Tony Marchi returns home in 1959 and remembers

Anthony Vittorio Marchi was born in Edmonton, North London on January 21st, 1933 and was an unbelievably talented footballer who could have walked into any other side in the League.  He had been there when Spurs won the League in 1950-51, had captained the club but spent so many years in the shadow of Danny Blanchflower and Dave MacKay.  He won every representative honour as a schoolboy prodigy and joined Tottenham as an amateur in July 1948.  Making his league debut in April 1950 when they received the Second Division Championship shield he signed his first professional contract three months later.  Tall and composed, Marchi was ideally suited to either of the half-back positions but Arthur Rowe’s “Push & Run” team possessed the ideal pairing of Ron Burgess and Bill Nicholson.  As Spurs rebuilt following the break-up of Rowe’s great team Marchi proved a solid, dependable presence, full of skill and vision. He became an automatic choice and with his natural leadership qualities was appointed club captain, leading Spurs to second place in the First Division in 1956-57 and picking up an England “B” cap in February 1957.

Still only 24, Marchi looked set for a long career in the lily-white shirt, but in the summer of 1957 Juventus offered Spurs £42,000 for his services.  It was an offer even Spurs could not afford to turn down, with the money and opportunity to make a name for himself in his father’s home country too much for Marchi to refuse.  Marchi was never to play for Juventus for although the Italians lifted their ban on foreign players they had just signed John Charles. The rules of the Italian Federation forbade a club to field more than one oriundo, a foreign-born player of Italian descent and they already had Omar Sivori of Argentina.  While Juventus waited Tony was lent to the provincial club Lanerossi Vicenza and later had a season with Torino.

This was the headline of an article in 1959 when he returned to Spurs for £23,000.

“It was hard work, simply because I was with two teams who were struggling.  All they were concerned with was not getting relegated, they had no ambitions at all to win the championship.  Every team plays defence-conscious and the football isn’t as fast as in England.  There was plenty of room in mid-field but no space in the penalty area.  When you go to those little grounds where the crowds are close to the pitch, the referee gets frightened and if a 50-50 decision has to be made the decision goes to the home side.  The fights, people spitting at you, police hitting people over the head with truncheons, you wouldn’t believe it.  Once we had the coach windows smashed with bricks as we left the ground.  I used to stand there open-mouthed.  Towards the end of the season Torino played Milan, the new champions, and it ended in a wholesale brawl among the players.  I watched it all and got fined 10,000 lire (about £6) with the rest of them.

With all this happening Marchi was less shocked than astonished.  Vicenza had been lonely at first and Tony and his young wife had to make a life for themselves.  The Italian shopkeepers were very, very kind to them and would do anything for them and eventually they made lots of friends.  Until they did, Marchi spent most of his time reading.  “I read dozens of books, nothing spectacular, just gangster stories.  If you put the wireless on you don’t understand a thing and if you go to the pictures it is the same.”  His Italian was rudimentary to the last and he never got down to studying the grammar but he could understand and make himself understood.

Tony being interviewed

In Turin, of course, there was John Charles and their gardens backed on to one another.  “It’s a lovely city and there are places you can go to just outside which are very, very nice.  It was the other way around in Vicenza.  I liked living there but the football was wrong.  You expect to be transferred every two or three seasons.  The players know they are out there to make money and they can only make it by being transferred and getting a percentage of the fee.  You have to be on top all the time to stay with one club.

Marchi found a good deal to admire in Italian methods of training and as a coach he will try and blend them with what he considers to be the best in the English game.  He particularly likes the Italian exercises for ball-control.

Now he’s back, for a £23,000 fee and at 26 he should have the best years in front of him.  He maybe didn’t realise that instead of Burgess and Nicholson keeping him out of the Spurs team he would now have Blanchflower and MacKay.  Marchi was generous to his mentors saying that Arthur Rowe was a great influence on him and that Bill Nicholson was a very good coach.  Above all, Tony Marchi gives an impression of contentment.  In a fractious age he loves football, so much so that he can afford to brush aside his three years at technical college studying engineering and was unperturbed at starting his Spurs’ comeback in the reserves.

I think a professional footballer’s life is a wonderful one.  You see the world for nothing and enjoy the work you are doing.”

Tony played just six games in the double season but over the next few years he appeared in roughly half of Spurs’ games as injuries and age began to get the better of Blanchflower and MacKay suffered a twice-broken leg.  It was as a stand-in for MacKay that Marchi won his only club honour, giving a near-perfect performance in the European Cup-winners’ Cup Final against Athletico Madrid.

Personally, I remember the 1962-63 season so well.  I was married in March 1963 and me and Margaret went to White Hart Lane to watch the return leg against Slovan Bratislava.  A first leg deficit of two goals was swiftly turned around as Tottenham won 6-0.  Tony Marchi stood in for Danny Blanchflower in both Slovan games and in the first semi-final as well.  Blanchflower returned for the 2nd semi-final game with Tony Marchi switching to left half and Dave MacKay playing inside left for the injured Jimmy Greaves.  On to the final against Athletico Madrid and a crushing 5-1 victory, Tony Marchi had an outstanding game at left half with MacKay being injured.  Spurs played 7 games to win the European Cup-winners’ Cup and Tony Marchi played in 5 of them.  He wasn’t in any way a reserve at Tottenham in my eyes but a loyal servant as well as an excellent footballer.  I sometimes think that history for Tony Marchi would have remembered him a little kindlier if Spurs had turned down the offer from Juventus.

An overhead kick by Marchi brings a touch of the Continental style of play to North London

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