The following article, written by Lasana Liburd, was first published in the Trinidad Express on 29 January 2004:
Gracious and good humoured to the end, the Scarborough Football Club must have seemed the happiest losers in recent English FA Cup history as they bowed out 1-0 to Premiership aristocrats, Chelsea, at the McCain Stadium, Scarborough.
Beaten but not disgraced.
It will remain one of the endearing stories of the 2003/04 FA Cup competition, which allows clubs from all levels of the game to meet in knock out battle.
Trinidad and Tobago and Scarborough midfielder Clint Marcelle explained the secret of the obscure and financially challenged Conference League outfit’s composure as they faced Britain’s most expensively assembled team.
“They brought in a psychologist for the last two days to help the players settle and focus after all the press attention,” Marcelle told the Trinidad Express. “One of the things she told us was to smile because it brings out good, positive energies.
“When the first shot ricocheted off the crossbar, we just looked at each other and smiled.”
Barely 60 seconds had elapsed when an outrageously swerving 30-yard drive from Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard smacked the bar and rebounded into play.
It was the calling card of the West London team and, nine minutes later, the visitors went ahead through a headed item from impressive England international defender John Terry.
But smiling Scarborough refused to buckle and their positive performance won the plaudits from supporters and victors alike.
And Marcelle, who was flanked by wife Kathy and children Cherise and Clint junior, was a proud man in the team lounge.
“I think I did myself and my family very proud,” said the 35-year-old Marcelle. “We were a little bit disappointed but not too much because the performance of the team was good. The guys came out and enjoyed ourselves.”
Their psychologist did not have the monopoly on bright ideas.
It is uncertain who gave the order but a giant tarpaulin was placed over the modest field to protect the muddy, uneven surface from the sun and an ensure an awkward surface.
On Saturday, the modest McCain Stadium pitch resembled the El Dorado Senior Comprehensive ground near the completion of the Secondary School Football League (SSFL) season.
It helped disrupt Chelsea’s fluent passing game and tested the commitment as well as technique of the visiting millionaires who are used to unerring precision.
Football, as Lampard would admit, is a game of inches and ever bit counts.
In the end, though, it was the character of the ‘Boro’ squad that counted most and none epitomised the industry and courage of the team better than Marcelle himself.
“He brings energy, enthusiasm and experience to our side,” said Scarborough manager Russell Slade. “He has played a massive, massive role for us this season.”
They are flattering words for a 35-year-old athlete at any club—even a relatively modest Conference team—and Marcelle believes that he is still a long way from his ‘sell by’ date.
“The first highlight of my career was playing for the national team at 15,” said Marcelle, who remains the youngest player to win a senior international cap for Trinidad and Tobago. “Then Barnsley (where he scored the goal that ensured their lone stint in the Premiership). This is the third one.
“I still think I have two more in me though.”
International ambition still burns the chest of the talented attacker who felt he never got the chance he deserved at the highest stage.
Marcelle insisted that his performances this season proved he could do a job for national coach Bertille St Clair.
His 90-minute run against Chelsea and, in particular, the seemingly unflappable Terry could not have upset his claim.
“I like those kind of battles,” said Marcelle, who stands at five foot two. “They are big international players; I from a small island. I like to show them what I can do. Even at my old age, I am still running at players; still looking dangerous.”
One shuffle and burst of speed left Terry red faced as referee Barry Knight cautioned the central defender for tripping the fleet footed Marcelle.
The yellow card could have easily been upgraded to a red one as the ex-Barnsley tormented his wardens at every opportunity. But those chances were infrequent and, a reasonable penalty appeal apart, the result never seemed in doubt.
The official attendance of 5,379 was several hundred spectators below the ground capacity and, judging from the filled seats, it is possible that more complimentary tickets were distributed than Boro may have liked.
The vociferous hosts were silenced—albeit temporarily—after just one minute when Lampard’s thundering shot showed the magnitude of Scarborough’s task.
Terry’s effort was more tangible for the visitors as he headed home following a well orchestrated set piece, which involved the Dutch pair of striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Mario Melchiot.
His jog back to the halfline with hand cupped over his ear did not endear him to the Scarborough fans but their boos were half hearted.
A class act like Terry graces the McCain Stadium once every three decades or so and the security that escorted him to the team coach after the final whistle were taming autograph hunters not a frenzied mob. Tall, strong and perceptive, he looked capable of keeping the entire Boro offence at bay himself.
His positional play and presence was unmatched and he digested the probing passes that his opponents offered down the channels—between full back and central defender—as if it were caviar.
He could only have enhanced his growing reputation in the 18th minute when he charged down a left footed Marcelle effort with his chest without flinching.
“Oooh,” the crowd murmured; more in appreciation for Terry’s strength and bravado than Marcelle’s endeavour.
The gap of four divisions between the outfits was showing.
Lampard was imperiously stroking the ball around the park; Hasselbaink was strutting about as if in his living room with television remote in hand to boot.
Boro desperately needed a spark and it was the pint sized Marcelle who provided it.
After intercepting a misplaced spot kick, Marcelle ran straight at Terry and ghosted past him as if he were a cone.
The perplexed international star reacted with a mistimed tackle and, suddenly, the home crowd had something to sing about.
“Off! Off! Off!” they sang, although the yellow card shown was fair censure.
Marcelle repeated the trick at least thrice—he threw in an extravagant step over past England international defender Wayne Bridge for effect—with similar effect although he might have hoped for more protection from the referee.
His teammates built on the message.
As adept as top British defenders seem when faced with organised play, they can look decidedly uncomfortable against players who make up the script as they go along.
Attackers, like Marcelle, who can take them on and force errors of judgement.
Chelsea’s human frailties exposed, Boro charged with renewed vigour and Terry conceded that they got a fair contest.
It could have been closer had Knight penalised Chelsea stopper William Gallas for a handled ball in his own penalty area in the second half.
The contact did not appear deliberate, though, and the match official was not suitably impressed.
Still, the scoreline hardly flattered Chelsea who created numerous scoring chances and deserved their place in the fifth round of the competition.
Dream over for Marcelle.
Well, not quite.
“Anything can happen in football,” said Marcelle. “If the phone rings and it is St Clair or the TTFF, I will answer the call. If not, life goes on.”
It is an invitation that may not be dismissed outright.
Thirty-five-year-old Scarborough midfielder and ex-Trinidad and Tobago international looks back at his professional career to date:
Academica (Portugal Division One)
*—Good club, I felt very welcomed.
Aguuda (Portugal Division Two)
*—Small club, big ambition.
Vitoria Setubal (Portugal Division One)
*—Joyous season with big name players like Rashidi Yekini (Nigeria World Cup player)
Rio Ave (Portugal Division One)
Falgueiras (Portugal Division One and Premier Division)
*—The president and vice-president were the best and the players got everything they needed.
Barnsley (England Division One and Premier Division)
*—Second best football I played in my life after Trinidad and Tobago under-16 tournament.
West Brom (England Division One)
*—Not enough time to show what I could do (after work permit problems).
Scunthorpe (England Division Two)
*—Good club but the manager wanted to win more than the players.
Hull City (England Division Three)
*—Big club, big debts; I went three months without pay.
Darlington (Division Three)
*—Worse move of my career; the president wanted to be president, coach and manager and never let staff get on with their job.
Harrigate (England Uni-Bond)
*—Short and sweet.
Hucknall Town (England Uni-Bond)
*—Their manager, Phil Stabber, is a great motivator and will go on to to bigger and better things.
Stevenage Borough (England Conference)
*—Manager likes to win but goes about it the wrong way in terms of tactics and preparation.
Scarborough (England Conference)
*—A privilege to play for. I feel like a grandfather figure with players constantly asking for advice in dressing room.