Chris Marsden was the last man to lead Southampton out in an FA Cup final – and he backs James Ward-Prowse to take it one step further and win the trophy.
Italians have a word for players like Marsden: bandiere. It means standard bearer, a fan on the field. While it is often used to describe men with one club, it is also used to describe those who become synonymous with a team.
The much-traveled Marsden was the wrong side of 30 when he arrived at The Dell in February 1999. But the £ 800,000 paid to Birmingham turned out to be a bargain. A footballing nomad found a home with the genius Yorkshireman who earned nicknames such as Marsdinho and the bald Beckenbauer.
Chris Marsden (pictured in 2003) was the last man to lead Southampton out in an FA Cup final
Saints captain Marsden and manager Gordon Strachan watch Arsenal lift the cup in Cardiff
The adopted Southampton bandier was influential in one of the club’s best seasons, finishing eighth in the Premier League and beating 1-0 by Arsenal in the 2003 Cup final.
From his home in Cyprus, Marsden says, “It doesn’t seem like until yesterday … I don’t talk much about it, to be honest. What is it? 18 years ago … I’m still bald though! Apparently I’m the only one who doesn’t look any different! ‘ he smiles.
Marsden grew up in Sheffield and was a Wednesday fan (‘We didn’t eat bacon in our house until I was 16!’), So it was a shock to his dad when he joined the Blades as an apprentice.
He had spells in Huddersfield, Coventry, Notts County, Wolves and Stockport – who made it to the League Cup semi-finals in 1997 – before firing at the big moment.
Marsden swapped Birmingham for the high-flying championship for the top flight basement outfit managed by his former Stockport boss Dave Jones.
Marsden played for Huddersfield, Coventry, Notts County, Wolves and Stockport before leaving Birmingham City for Southampton
‘I thought I was a good player in the championship. When you play in the Premier League it’s a different ball game. I made my Chelsea debut against Gianfranco Zola, Dennis Wise and Roberto Di Matteo in midfield. You have a split second to think. ‘
Marsden worked on his fitness and would learn a thing or two from Matt Le Tissier on the training field.
David Beckham and Roy Keane address Marsden’s tackle during a match at The Dell in 2000
“Then he did a workout every now and then!” he jokes. “You’re talking about a God-given talent. For him to only get eight English caps …
Graeme Souness said he was the most talented player he has ever seen. That just gives you an idea of how good he was. He was just a great, great man and great player. ‘
Southampton pulled off a great breakout and won their last three matches. Marian Pahars scored twice in a 2-0 win over Everton at The Dell on the final day to unleash a joyous pitch invasion.
‘People think you’re celebrating, but you don’t want that. You’re just completely devastated. It’s exhausting, the emotional side of it, ”he said.
Glenn Hoddle came and went, as did The Dell and Stuart Gray. After Southampton moved to St Mary’s, the oily chairman Rupert Lowe turned to a short-tempered Scotsman with a point to prove.
Gordon is a fantastic coach. Very honest and determined in what he is going to do, but a funny, funny guy. You’d say, “Can I say something, Gordon?” He would reply, “Rapid!”
“I couldn’t have been happier with him as a manager, but not when he yelled at me!”
Marsden celebrated with Matt Le Tissier at a Worthington Cup match at The Dell in 2000
Marsden played his best football under Strachan, who moved him to the left side of midfield for Wayne Bridge.
Bridgey was brilliant, and I was the one who looked good and didn’t run much. He could cover the field. It was like we had an extra player. ‘
It was from the left that Marsden scored the goal of his career, walking 40 yards through Ipswich on Portman Road in 2002.
“What do you want – the version now or the version after ten pints?” he smiles. ‘I didn’t score many goals, I wasn’t very fast, but I just kept going. I almost missed it at the end!
‘You can see the shock on my face that I scored. As I was running away I saw Gordon running towards me with a Barry Fry so I turned around and walked away the other way!
Although well-traveled, despite the south coast derby left an impression on Marsden.
Marsden crashes into Sylvain Wiltord during a league match with Arsenal in Highbury in 2002
‘We played Portsmouth in the League Cup before they got promoted. My God! That was an eye-opener for me. I played in the Midlands, Birmingham against Wolves and Villa. I thought that was bad.
‘I thought,’ Oh crikey they closed the road to St Mary’s because they were fighting ‘. Black Mariahs. They are serious things. ‘
With a steady, talented side that includes Antti Niemi, Michael Svensson and James Beattie, the following season culminated in a trip to the Millennium Stadium.
Their flight to Cardiff started on the BBC with an Anders Svensson-inspired 4-0 demolition of Tottenham, led by Hoddle. Victories over Millwall and Norwich followed for a quarter-final against Wolves.
Against his old club and former boss Jones, Marsden scored the first in a 2-0 win, an instinctive kick from a corner kick.
“That’s another after ten pints,” he roars. I almost pulled on my hamstring to hook it back on. It was never a shot. But later that night, my god, it was Ronaldinho’s scissor stair! ‘
Marsden celebrates after scoring against Wolves in the FA Cup quarter-finals in 2003
Watford was sent off in the semi-final when Southampton reached the FA Cup final for the first time since victory in 1976.
They faced the side of Arsene Wenger who had just started their Invincible streak. Ten days before the final, their 49-game unbeaten run in the competition began with a 6-1 win over Southampton.
“Seven of us didn’t play that game!” Marsden says, very quickly.
The great thing about the finale was that Sir Bobby Robson was the guest of honor. They are such wonderful memories for me that I met such a person who loved the game so much.
Regarding the game itself, he says: “ We were lucky to play one of the best Premier League teams in history …
‘I almost had a heart attack when Claus Lundekvam tried to take Henry down in the first 15 seconds. Thank goodness Henry got up, he didn’t go down.
However, it would be a broken heart in the final, as Robert Pires’ goal turned out to be the winner
I still believe that if David Seaman were younger than 39, Brett Ormerod would have scored the tying run at death. I think he would have been down. He expected a lower shot than where it actually went.
‘That was our only chance. He’s just produced an absolutely amazing save, and that’s what he’s done throughout his career. ‘
After the final whistle, Marsden and Henry hugged each other. He showed a lot of respect. I mean, let’s be honest, he was the best player in the world for a while. It’s not actually mentioned, but I think he was. Bergkamp, Pires, Vieira, Ljungberg, Ashley Cole. They were a great team. ‘
Rather than building, Southampton turned in a different direction. Bridge was sold to Chelsea and Strachan left halfway through the following season. Marsden followed months later.
Now he hopes James Ward-Prowse can take it one step further and lift the FA Cup final this season
Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side will take on Leicester in the FA Cup semi-finals on Sunday at Wembley
In 2005 Southampton had three managers and was relegated from the top league for the first time in 27 years.
After a short period in South Korea, Marsden ended his career on Wednesday and finally hung up his boots in 2005. He moved to Paphos where the climate and culture match his laid-back personality and love of the golf course.
He watches as much football as possible and has high hopes for his former team, who will meet Leicester at Wembley on Sunday.
‘It is a team of internationals. I like Nathan Redmond, he can play. If Danny Ings can keep fit, they have every chance. ‘
And of Ward-Prowse, the current Southampton bandiere, Marsden adds, ‘He’s fantastic, isn’t he? His free kick ratio has overtaken Tiss’s. You can’t say more.
‘He’s gonna be stuck for England, he’s a fantastic leader and let’s hope he goes a step further than me and lifts the damn thing.’