Marseille’s galáctico: how Chris Waddle dazzled his way into OM legend

Marseille’s galáctico: how Chris Waddle dazzled his way into OM legend

Cast your mind back, if you will, to 1987. It was a good time for football. Tottenham finished above Arsenal in the old First Division, at a time when that wasn’t an especially big deal to do so, Coventry won the FA Cup, while Liverpool were exerting their dominance across English football with yet another title win – and the noteworthy events weren’t solely limited to football.

George Michael had the biggest hit of the year with ‘Faith’, the Beastie Boys had a rather important album called ‘Licensed to Illhit the shelves, and the quote “I’m going to Disneyland!” was coined by New York Giants Super Bowl-winning MVP quarterback Phil Simms.

It was a wonderful time, packed full of culturally relevant moments to last the ages. But, for fans of both pop music and English football, there was one moment that truly transcended the wall between mainstream pop and sport.

Top of the Pops was the prime show for music acts in the United Kingdom. To put it simply, if you were on Top of the Pops, you had essentially made it as a music star. And when Chris Waddle and Glenn Hoddle – known by their extremely clever stage name: ‘Hoddle and Waddle’ – appeared on stage, things wouldn’t be the same for either of them. Debuting in the UK Singles Charts at number 30, Hoddle and Waddle were showing that at this time in the UK, footballers were beginning to spread out and become more than just players on the pitch. They were becoming recognised stars off of it.

Hoddle, with his dashing white suit and era-defining mullet, and Waddle, who looked terrified to be on stage, were about to split paths in the not so distant future in a way that would change their lives vastly – but it wouldn’t take them too far apart. Hoddle would join Monaco from Spurs, in 1987, while Waddle would stick around in north London for another two years after the departure of his on-stage partner and on-field collaborator, before following him to France.

It’s easy to think of English football in the mid-to-late-80s as a booming time for the sport in this country – and, on one hand, there was much to suggest it was. On the other, it set the game back a number of years both on and off the pitch.

Original Series  |  Brits Abroad

The Heysel disaster in 1985 prompted UEFA to ban English clubs from European competition for an “indeterminate period of time”, which then caused a chain reaction of players wanting to leave English clubs to join clubs on the continent in order to play in UEFA sanctioned tournaments. The exodus began.

Tony Woodcock left Arsenal for German side Köln, Gary Lineker left Everton for Barcelona, while Mark Hughes joined him in Catalonia after leaving Manchester United, with all three of these transfers taking place in 1986. Ian Rush and Hoddle would join Juventus and Monaco respectively the following season, and it remains one of the biggest ‘what ifs’ in English football history: what if English clubs weren’t banned from Europe?

What these departures meant, with such a large portion of the country’s top players having either escaped to Europe or being on the verge of doing so, was a lot of rumours circulating those who remained, not least Tottenham’s mullet-wearing winger. Waddle stayed on at Spurs for four years in total but, in 1989, with a World Cup approaching, it was time for a new challenge for the former factory worker from Tyneside, and the continent was the natural next step.

He would eventually join free-spending Ligue 1 club Marseille for a fee believed to be £4.5m which, at the time, was the third-highest amount ever paid for a player. Waddle was reaching the apex of his career. He was 29-years-old, primed to play in the biggest tournament of his life – the World Cup that would turn out to be his last – and then had the added pressure of being a big-money signing in a foreign country, where the extent of his native language skills extended to “Bonjour”, “Au Revoir” and counting from one to ten.

It was less than ideal for Waddle but his career had received its foundation in hard work and determination and he wasn’t going to stop now. Jean-Pierre Papin, the legendary goal grabber for Marseille, helped Waddle settle into life in France by allowing the winger to stay at his house while he found his own place. Waddle essentially became the new star in Marseille owner Bernard Tapie’s attempt to build the first wave of galácticos, before the term had even been coined.

Eric Cantona, Papin, Didier Deschamps, Jean Tigana, Mozer, Alain Roche and Enzo Francescoli were all part of this star-studded Marseille line up, with Waddle the new headline act. He made his debut against Lyon and, by looking at the footage and taking into account what the man himself has since said, he clearly was not fit, unprepared to take his bow, but he played regardless.

As is the case with any big-name signing that doesn’t hit the ground running, there were words of discontent emanating from the Marseille fans. “Is this new mullet man worth the money we paid?” They soon found out. 

As he soon proved in a game against Paris Saint-Germain, he was, in fact, very much worth the money and his goal in that game was the perfect example of just what Waddle was. He controlled a lofted ball into his chest, unmarked in the Paris penalty area, flicked it over Joël Bats in goal and waited for the ball to drop before back-heeling it into the back of the net. It was audacious, it was risky, it was unlike anything you had seen before, and it was typical Chris Waddle.

From that moment on, it was nothing but love from the Marseille faithful towards their tricky Tynesider, subsequently nicknamed ‘Magic Chris’, who took another step in the pop world by releasing another track, this time with Marseille teammate Basile Boli. It wasn’t quite as good as ‘Diamond Lights’ but, really, nothing ever was.

By this point, Waddle had adapted well to life in Ligue 1, producing regularly for the star-studded side and finding himself loved by both fans and players. Though Italia 90 provided mixed emotions for him – reaching the semi-finals for an excellent England side, led by Bobby Robson, but ultimately missing the pivotal penalty against West Germany in a moment of misfortunate that was destined to follow him for the rest of his career – life on the continent could scarcely have been any better for Waddle.

Even so, less than 12 months after his Italia 90 penalty miss, Waddle elected not to take one in the 1991 European Cup final for Marseille against Red Star Belgrade, proving how affected he was. That year also marked the last England cap Waddle would ever win, with Graham Taylor replacing Bobby Robson and essentially banishing Waddle from his squads, largely because the winger didn’t agree with England’s tactics.

Tapie and Marseille were forced to try to move on some of their star assets in the 1992/1993 season. With Tigana and Cantona already gone, Waddle, Papin and Trevor Steven – who had only been at the club for a short period of time – also departed, leaving the club to join Sheffield Wednesday, AC Milan and Rangers respectively for a combined total of £14.5m. But, while Waddle departed, his influence never left.

The Englishman’s flair, passing and direct wing play was loved by the fans and by whatever striker played with him at the time. If you ever find the time, search online for the occasion Waddle, working for the BBC as a pundit during Euro 2016, is on the touchline at the Stade Vélodrome. There he is lavished with love from those in the stands, some 24 years after he left, showing they’ll never forget his ability, his goals or his three consecutive Ligue 1 titles.

Waddle has been popular no matter where he has played, and perhaps never more so than his time in the south of France. He was brave to take the challenge when he left Spurs in 1989 but, as the record shows, it was worth it. The only negative is that we didn’t get more Top 40 singles from ‘Hoddle and Waddle’ – but I guess we can’t have it all our own way.

By Tom Scholes @_TomScholes

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