Interview: Peter Marinello on going from Logie Green Road to London’s bright lights and the ‘culture’ of 70s football

Former Hibs, Arsenal, Motherwell and Hearts star Peter Marinello on Boscombe beach near his home in Bournemouth. Picture Andy Hooper/Rex
Former Hibs, Arsenal, Motherwell and Hearts star Peter Marinello on Boscombe beach near his home in Bournemouth. Picture Andy Hooper/Rex
Have your say

We’re sharing stories about the Inspectors Cup, Peter Marinello and me. This competition for Edinburgh’s Primary 7 schoolboys sounded
like it might have been named after the stern officials who checked us for head lice but it was the one to win, no doubt about that, except Marinello’s St Joseph’s didn’t. “We were beaten in the final by Stenhouse and didn’t even get losers’ medals,” explains the mercurial wingman from yesteryear. “We were each given a bar of Milky Way.”

“I’ve got a more tragic tale than that,” I say. “A few years later my school, 
Flora Stevenson, played St Joseph’s who by then had another Marinello hugging the right touchline. Chris Shevlane, your team-mate at Hibs, was in the crowd and we were convinced we were going to lift the cup and all get scouted for the Hibees. But we were walloped 15-1 and the Marinello boy scored eight.”

“That would be my cousin Tony,” he chuckles. “I tried to get him trials at all of my clubs. He was a good wee player but, ach, he just didnae have the application… ”

Marinello would know a bit about that. A few years ago he penned a lurid autobiography which had a front cover in the style of a screaming tabloid and the pull-out quote: “I squandered my talent. I pissed most of it up against the wall. I’m the guy who wrote the manual of How Not To Do It.”

Fanfared as the new George Best, he arrived at Arsenal from Hibs, a record-breaking £110,000 worth of pretty-boy looks, groovy hair and swerving dribbles, and a director of the London club declared that they’d just signed a Beatle. But the boy from the prefabs didn’t quite become the Fab Fifth. Wingers by nature go their own way, often plotting circuitous paths, and Marinello in his personal life disappeared down the darkest of alleys, more of which later. But first, the cup…

Not the Inspectors Cup – sadly, we have probably exhausted that topic – but the Scottish Cup. Motherwell host Hearts in the quarter-finals tomorrow and Marinello played in the tournament for both. His Hearts experience need not detain us; in almost a mirror-image of his Hibs experience, the Jambos of 1981-82 scraped through an opening-round trip to the mighty East Stirlingshire only to wimp out in their next round, in Hearts’ case to Forfar Athletic. But his Motherwell side made rather more of a go of it.

In ’75-’76 the Steelmen were two-nil down to Jock Stein’s Celtic but in front of 25,000 crammed inside Fir Park, they roared back to win. The next round sent them to Cowdenbeath, Marinello scoring in the victory to set up a titanic quarter-final against old club Hibs. Three games were required, our man sparking the comeback at neutral Ibrox which then sent Motherwell into a semi-final clash with Rangers.

“I’m sure older Motherwell fans remember what happened only too well,” says Marinello, now exiled in Bournemouth. “We were two-nil up and it could have been four but then Derek Johnstone did a Brian Phelps for a penalty and they went on to win. It was outrageous. On the coach coming away from Hampden the radio played the Eagles’ One of These Nights. It should have been ours.

“That was a fine Motherwell team. Joe Wark was Mr Dependable, Peter Millar was a big, strong boy who we called “Doomie”, after Pte Fraser in Dad’s Army, because he was a born pessimist, and every Thursday Pat Gardner would arrive at Fir Park with a box of smokies.

“Then up front we had [Willie] Pettigrew and [Bobby] Graham. If I was on my game we were some strike force. Bobby was one of the cleverest guys I played alongside and Willie was mustard in the box, faster than me and I was quick, although he was nothing like as good-looking. And Willie McLean was one of my favourite managers. He let me go out on the park and express myself – not all of them did.”

This is the second time in our chat that Marinello will reference Olympic diver Phelps – it was the nickname given to the late Eric Stevenson over on the left wing during Marinello’s three seasons at Easter Road. “Eric was my mentor and the guy who introduced me to Bacardi. Sadly, when I come back to Scotland these days it’s for funerals.”

That’s the second time he’s mentioned booze. It was “the culture” at Hibs and Arsenal and, he reckons, everywhere else. This was how footballers refuelled, how they celebrated success, how they marked ordinary Tuesdays. The wild times behind him, Marinello’s 68th birthday a few days ago was a quieter affair. After keeping some questionable company, he’s now more than happy to surround himself with family. He’s proud of his wife Joyce for continuing to battle a bipolar disorder and of the youngest of his two sons: “Jon was into heroin in a big way but he’s been ten years clean and now runs his own plumbing business.” And he’s kept busy by the grandsons: school runs, babysitting, a bit of tuition in the art of shoulder-dropping. Marinello’s bawbees from the game amount to a League Cup runners-up medal with Hibs – that Milky Way was grumpily consumed at the time – and he cannot even show off his shirt from his debut with Scotland Under-23s, having misplaced it amid a night of passion with a former belle of George Best following the match against England at Roker Park. “The oldest grandson, Matthew, is ten and a rare wee player. He’s not got my ball skills but he’s a toughie and loves tackling, something I never did. The other day he said: ‘Grandpa, are there any teams you haven’t played for?’ One day I’ll tell them the whole story of my career, just not yet.”

It’s a hair-raising tale involving a Nigerian tour just as the 1967 Biafran War was breaking out, when the Hibs party were suspected of being British paratroopers in disguise and forced to fly so low to avoid being shot down that they almost brushed treetops – all before Marinello was kidnapped by warpainted tribesmen who’d accused him of vandalising a canoe. This was also when, courtesy of big-hearted team-mates who’d stumped up the necessary funds, he lost his virginity.

The yarn begins when ’Nello, as part of the famous Salvesen juvenile club in his native Edinburgh, was invited down to Port Vale by manager Stanley Matthews. The grand wizard of the wing was wowed by the 15-year-old and would make three trips north in his Jaguar hoping to sign him. “He caused quite a commotion in our cul-de-sac. My mum gave him loads of tea and cake. He offered a £3,000 signing-on fee and £40 a week, which was twice what my dad was earning as a barman. But I didn’t want to go. I was too young to leave home, didn’t like the look of the Potteries and just wanted to sign for Hibs where I was training two nights a week. The last time Stanley visited I hid in my bedroom.”

If you think Marinello paints a quaint picture of football life in the 1960s, how about this: “The day I found out I was leaving Hibs I came out of my folks’ house in Logie Green Road but had missed getting a lift with Peter Cormack who was a great trainer, always there sharp, and so was waiting on the bus. Can you imagine today’s footballers standing at a bus stop? This horn tooted. It was Arthur Duncan. ‘What are you doing here, Arthur?’ I said. ‘You should be at Partick Thistle.’ ‘Haven’t you heard?’ he said. ‘I’m signing for Hibs and you’re going to Arsenal’.”

Mind you, this was 1969 – not that quaint. Marinello was a regular in the city’s boutiques and discotheques with a fan club of screaming schoolgirls down by Easter Road’s main terrace wall. A posse of young Edinburgh-born footballers, including fellow-Hibee John Murphy, Sandy Jardine who Marinello knew as Billy and Dundee’s Jim Steele, used to congregate in a private room at comedian Chic Murray’s hotel. Marinello provided the Dansette and beer was delivered via rope and pulley. “But then Jimmy Brown of Hearts told too many folk and that was the end of our drinking den.” Hibs manager Bob Shankly was more tolerant of the socks-down winger’s rascally ways. “Though a favourite line of his was: ‘Christ, Peter, we needed two balls out there today: one for you and one for the rest of the team’.” Less so Shankly’s successor Willie MacFarlane. “He said I was out of control but that Hibs couldn’t turn down the money.

“Success came a bit too quick. I was burning the candle at both ends and bevvying too much. But I didn’t want to leave Hibs: we had a smashing team with Peter, Eric, Pat Stanton, the young John Blackley and although Colin Stein had been sold, Joe McBride was banging in the goals. We played five up front, the Christmas tree formation turned upside down. We’d beaten Celtic and Rangers away and were leading the league at the halfway point. We could have won it. Then I was spirited away to London: chauffeur-driven, bundled into a side entrance at Highbury to escape the reporters, feeling like a bloke on the run. I wasn’t yet 19, far from streetwise and not wanting to let anyone down. I was always the guy who couldn’t say no.”

He made a sensational start at Arsenal, scoring 15 minutes into his debut at Manchester United. A step up for the lad? “Not really. I wondered what all the fuss was about. Hibs were better than both these teams.” His goal had come at the Stretford End and perhaps home fans were speculating on the young Scot usurping their pop-star No 7 but Marinello smiles: “There was, and only ever will be, one Georgie Best. He was suspended that day – for punching the ball out of a ref’s hands – but we played against each other at Highbury. I remember whipping the ball off him – and him just as quickly getting it back off me.

“He could have been quite annoyed by this toerag who was supposed to be the new George Best but he was very supportive in an article where he warned me about becoming 
public property and how everyone would want a piece of me. He was still learning to live with that and he wished me luck.”

Already having a one-night stand in common, the pair came to share a dressing-room at Fulham. “George’s roadshow with Rodney Marsh was nearing an end and [manager] Bobby Campbell wanted me to replace him. Then guess where George went next? Hibs. I told him: ‘They’re a fantastic club. You’ll love it there.’ He continued to train at Fulham but always phoned me to check what it entailed. ‘Please tell me there’s no running today, Peter.’ ‘You’re all right, George, just fives.’ One win at Hibs was going to earn him £1,500 and two in a row would 
double his money. ‘That bloody Ally Brazil,’ he said the next week. ‘I beat three men and crossed from the byline and all he had to do was pass the ball into the net. He’s cost me £5,000!’”

Back at Arsenal, Best’s prediction had come true. Marinello advertised milk, ghosted a newspaper column, reviewed records for Melody Maker (moving with the times, he approved of the difficult prog-rock of Van Der Graaf Generator), handed out prizes to the best dancers on Top of the Pops and modelled fab gear with Lulu. “I was asked if I wanted to write a book. ‘But I’ve only been here for ten minutes,’ I said. There was talk of a film. And [top songwriting duo] Tony Hatch and Jackie Trent wanted me to make a record but then they heard me sing.

“All that stuff was fun but it was too much. I went to a Danny La Rue show. He spotted me and announced my name from the stage but I just ran out of the theatre. I did stupid things. Me and Alan Ball got drunk at Newmarket and bought a racehorse. When Joyce found out my stake cost me more than we’d paid for our house she quite rightly emptied a plate of spaghetti bolognese over my head.

“I got too showbizzy and it detracted from the football. Again I couldn’t say no. Arsenal were a big drinking club just like Hibs and I didn’t ever miss a night out. I know I infuriated [coach] Don Howe. If I lost the ball I’d stand with my hands on my hips waiting for it to come back to me. ‘You bloody useless teapot!’ he’d roar at me.

“We had a laugh about that before he died. ‘I might have got it wrong with you,’ he said. ‘Maybe I should have let you play your own game’.”

Frustrated at barely figuring in the Gunners’ double-winning season of ’70-’71, Marinello flounced off to 
Portsmouth. “That was a mistake – Arsenal didn’t want me to go, said I was still a player for the future, although I’d already been there three years and was beginning to feel a bit like an ornament.” Bigger errors of judgment, though, were to come.

While at Hearts he began various business ventures including a pub and a nightclub, but got involved with the wrong people. “Football cocoons you from the world,” he says. “Everything is agreed on a handshake and no one cheats you. Unfortunately that’s not the case outside. After my first partner left me in the sh*t, I got involved with a conman. I was too trusting.

“I was declared bankrupt and ended up living in Butlin’s in Skegness. I was there so long the camp offered me a job. My sons weren’t complaining – they had different girlfriends every week. I’d pinned my last hopes on an investment in Spain but that turned to dust as well.”

With a minder, Marinello tracked down the fellow who’d ripped him off. They’d brought along a gun which, thankfully, wasn’t fired. He was desperate, but that would have been disastrous. In his hour of need, though, an old friend and a good one heard about his plight and left him £400 and the keys to his house in Bournemouth. He and the family have been there ever since.

There’s just time for one more Scottish Cup anecdote. Motherwell were drawn against St Mirren and quickly found themselves targeted by Alex Ferguson who’d just come through Level 1 in Psychological Wind-Up. “‘Marinello only plays one good game in four,’ he said. Well, I wasn’t bad that day and we won, which he was big enough to acknowledge afterwards.

“Mind you, I’ve heard that when Wayne Rooney started being big news at Manchester United, Fergie threw a copy of my book at him. He’s supposed to have said: ‘Read that and learn how not to make an arse of yourself!’”