Re­mem­ber­ing when Kim­mage and Cas­carino made fresh starts

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In Septem­ber 1994, Paul Kim­mage joined the Sun­day In­de­pen­dent and trav­elled to Mar­seilles to meet Tony Cas­carino. Paul’s first fea­ture for the pa­per, un­der the head­line ‘Cas: l’his­toire recom­mence’, was pub­lished on Oc­to­ber 2. Al­though not in­cluded in our book, On The Sev­enth Day, the piece re­pro­duced here is typ­i­cal of the great sports writ­ing fea­tured in the newly-re­leased an­thol­ogy

TH­ESE are the facts: In the 15 games he has played for Olympique Mar­seilles this sea­son, Tony Cas­carino’s 20 goals make him the most suc­cess­ful striker in the his­tory of the only French club ever to have won the (a) Euro­pean Cup. Th­ese are the ques­tions: Is it pos­si­ble for a man to dis­cover his true po­ten­tial at the age of 32? Is the striker the fans loved to hate at As­ton Villa, Celtic and Chelsea a man re-born or mut­ton dressed up as (French) lamb?

Mar­seilles, Tues­day, 20:45: If see­ing is truly be­liev­ing then those who con­sider the French sec­ond divi­sion a re­tire­ment home for “fat-ar­sed Ir­ish c**ts” might take a trip along to the Stade Velo­drome on the Boule­vard Michelet the next time OM are in town. Tonight, the challengers are the cur­rent lead­ers of the Greek first divi­sion, Olympiakos. Hold­ing a 2-1 lead af­ter the away leg of this open­ing UEFA Cup tie, a ca­pac­ity 38,593 crowd have come to see their team ad­vance to the sec­ond round in style.

20:55: The game kicks off. Dogs let off the leash, Mar­seilles move im­me­di­ately on the at­tack much to the de­light of their fa­nat­i­cal sup­port. For two days the play­ers have been cooped to­gether in a ho­tel. This is a big game for the club, the big­gest per­haps they’ve played since that fa­mous night in Mu­nich in May last year when they de­feated AC Mi­lan in the fi­nal of the Euro­pean Cup . . . only to have the tro­phy taken away from them as a re­sult of a league bribery scan­dal. L’his­toire

recom­mence an­nounces L’Equipe on the morn­ing of the game. Bernard Tapie, the club’s con­tro­ver­sial pres­i­dent, would like to think so. Slap­ping his play­ers down the shoul­ders as he prances around like a mad-man in the dress­ing room be­fore the game, he of­fers his play­ers a bonus of five grand a man to win. And what Mon­sieur Tapie wants . . .

21:00: As French foot­ball teams, and in­deed cities, go, Mar­seilles is a case apart. There are three dif­fer­ent tribes of sup­port­ers: ‘Yan­kee’, ‘Fa­natic’ and ‘Ultra’. The Yan­kees, who sit in the north end of the ground, paint their faces in the club colours and are gen­er­ally mod­er­ate. Di­rectly op­po­site them, in the up­per ter­rac­ing be­hind the south fac­ing goal, stand the Fa­nat­ics and be­low them the Ul­tras. As their name sug­gests, the Ul­tras are by far the most fer­vent. Di­rected by a “leader” who, win­ter and sum­mer, di­rects the chants bare-chested with a hand held loud­speaker to his mouth, tonight in hon­our of Tony Cas­carino they’re wav­ing a gi­ant Ir­ish tri­colour. “At Mar­seilles, on aime les gars que se bat” (we like play­ers to give their all), an Ultra ex­plains af­ter the game. “Fiere d’etre Mar­seillese” (proud to be Mar­seil­laise) is writ­ten on his scarf.

21:15: From her seat in the stand, Sarah Cas­carino would no doubt find th­ese com­ments very amus­ing. Two years ago, when she was eight months preg­nant with their sec­ond son Teddy, she paid her first ever visit to Stam­ford Bridge. Not ex­actly an “Ultra” when it came to foot­ball, she didn’t go to watch him that of­ten . . . there was Michael to take care of. . . and the un­pleas­ant­ness of hav­ing to sit and lis­ten to the louts who per­pet­u­ally bad-mouthed her hus­band. At Villa and Celtic she hadn’t com­plained but such was the venom . . . “GET ‘IM OFF! CAS­CARINO YOU FAT-AR­SED IR­ISH C**T” . . . com­ing from the man sit­ting be­side her this day at Stam­ford Bridge that she de­cided to have a word. “Ex­cuse me, that’s my hus­band you’re talk­ing about. Would you mind re­frain­ing please?” she asked. “I’ve paid me money, I can say what I like,” the supporter replied. It was a long, long time be­fore she went back again.

21:25: Look­ing back, he isn’t sure what ex­actly went wrong over the last four years. Af­ter a cou­ple of sea­sons of mak­ing hay with Teddy Sher­ing­ham at Mill­wall, the har­vest wasn’t nearly as plen­ti­ful when he moved to As­ton Villa. Used to be­ing supplied, he sud­denly be­came a sup­plier. A very good player, David Platt didn’t al­ways ap­pre­ci­ate the sim­plic­ity of the square ball. The move to Celtic was a dis­as­ter from day one. He started badly, missed a few score­able chances and was ham­mered in the press. “Every day when I picked up the news­pa­per there was some ex-Celtic player hav­ing a go at me.” Nine months later he was ready to move south again, he had had enough.

They booed him on his de­but at Chelsea. He scored, was voted man-ofthe-match, then spent the next two years fight­ing con­tin­ual in­jury. Every time he played he had the sup­port­ers on his back.

21:35: There was a dif­fer­ent re­cep­tion await­ing him on the night he touched down in Mar­seilles: the re­porters wait­ing in the ter­mi­nal to ques­tion him, the pho­tog­ra­phers lin­ing up to take his pic­ture . . . they made him feel wanted, made him feel good. Nine days later, when he ran out in front of the Ul­tras, the Fa­nat­ics and Yan­kees, no one in­sulted his name. Un­bur­dened by the prej­u­dice that is rife in the English game, they en­cour­aged him, wished him well, thanked him for com­ing to Mar­seilles in their hour of great­est need. A man with no past and no rep­u­ta­tion, they would judge him on his per­for­mance. This was the key.

22:03: Ten min­utes into the sec­ond half the velo­drome erupts. Run­ning on to a pass from team-mate Fer­reri, Cas­carino’s beau­ti­fully bal­anced chip sends the Ul­tras into or­bit. “Quelle lu­cidite, quelle but in­tel­li­gent de la part du Cas­carino,” screams a French tele­vi­sion com­men­ta­tor.

“Fight­ing Tony a mar­que,” screams an­other. Down on the pitch the hero mod­estly ac­knowl­edges the ap­plause. It is, af­ter all, be­com­ing a habit.

THE move to Mar­seilles be­gan — as every de­ci­sion in­volv­ing Olympique de Mar­seilles does — with Bernard Tapie who wasn’t at all con­vinced (al­though he would un­doubt­edly tell you dif­fer­ently now) when Cas­carino’s name was first men­tioned to him by Jean-Louis Levreau, his right hand man. ‘Cask-a-kilo ???? No, the name means noth­ing to me . . . I hope you know what you’re do­ing, Jean-Louis,’ he warned be­fore agree­ing they should make an ap­proach.

Levreau, a for­mer jour­nal­ist, had learnt of Cas­carino’s avail­abil­ity from the English agent Denis Roche and re­mem­bered him from his ap­pear­ances for Ire­land dur­ing the Ital­ian World Cup. “He re­minded me a bit of Frank Sta­ple­ton (Fronk Stap-ell-ton),” Levreau said on Wed­nes­day. “Fac­ing a sea­son in the sec­ond divi­sion, I reck­oned we needed that type of player up front — a strong tar­get­man who would rat­tle de­fend­ers and wouldn’t be afraid . . . and who bet­ter than an Ir­ish­man?”

Who bet­ter in­deed . . . ex­cept that the Ir­ish­man in ques­tion wasn’t do­ing much rat­tling at the time. Four weeks into his sec­ond World Cup in Or­lando, the fi­nals were go­ing mis­er­ably for him. A calf in­jury sus­tained dur­ing the open­ing week in Or­lando not only ruled him out of Ire­land’s three first round games, but cast a shadow on his fu­ture. In­formed by Glenn Hod­dle at Chelsea that he was be­ing re­leased on a free trans­fer, he had trav­elled out de­ter­mined to put him­self in the shop win­dow and to prove his man­ager wrong.

But there weren’t many tak­ers for an in­jured bit-player. Read­ing were in­ter­ested. Notts County too. Kevin Sheedy phoned with an of­fer from Black­pool. “You should def­i­nitely sign for them,” John Sheri­dan laughed, “they’ve got a great big dip­per there.” Big Cass laughed too . . . but in­side he de­spaired. Twice a mil­lion pound trans­fer, how on earth had it come to this? Was it pos­si­ble he was worth­less overnight?

The tide turned a cou­ple of days be­fore the Dutch game. Denis Roche phoned with news of in­ter­est from Mar­seilles. He couldn’t be­lieve it at first. How could Mar­seilles, Euro­pean cham­pi­ons of the sum­mer be­fore, pos­si­bly be in­ter­ested in him? But when he re­mem­bered the league bribery scan­dal that had erupted in the wake of that Mu­nich vic­tory and the sanc­tions that had been im­posed — relegated to the sec­ond divi­sion and banned from spend­ing money on new play­ers — sud­denly it be­gan to make sense. They could have him for noth­ing. Af­ter stat­ing his terms to Denis Roche, he waited anx­iously for a re­ply. Home now af­ter the World Cup, the phone didn’t ring for days: “Maybe they don’t know I’m back,” he rea­soned, wor­ried the deal had fallen through. Sarah knew bet­ter: their son Michael’s swim­ming teacher knew they were back but she thought it kinder to say noth­ing.

Roche at last made con­tact. “Ev­ery­thing is set up,” he in­formed him, “but you must ring Bernard Tapie at his home in Paris to ar­range a meet­ing.” Not at all sure of what was wait­ing on the other end of the line, Cass picked up the phone. “MAR­SEILLES! . . . MAR­SEILLES! YOU MUST COME!,” the pres­i­dent screamed in bro­ken English. “Y-e-s I a-m v-e-r-y g-r-a-t-e-f-u-1 t-h-a-t y-o-u s-h-o-u-l-d a-s-k m-e t-o c-o-m-e,” Cas­carino replied meekly be­fore agree­ing to fly to Paris.

When they met the fol­low­ing day, Cas­carino’s first im­pres­sions were of Tapie’s en­ergy and fierce pas­sion for the club. “He asked me what sort of player I was . . . told me how he wanted the team to play. I tried to be my­self, tried to be hon­est . . . but I must ad­mit I had to lie when he asked me how many goals I had scored the sea­son be­fore. I mean, I couldn’t say ‘four’ now, could I?”

Levreau, and a bat­tal­ion of pho­tog­ra­phers and news­pa­per­men, were wait­ing for him when he ar­rived in Mar­seilles later that evening. Es­corted to the Con­corde Ho­tel, they sat down for a meal, signed the con­tract and, aware that he was still re­cov­er­ing from in­jury, asked if he could play for 20 min­utes in a friendly they had ar­ranged next day. “Sure,” said Cas, “no prob­lem.” Run­ning on for the last 20 min­utes, af­ter all, was a spe­cial­ity.

With just nine days to get ready be­fore the open­ing league game of the sea­son, Cas­carino pre­pared like never be­fore. The warm and sunny weather made him sweat, curbed his ap­petite. Switch­ing his fond­ness from coke to mineral wa­ter and from a few beers af­ter din­ner to a glass of wine with it, he be­gan to feel fit­ter, sharper. “Things are go­ing to be dif­fer­ent here,” Cas­carino told him­self. They were. One-nil down af­ter two min­utes against Le Mans, the home team were given a chance to draw level through a penalty in the 25th minute. French­man Jean-Marc Fer­reri, the team’s des­ig­nated kicker, stepped for­ward but was more than a lit­tle sur­prised when Cas­carino walked over to him and pulled the ball from his hands.

“I wasn’t on penos for the first game, I’ve never been the peno taker at any of my for­mer clubs but, I don’t know, I so wanted to do well here that I just walked up to Fer­reri, grabbed the ball, put it down and smashed it in the back of the net. I mean, it was such a good op­por­tu­nity to get off to a good start I had to take it. It was go­ing to be all or noth­ing here. I wanted to show peo­ple back in Eng­land, to stuff it up their arse.”

Tir­ing a lit­tle to­ward the end, he played well in a game they lost 3-2. The fol­low­ing week the team flew north to Brit­tany for an away game at St Brieuc. Re­duced to ten men for most of the sec­ond half, the score was 1-1 when Mar­seilles were awarded a penalty with six min­utes to go. Un­op­posed this time, Cas­carino again stepped for­ward and placed the ball on the spot. Bang! Two goals, two games. His third goal for the club was the most un­be­liev­able of all. An away game against Nancy, the ball was played up to him af­ter 15 min­utes. Head­ing it on, he watched as his team-mate up front, Marc Lib­bra, chal­lenged and headed it sky­ward again. “I ran at it from ten yards, watched it as it dropped then caught it first time and sent it scream­ing into the top cor­ner from 25 yards out.” Three goals in three games, he made it four goals in four; then five in five.

The sixth game was a ‘friendly’ against Ju­ven­tus. “The Ju­ven­tus game was eas­ily the most im­por­tant of the six I played. It was go­ing out live on Eu­rosport in France and Spain and I knew there would be a cou­ple of English news­pa­pers over to take a look.

Tapie was like thun­der in the dress­ing room be­fore it. I think he thought we were go­ing to get beat two or three-nil. He came over and slapped me on the chest to gee me up and near put my rib cage in . . . he was un­be­liev­able. But we won two-nil and I scored both goals and af­ter it he was all over me, giv­ing it the old ‘oh la-la Cas-car-rino’ and all this.” 23:30: There are no such things as play­ers’ lounges at any of the French grounds. Game over, the team dis­bands — work­ers clock­ing out of the fac­tory. Slip­ping into their car (a spon­sored Citroen Xan­tia) the Cas­cari­nos drive back to their ho­tel. Tony is elated. Sarah, just as pleased. Af­ter check­ing on the babysit­ter, they sit down in the ho­tel bar for a chat and a drink.

How come you’re do­ing things now, that you weren’t do­ing five years ago? “If I was to­tally hon­est, I’d have to say that I’m a lot more pro­fes­sional now then I was when I was 27. I’m fit­ter and lighter now than I was when I was 19 and I think that’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween the game in the two coun­tries. In Eng­land, if you are over­weight but take a drink and are one of the lads then you’re ac­cept­able. But in France it’s dif­fer­ent. In France, it’s not ac­cept­able to be un­pro­fes­sional — your team-mates will crit­i­cise you to your face, they con­sider you are let­ting them down.”

23:40: Ques­tions about his fu­ture. Given Tapie’s na­ture, has it oc­curred to you that while this week you are flavour of the month, next month it could be the op­po­site? “Yes, it has, I know what he’s like.”

And doesn’t that worry you? “No, not a bit. The thing about it is this: even if I was to score 50 goals and play un­be­liev­ably well be­tween now and the end of the sea­son, the chances are that Mon­sieur Tapie will still go out and buy the best cen­tre for­ward in Europe next year.”

And you have no prob­lem with that? “No, not at all . . . it’s a fact of life that ev­ery­body has to ac­cept at this club. Ev­ery­body. Hav­ing said that, per­haps the big­gest com­pli­ment they’ve paid me is that they’ve al­ready spo­ken to me about who they want to play along­side me next sea­son as if they have al­ready made up their mind to keep me. And to be kept here is an hon­our. One way or the other, I don’t see my­self ever play­ing in Eng­land again. My dream, to be hon­est, is to play in the fi­nal of the UEFA Cup and beat some Bri­tish club, just so I can make peo­ple sit up and ask ‘how on earth has all this come about?’.”

23:50: Ques­tions about Ire­land. When did you hear you weren’t in the squad? “Well, I first spoke to Mick Byrne . . . Mar­seilles had a game against Toulouse on the 11th (the day be­fore the Liecht­en­stein game) but I had cleared that with the club and it wasn’t go­ing to be a prob­lem so I told Mick what my sit­u­a­tion was and he said he would have a word with Jack. So we left it at that and the next thing was I got a call from Sean Con­nolly who said I should have a chat with Jack. I rang Jack and he told me he was leav­ing me out for this Liecht­en­stein game be­cause he felt he could quite com­fort­ably win it with a smaller squad.”

Were you sur­prised to get a call from Sean Con­nolly? “Em­mmm, yes! I was sur­prised in that . . . it was a bit of a sur­prise that peo­ple like Sean knew I was go­ing to be taken out of the squad . . . but I was just gen­er­ally sur­prised to have been left out.”

Who told you you were be­ing left out? “Jack”.

You didn’t know be­fore phon­ing Jack? “No . . . he just ex­plained that he was cutting the squad back for the Liecht­en­stein game and that he didn’t want to drag me all the way back from France. He said he wanted to look at Tommy (Coyne) and Dave Kelly but would have me back for the North­ern Ire­land game.”

You’re dis­ap­pointed? “Yes, I’d be ly­ing if I said I wasn’t. I mean, I know he prefers Niall (Quinn) but even if it is to sit on the subs’ bench, it’s im­por­tant for me to come over for any Ire­land game just to meet up with the lads again and to be in­volved, but it’s just been taken out of my hands”.

Don’t you find it a lit­tle ironic that dur­ing the lean times at Celtic and Villa you were scor­ing goals and a reg­u­lar on the squad and yet here you are in the best form of your life and you can’t get in? “Well yes, it is I sup­pose, but to be per­fectly hon­est I’m much hap­pier now that the sit­u­a­tion has been re­versed and that I’m do­ing it at club level again. I mean, in­ter­na­tional foot­ball has al­ways been a plus for me but I know deep down that he (Jack) only sees me as a 20-minute player so it’s much more im­por­tant that I’m do­ing it at club level. I mean if I can’t get in now, I’ll never get in.”

Mid­night: “I re­mem­ber when he scored that goal against Ger­many just be­fore the World Cup,” Sarah says as he nips up again to check on the kids. “I was sit­ting at home flick­ing through the tele­text with my dad and when we saw he had scored we were so de­lighted and elated be­cause it was so un­usual. But now, it’s al­most nor­mal. I mean, he’s scored more goals in the last three games than he has for the last two years. He’s a changed man. Com­pletely. He’s a French­man . . . He dips his bread in his cho­co­late . . . says ‘ciao baby’ . . . has started drink­ing cof­fee. He’s gone into it 100 per cent.”

‘Every day there was some ex-Celtic player hav­ing a go at me’

‘It was go­ing to be all or noth­ing here. I wanted to show peo­ple back in Eng­land’

Photo: David Conachy

Tony Cas­carino: ‘In Eng­land, if you are over­weight but take a drink and are one of the lads then you’re ac­cept­able. But in France it’s dif­fer­ent.’

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