Tykes' tiny ace in the hole

Paul Wilson
Date Published: 
UK Observer

Brian Lara's pal Clint hopes to make his FA Cup day for Barnsley
Vagabond Marcelle at home at Oakwell

THERE'S SOMETHING about Barnsley that says solid. As in solid citizens, the down-to-earth sort of Yorkshire folk who represent football's lasting values and don't let their heads become turned by Premiership flash. But also as in solid performers. The Tykes can hardly whistle down a pit shaft for a new centre-half now that mining, like Skinner Normanton, is just a fondly recalled memory, but the fanciful idea lingers that Barnsley is for big lads. A plaque in the Oakwell front wall commemorates the late Tommy Taylor, the strapping centre-forward the club supplied to Manchester United five years before Munich.

So it seems a little strange to be introduced to Clint Marcelle, all 5ft 4in and 10 stone of him. The diminutive Trinidadian is a crowd favourite at Oakwell, though his appearances have been limited this season by his physical resemblance to the inappropriately-titled Martin Bullock, another 5ft 4in lightweight. The popular theory is that Danny Wilson won't play them both in the same side for fear of opponents mistaking Barnsley for a Subbuteo outfit. Marcelle smiles warily. 'The manager knows best,' he said 'His job is to put out what he thinks is his strongest team, and my job is to get on with it. I've no complaints about his selections.'

After playing a key role in the defeat of Wimbledon last week, Marcelle understands he is to keep his place for this afternoon's quarter-final at Newcastle, but would not mind seeing Bullock in the same line-up. 'I don't think it need be a problem if you have players who are similar,' he said 'What would you do if you had five Maradonas? Play one and put four on the bench? Martin and myself are only superficially similar anyway. We are the same in terms of size and speed, but Martin plays down the flanks, whereas I like to be just behind the two strikers, in the hole.'

Marcelle thinks the Barnsley faithful have accepted him in this role now, after originally viewing him as an out and out striker. When he arrived from Portugal at the start of last season, he made a rod for his own back by scoring four goals in his first six games.

Wilson had bought him blind, gambling on a strong recommendation from Bobby Robson, and it suddenly looked a sensational piece of business until just as suddenly the goals dried up. 'I knew I was unlikely to go on scoring at that rate,' Marcelle said. 'A few games without scoring is normal for me, and I was quite happily adjusting to a new country and a new style, but the fans were disappointed I'd hit a lean patch.'

As if to emphasise the point, the 29-year-old Marcelle has not managed a goal so far this season, but maintains he is playing the best football of his career and is trying to extend his original two-year contract. 'I wouldn't mind ending my career here, I like it so much,' he said. 'And I would still be happy to play for Barnsley even if we do not manage to stay in the Premiership.'

This statement requires clarification, since Marcelle's only other public utterance to date was to the effect that he is a football mercenary, happy to play anywhere as long as the money is right. 'I was totally misquoted there,' he explained. 'I said that to a journalist who asked me why I had played for so many clubs in Portugal. I played for seven in all, and I found there was little cause for loyalty because clubs traded players routinely, so all you could do was try to move to bigger clubs for better wages. Which I more or less did. I was playing for Vitoria Setubal when they had Eric Tinkler and quite a few Portuguese internationals. But Portuguese football left me a little cold. Clubs bought players then expected the world from them. They were only interested in what you could do for 90 minutes each week.

'The big thing that's different about Barnsley is the people. I didn't know anyone when I came here, but I was made welcome, all sorts of people took the trouble to get to know me and make me feel at home, and I know I will miss the place if I have to move on.'

Marcelle did not have a career as football vagabond in mind when he completed a degree in business management in Trinidad. He merely followed a friend who had gone out to Portugal earlier and made such an impression that he was asked whether there were any more like him back at home. Had Marcelle been asked the same question he might well have replied Dwight Yorke or Brian Lara. All three know each other well, and though Yorke is the youngest of the trio, Marcelle and the West Indies captain met at the age of 10 and grew up together.

'Brian still plays football, whereas I no longer play cricket,' Marcelle said. 'I used to enjoy it, but I got hit by a ball once and it meant I couldn't play football for a while.

'I see Brian every time I'm home though, and I would definitely pop along if he was playing at Headingley or somewhere. He could have been a professional footballer, I'm sure. He was very exciting to watch, but obviously he was good at cricket too and he had to make a decision about which sport to play seriously.'

The irony of Marcelle choosing football and ending up right in the middle of Geoffrey Boycott-Dickie Bird country was originally lost on him. 'I was aware that England was a cricketing country, but I had never heard of Barnsley before,' he said. 'The only important consideration was that it was in England. I had asked my agent in Portugal to look around on my behalf, and when an English club got in touch I couldn't sign up quickly enough.' As Barnsley were in the first division at the time this could hardly have been a bid to board the Premiership gravy-train, so why the Anglophilia? 'It was that song,' he explained. 'You know, the England football song [hums Match of the Day theme]. We used to hear that every week in Trinidad and it meant football time.

'I was a big Tottenham Hotspur fan. Steve Archibald and Garth Crooks were my favourites. To tell the truth I was a little bit sad when I got here to find out they had retired.'

As compensation, Marcelle can savour the thrill of knocking Spurs out of the FA Cup this year, not to mention Manchester United in the last round. With a track record like that, Barnsley have no real need to be fearful of a trip to St James' Park, but Marcelle is not about to start shouting the odds Stevenage-style. 'Newcastle are a very good side, and on their own ground they must have the advantage,' he said. 'If we can get them back to Oakwell we can make it tough for them, you only have to ask United or Spurs. We are trying to make teams scared of coming here, a bit like Southampton have done at the Dell, and though it's been a learning experience for us, I think we have finally come to terms with Premiership opposition. No one here thinks we will go down, but we all wish we could have started the season knowing what we know now.'

Marcelle, clever chap, senses the usual lame question hanging in the air and answers it without prompting. 'If I could swap the FA Cup for Premiership football next season I'd do it right now,' he said. 'This club's objective is survival. If we can pick up medals on the way it would be nice, but we don't want to get lost with our heads in the clouds.'

[photo caption]
Little big man: Spring-heeled Marcelle on a high.