to Glasgow.

Hearts training in Redford gym (L-R) Johnny Hamilton, Danny Ferguson and Gordon Marshall

Hearts training in Redford gym (L-R) Johnny Hamilton, Danny Ferguson and Gordon Marshall

Not quite, but the flat is situated a goal-kick from the Maybury roundabout where Marshall’s Hearts would transfer from team coach to open-top charabanc if they’d had a successful afternoon at Hampden. That team usually did, and three times in five seasons they brought back the League Cup. While the Jam Tarts have enjoyed three Scottish Cup triumphs since, their fans now sniffily refer to the League Cup as the “diddy” trophy, mainly because it’s the only thing arch-rivals Hibs have won in that period.

Marshall, 74, cannot understand the general downgrading of the competition, not least by Hearts, given that probably uniquely, the old club song references the League Cup. “We loved winning it,” he says. “In our day it began with sections, which kicked off the season in an exciting way, and the final was played in October, so you could have your first trophy in the cabinet when there were still leaves on the trees.” He’s sure the current side will be desperate to beat Inverness in today’s semi-final. “The League Cup is all they’ve got left to play for and it hasn’t been seen in Gorgie for 40 years.”

The flat is small, not least because of its occupant’s still-impressive 6ft 1ins. Marshall says there was some downsizing from a large family house nearby. He thought the reduction in space was too much but his wife Marion was keen that they move. Then five years ago she died of cancer. “I reckon she knew I was going to be on my own,” he says.

In the hallway, there’s confirmation of a sporting dynasty: a photographic triptych of sons Gordon and Scott, much-travelled footballers like their old man, now coaches at Motherwell and Norwich City respectively; and daughter Lesley, capped 56 times for Scotland at basketball. Lesley and Gordon both live in Edinburgh, the latter close by, although Marshall laughs: “I could pass oot on the carpet and he might not know about it!”

Gordon Marshall in action in 1963

Gordon Marshall in action in 1963

In the sitting-room he’s mounted the medals which place him among Hearts’ most-decorated, although one of the two League championship badges is missing. He’s laughing again. “I thought Marion might like to wear it round her neck and so one Christmas I gave it to her on a chain. But she got self-conscious about it between her boobs and it ended up in a drawer. After she died Lesley got it but she doesn’t wear it either!”

The big man is hugely likeable, cheery and modest. He struggles to nominate his greatest save but will happily recount his most horrible gaffe. To the question of whether you have to be mad to be a goalkeeper, he answers in the affirmative, only to then impress with his game intelligence, such as the manner in which Hibs’ Joe Baker would “bend” his runs en route to banging four past our man in a Scottish Cup tie. And he surprises you with his candour. After raving about his team-mates in maroon for the umpteenth time, I ask if thinks he won his medals easily and quickly reproach myself for being too cheeky. “No, you’re right, I did.

“Anybody could have played in goals for Hearts back then – the team were that good. I thought I was in heaven. Growing up in Edinburgh, Hearts were my team and [keeper] Jimmy Brown was my hero. But who signs for them at 16, gets called up at 17, makes his debut a few weeks later against Jackie Milburn in a floodlit friendly at Newcastle – then plays every game of a championship-winning season? It hadn’t been so long ago that I was playing street teams at Colinton Mains with my pals – The Road vs The Avenue and so on. And it hadn’t been too long before that when I was the last to be picked for football at my school: ‘Well, can you play goalie?’

“I tell, you it was a dream playing behind that magnificent Hearts side. They all wanted the ball and I felt like cutting it up so they each got a slice. Wee Jocky Robertson, Third Lanark’s keeper, was Hearts-daft. He used to say to me: ‘You’re such a lucky man. I’d play for the Hearts for nothin’. Every time we met it was: ‘Here’s the lucky man comin’.”

First for Marshall, nicknamed Larry after the host of STV’s One O’Clock Gang, there was the Terrible Trio. “Jimmy Wardhaugh was the daddy, the brains. He looked after the rest of the team, indeed the whole club, and got a grip of the young guys to teach them good habits in the hope they’d stay out of mischief.” What kind of mischief could a young guy get up to in the late 1950s? “Well, as a footballer you could get a wee bit of a ticket about yourself. There were burds … ”

His views on Willie Bauld might surprise some. “Willie was too easy going. He liked his fags and the bookies. But the worst thing you could do to him was kick him up the arse because he could destroy you. Hearts were first to play 4-2-4 in Scotland and I remember [assistant manager] Johnny Harvey trying out the system in a practice match at Paties Road when Willie wasn’t selected for the first team and in his bad mood he banged five past me. Great in the air, the Kenny Dalglish of his day, but Alex Young was better – although you cannae say that!”

Alfie Conn could hammer the old T-ball with fearsome power and had a just-minted joke for the dressing-room every day. “He loved his golf and there was the time he came back from Kilspindie and announced: ‘I’ve just been playing with a young comedian called Bruce Forsyth – that lad’ll go far’.” Marshall raves about John Cumming, too, and of course Dave Mackay. “Coming back from injury, Dave attracted 10,000 to a reserve game. Mind you that was also the debut of Gordon Smith, who we’d somehow acquired from Hibs. We always got given juice after training. ‘But it’s fizzy,’ said Gordon. His body was a temple. He wasn’t like we ordinary footballers. He had his roadhouse, his cottage in North Berwick and his Porsche – while I was taking the No 27 tram to Tynecastle. And Gordon mixed with Alfredo Di Stefano and Bobby Locke and had dinner with Brigitte Bardot.”

Enough about the original sex kitten; back to Jocky Robertson at Thirds. “I loved Jocky but at 5ft 3ins he had to dive for everything and so got great notices whereas I’d most often catch the ball and folk would go: ‘Ach, straight at the keeper.’ That used to scunner me because while it was true my height helped me, I knew my angles. I kept a wee diary, a dossier on opposing players, so if we were playing Clyde I knew where penalties would go, what their No 9 would do, coming in from the left.” Forsenic knowledge of the Bully Wee can only take a footballer so far, however, and there are only so many times a goalie will accept the hand-stamps of Rangers’ big South African bull Don Kitchenbrand as being “accidental”. Marshall was keen for a new challenge.

“Hearts were selling their stars. Dave Mackay and Alex Young had gone to England and I really fancied it there, too.” For £18,500, then, Marshall became Newcastle’s custodian. The timing seemed perfect, with the World Cup coming to England, and only Marion might have disagreed. “We’d just spent our first night in a lovely new bungalow in Corstorphine. I’m afraid I chickened out of telling her about the transfer and got my dad to phone!”

At this point Marshall also fancied an international career – for England. His father Roderick was Scottish but the eligibility rules were such that being born down south when the old man, a Gordon Highlander, was stationed in Aldershot meant he could only play for the Auld Enemy. Did this bother him? “No, I would have been happy playing for Scotland, and when Gordon was born I sent Marion back up the road so he’d qualify all right. But I wanted to play for England. I regarded myself as British and still do. Watching on TV, when Bobby Moore lifted that World Cup I had a tear in my eye just imagining being on the pitch.”

Marshall won three England under-23 caps but that was all. “I made a mess of my chances. I could have been there before Gordon Banks if I’d been able to handle international football, but I couldn’t. On away trips you have too much time on your hands and I just didn’t know what to do with myself. I mucked up my last under-23s game, a 4-4 draw with Scotland at Ibrox when Denis Law gave the greatest display of inside-forward play I’ve ever seen, and in the end I think I was relieved when it was all over.”

By the way, it’s a myth that Marshall gave Gordon the middle name of Banks after the ’66 hero to encourage his laddie to become a goalkeeper. “It was Marion’s maiden name,” he confirms. So who was the better No 1, father or son? “Maybe I was more natural but Gordon worked harder at the game than I did and thought about it more.” What, even though he kept secret files on centre-forwards? “I got blase and stopped working at Newcastle. I was believing my own publicity. Every now and then you’ve got to give yourself a kick up the arse – you can’t just dauner through life – and I forgot to do that.”

Although he won the old English Second Division with the Magpies, Marshall would be sold to Notts Forest midway through Newcastle’s Inter-Cities Fairs Cup-winning season, his fortunes further plummeting when he was dumped into the third team. “I think I was probably depressed at Forest. I remember watching an amateur game where the big fat goalie was making mistakes but he was playing with a smile. I decided that if I got another chance I’d do the same.”

The chance came at Hibs, with Marshall part of a side which he thought, after wins at Parkhead, Ibrox and Tynecastle in quick succession, could win the league – only for the Easter Road board to be just as happy to sell as their Hearts counterparts, and with the Peters, Marinello and Cormack, went their chances. A brief stint at Celtic was followed by a slightly longer one at Aberdeen, then six years at Arbroath, and he finally hung up the gloves at 41. “I wished I didn’t have to stop playing because I loved the game but also because becoming a newsagent meant bloody 5.30am starts.” His shop in Edinburgh’s Haymarket doubled as a hairdresser’s, with Gordon briefly running the salon when a leg-break early on with Rangers interrupted his football.

Let’s not forget about that hat-trick of League Cups; custodian Larry certainly doesn’t. “They were all great wins and after each one we took the open-top bus to McVitie’s at Edinburgh’s West End for a swell party.” A 5-1 triumph over Partick Thistle in 1958 got Hearts’ regular function-suite booking under way. “That was an easy one – I got a suntan that day. Just before kick-off a little lad in a maroon tammy toddled onto the pitch and gave me a cardboard copy of the cup.”

Back at Hampden the following year, the Jam Tarts beat Third Lanark 2-1, although Marshall admits: “I made a game of that final. Second minute, I hadn’t touched the ball and I went up for a big lob that I thought would be a dolly only to lose it in the sun or the Hampden Swirl or something.” He owns up to a few more of those in his epic career, the most embarrassing being for Newcastle, depriving the team of a win over Man U in the last minute – “the worst thing was we were the big game on Match of the Day.” And then there was the freakish goal which wasn’t, ensuring Hearts would win their last League Cup 40 seasons ago.

“Here’s my version of events. We were beating Kilmarnock 1-0. Norrie Davidson scored our goal and Willie Hamilton was running the show. What a harem-scarem guy Willie was. Never discussed football, turned up for a Scottish League trip overseas with only a toothbrush and probably spent the whole of the two-month shutdown during a bad winter in the pub – but with a ball at his feet he was an absolute wizard and tricks like that one by Gary Mackay-Steven last week were routine. Anyway, towards the end Killie were hammering us. In the last minute they got a free-kick which was wellied in, Frank Beattie went up and tried to punch the ball but missed, and it floated over my hands and into the net. We were sick but then the ref, Tiny Wharton, said: ‘Mr Marshall, it’s a free-kick.’ He’d penalised Frank for intention to handle. What a brave decision!”

Hearts’ League Cup luck ran out after that, but as the plaques on the sideboard confirm, these victories are much-cherished. Maybe anybody could have played in goal, but it was Gordon Marshall who did.