Scotland’s answer to George Best, natural talent Peter Marinello had the skills and fashionable looks but he was far from a model professional off the football pitch, writes Sandra Dick.
Fame and fortune shone on Peter Marinello. Gifted with a natural footballing talent, he had the added advantage of striking looks, a fun-loving personality and a sharp fashion sense that had the girls hooked.
No wonder he quickly became known as Scotland’s George Best.
It was 1970 and the world was at his feet. The 19-year-old Hibs winger, so inventive and confident on the park, was on the cusp of greatness – Arsenal had just paid 100,000 for him, and he was in demand to appear on Top of the Pops and as a fashion model.
Life looked on course to pan out perfectly for a lad raised in a Broomhouse prefab, who honed his soccer skills on the nearest stretch of spare ground.
I’m a devil may care person. I was young and stupid and I had too much money and time on my hands. But there were some bloody great times too.Peter Marinello
Sadly, though, the “George Best” tag was to prove uncannily accurate: soon Peter Marinello’s name would go down in history among those players for whom football greatness became a curse.
He was just 15 when he signed for Hibs, having first shrewdly warned them that England legend Stanley Matthews wanted to sign him for Port Vale.
In fact, Hibs were the only team he wanted to play for. “I was a Hibs fan – my family were living in Logie Green at that time. I’d supported Hearts when we were in Broomhouse but you learn which team to follow when you move to Leith.”
He loved the club and times were good, although at times – as was to become the regular case with Marinello – downright bizarre.
At the age of 18 and despite his best efforts still a “good” Catholic boy, he would join his Hibs teammates on a tour of Nigeria and Ghana, just as the Biafran War was breaking out.
Team-mate Jimmy O’Rourke decided to give him a late 18th birthday present he’d never forget – the loss of his virginity to a local “lady of the night”, all the while egged on by a crowd of around 20 Hibs team-mates, seated, cheering, in a half circle around the bed.
It wasn’t the only memorable moment of the tour – Marinello later recalled arriving at an island in Ghana where the lads spotted some locals’ canoes and began messing around with them.
“Amused they were not,” recalled Peter in his biography, Fallen Idle. “It was even less funny when I was snatched and frogmarched 200 yards.
“The local fishermen were convinced that we had damaged their boats and they indicated that, unless Hibernian Football Club were prepared to foot the bill for repairs, they could kiss goodbye to Peter Marinello.”
He was restrained, hands tied behind his back while the team haggled for 40 anxious minutes before accepting the demands.
A year later as he signed for Arsenal to become one of the highest-paid players in the game, Marinello must have believed that life in London surely couldn’t be quite as bizarre...
“I was still upset at leaving Hibs,” he recalls. “I was enjoying myself, I had a few bob, I liked buying nice suits and going out for a drink with the Hibs team.
“Willie MacFarlane, the Hibs manager, said I was getting out of control, he brought in another player and I was the last to know I was being sold.”
His three years at Arsenal would often prove frustrating football-wise, but London offered bright lights and endless opportunities to relieve him of his earnings.
The birth of his first son, Paul, in 1972 – a year before he shunned Arsenal’s pleas and moved to Portsmouth – was to have a resounding impact on his life. It plunged his wife, Joyce, into post-natal depression which would evolve into a lifelong struggle.
Her condition wasn’t helped, perhaps, by her husband’s off the pitch activities. Drinking – he once said he didn’t have “a favourite drink, as long as it was wet” – gambling and unfortunate business investments were eating into his big money salary.
His journeyman career took him to Motherwell and America before he returned to Edinburgh, this time in a maroon jersey and the beginning of the end for a player who once held so much promise.
“I was fine about going to Hearts,” he recalls. “I’d been raised in that part of town and it was part of my childhood. The fans were good to me, too.”
Edinburgh, his hometown, seemed to offer a chance to finally settle and Marinello set about putting down business roots. He converted a house with a friend and, buoyed by that success, took on another property and dipped his toe into a trade he knew well.
“I bought a couple of pubs, one in Lauriston Place, the other in Leith Walk,” he recalls.
Marinello played 36 times for Hearts – scoring on five occasions – between October 1981 and March 1983, when his old Hibs team-mate, Peter Cormack, signed him for Partick Thistle. Injury, however, put paid to his career just as the business behind his pubs started to collapse.
“I was too trusting,” he recalls. “I started making big mistakes.”
Haunted by the loss of hundreds of thousands of pounds, Marinello lost himself in booze and at the bookies. Money was running out. His final make-or-break deal was a 150,000 investment in a Spanish nightclub.
“My wife was in hospital and I was looking after two kids,” he recalls. “We ended up with nowhere to stay, so we lived at Butlin’s in Skegness while we waited and waited for the money.
“But I’d made a contract with a conman. He disappeared and I wasn’t going to get my money.”
Pushed to the edge, he finally snapped. It wasn’t hard to find someone in London to supply him with a handgun and point him towards his ex-business partner.
“It was a replica,” insists Marinello today. “It was just a scare tactic. All I wanted was to get my money back.”
A few days later police came knocking and today Marinello knows he was lucky to escape it all with a stern warning.
Marinello’s football career is overshadowed by bankruptcy, that handgun incident and a reputation for booze and business failures.
“I’m a devil may care person,” he shrugs. “I was young and stupid and I had too much money and time on my hands. But there were some bloody great times too.
“Would I change it?” he grins, “not a bit of it.”
• Part of the Footballers Behaving Badly interview series published by the Evening News in 2009