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The overlooked tale of how Tony Cascarino brought Marseille back from the brink

After Steven Fletcher’s recent loan move to the French club, we look back on a strange and remarkable story.

WHEN TONY CASCARINO joined Chelsea in 1992, he was booed on his debut. One day, his son came home from school after chatting to his friends. He had a question for his father.

“You’re not very good Dad, are you?”

Cascarino looked for sanctuary down south after a confidence-sapping time with Celtic, under his former agent Liam Brady.

Signed for 1 million pounds, Cascarino scored four times in 30 appearances. After one particularly poor display in a thumping European loss, Brady was incensed with his big-money signing.

Source: WILLIE COLLOW/YouTube

“What the fuck is going on, Tony? I’ve never seen you play so badly”, he roared.

“Yeah, I dunno. I was just crap,” Cascarino replied.

When he was finally off-loaded in an exchange with Tommy Boyd, Celtic fans couldn’t believe their luck. At their next home game, the chant that rang around Parkhead was ‘Let’s all laugh at Chelsea, let’s all laugh at Chelsea, na-na-na-na’.

Cascarino was going nowhere fast, his career drifting hopelessly into the distance. His spell at Stamford Bridge was an unmitigated failure and his general mindset at the time could be summed up in a single anecdote.

He had been named as a substitute for the Republic of Ireland’s crucial World Cup qualifier against Northern Ireland at Windsor Park in November 1993.

With Jack Charlton’s side trailing, Cascarino was summoned from the bench with about fifteen minutes to go. As he unzipped his tracksuit top, he suddenly remembered something: he’d left his jersey hanging in the dressing-room. He looked down at his white cotton t-shirt and turned to face the music. Upon telling Charlton, the response was largely inevitable.

“His face turned purple”, Cascarino later wrote in his autobiography Full-Time.

“I thought he was going to have a heart attack. ‘You fucking idiot!”

Source: Harry316/YouTube

Then, Alan McLoughlin scored. The TV cameras cut to the sideline as Charlton turned away from the pitch. In the foreground is a bemused, slightly dazed-looking Cascarino, finally reunited with his jersey.

Looking for a club again in the summer of 1994, he found a kind-of soul mate in France.

Marseille were just as battered and bruised as he was.

With a megalomaniac (Bernard Tapie) in control, the club had won four Ligue 1 titles in a row (later stripped of their 1993 triumph), claimed a domestic double in 1989 and were crowned Champions League winners in 1993. But twelve months later, they were preparing to ply their trade in the second tier of French football, disgraced and banished following a match-fixing scandal. They couldn’t make any transfers but Cascarino was a free agent and they snapped him up.

What followed was scarcely believable. He scored a goal in his first five games and didn’t really stop scoring throughout his two and a half years at the club.

In 1994/95, Cascarino netted 31 times in the second division as Marseille won the title but were refused promotion to the top-flight as the investigation into the club’s off-field practices continued.

The following season, Cascarino just repeated the same trick. He scored thirty goals and though Marseille were pipped to the championship by Caen, they were allowed to play in Ligue 1 for the start of the 1996/97 campaign.

Still, despite single-handedly pushing his side back to the promised land, Cascarino was quickly discarded by OM as investment from new owner Robert Louis-Dreyfuss led to the capture of the exciting youngster Reynald Pedros and 1994 World Cup cult hero Yordan Letchkov amongst others.

At the end of the season, Cascarino moved to Nancy, a smaller French club, and continued to score goals – this time, against the country’s elite teams.

There was a hat-trick in just his second game and would finish his time there, in 2000, after over 100 league appearances and 44 league goals, with a champagne reception at the city hall as he picked up the Medaille D’Or – the highest honour the city bestows.

Throughout six years in France, Cascarino rescued his career. At Marseille in particular, his scoring rate propelled the wounded and weary club back to the big time though his immense contribution is oft-forgotten.

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About the author:

Eoin O'Callaghan

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