Rodney Marsh: 'I told the Manchester City chairman that the manager was useless ... 20 minutes later I was sacked'

In part II of his interview with Richard Jolly, the maverick striker on how he missed out on lifting the League Cup and ended up at Tampa Bay Rowdies

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In 2011, Carlos Tevez captained Manchester City to victory against Stoke City. It was the FA Cup final and their 35-year wait for major silverware was eventually over.

The previous City skipper to lift a major trophy was Mike Doyle. It could have been Rodney Marsh holding the 1976 League Cup aloft, but one of Tevez’s predecessors as a controversial captain had beat an explosive exit earlier that season.

Marsh was some 4,000 miles away, starting his time with the Tampa Bay Rowdies. Suffice to say no one posted a medal to him in Florida. “I left with a very tenuous relationship with the manager,” he said.

“The last thing that would have happened would have been for them to give me a medal, even though I was captain.”

To some, the notion of Marsh with the City armband may sound odd. He knows he is remembered as the man who cost them the league title in 1972, and yet his four years at Maine Road cannot be summed up in a sentence.

“Great things get exaggerated to greater and bad things change to something even worse. That is what time does,” he said.

But he was the 19-goal top scorer in his first full season and an entertainer who delivered 47 goals in 152 games. “I had plenty of good times,” he said.

“Some incredible highs and very few lows, though losing the [1974 League Cup] final to Wolves was one. We had all-time greats like Colin Bell, Francis Lee, Mike Summerbee, Asa Hartford and Joe Royle, wonderful, wonderful players and we had great times.”

Yet it was an era when, he bluntly states, the club lost its way, the break-up of a great side being hastened by some poor signings.

Marsh disagreed with managers and with chairman Peter Swales, leading to his departure. Ultimately, his negative verdict on Tony Book, the skipper of City’s 1968 title-winning team and later manager who made him captain, proved decisive.

“I had no personal feelings towards him, good, bad or indifferent,” Marsh claimed last week, but telling Swales that both Book and his assistant were useless curtailed his time at Maine Road.

But, as he said, highlighting a 6-1 win over Norwich, “right at the end of my Man City career we were still playing great football.” Perhaps Marsh himself peaked in 1972-73.

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Part I: 'Manchester City lost the title marginally and it was down to the fact they signed me'

27th July 1973:  Footballer Rodney Marsh of Manchester City.  (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)
27th July 1973: Footballer Rodney Marsh of Manchester City. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)

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“After Malcolm Allison left, they changed my role,” he said. “I became a No 10, in today’s jargon. I became an attacking midfield player and I still was leading goalscorer.”

He submitted a transfer request when the mercurial manager Allison walked out in 1973 to join Crystal Palace, who he promptly got relegated in successive seasons.

Allison, though, was a mentor to Marsh. “I only signed for Manchester City because of Malcolm Allison, I wouldn’t have signed for anybody else,” he said. “Very soon after he left, the club completely lost its way.”

City turned to Johnny Hart and then Ron Saunders, who would go on to win the title in 1981 with Aston Villa, but he and Marsh were not natural soulmates.

“The Ron Saunders era was when the club completely lost its way because Peter Swales had taken over and Peter Swales, in my opinion, was absolutely clueless.”

Swales had become chairman in 1973. The following year, he sold the prolific England international Lee to Derby, where the forward promptly won the league.

Marsh was bemused by one of the arrivals. “It is one of the most hysterical, funny things I have seen at Man City,” he recalled.

“They signed a young player called Barney Daniels. Barney Daniels was the leading goalscorer for Ashton in non-league football. I thought he was a nice young man but he was useless. I am not dumping on Barney Daniels. I am just making a truthful observation.

“We took a terrific team, we lost Summerbee, we lost Francis Lee and we replaced them with players like Barney Daniels. We went from Francis Lee to Barney Daniels and we made a sow’s ear out of a silk purse. Professionally, when you do something like that, you don’t know what you are doing.”

Daniels only scored twice for City. Without him and minus Marsh, Book’s team finished as runners-up in 1977 but it was their last title challenge for 35 years. The glory days were ending, the wilderness years coming.

Things came to a head for Marsh in 1975, a week after he scored his final City goal. “Arsenal against Man City at Highbury and we beat them 3-2 in a magnificent end-to-end game, I scored the winner and I was captain,” he recalled.

Then Book’s team drew 0-0 at home with relegation-threatened Burnley. Ian MacFarlane, Book’s assistant, was not best pleased. “He came in to the dressing room, this big tall Scotsman, he had snot coming down his nose and he was fuming and he said it was unacceptable, he was swearing and going on and on,” Marsh said.

City winger Dennis Tueart told MacFarlane to calm down and, as Marsh tells it: “He punched Dennis Tueart in the throat. Everyone pulled him away. I said to Tony Book: ‘This is unacceptable, get him out of here'."

News of the bust-up spread as far as the chairman. Swales called Marsh down to Maine Road on the Monday to ask him his take on events. Marsh replied: “I said that you can’t have management people punching players.”

All of which felt reasonable, but Swales told him it was only his side of the story. The chairman, who had made his money selling black-and-white televisions, then broadened the discussion. Marsh’s willingness to give an honest opinion has since served him well in a long punditry career, and he now co-hosts Sirius XM’s Grumpy Pundits show. Then he could have extended his time at City by taking the diplomatic route.

“Swales said: ‘What do you think about Ian MacFarlane and Tony Book?’” he recalled. “I said: ‘Do you really want to know?’” Swales said he did want the captain’s view.

“They are useless,” Marsh replied. It was a comment with consequences.

“About 20 minutes later Tony Book comes to me and said: ‘Rodney, let’s have a chat. Peter Swales has just told me this, I am putting you on the transfer list, I am sacking you, you are free to go'."

He left Manchester for Florida. The best part of 50 years later, Marsh has no regrets. “You are what you are and if you try and be something you are not, people will find you out to be a fraud,” he said.

“You know the old John Wayne saying: ‘A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.’ You can only be true to yourself.

“I could have taken the low road and ducked it and carried on playing there for another couple of years because I was enjoying it, I loved Manchester, I loved the fans and I loved the club.

"We were still getting crowds of 40,000 but I just told the truth. So often in life when you tell the truth, you are the one that suffers and that is what I did.”

And so ended a City career unlike any other, before or since.