Obituary: Jack Marshall

Ivan Ponting
Sunday 23 October 2011 04:36

John Gilmore Marshall, footballer and football manager: born Bolton, Lancashire 29 May 1917; played for Burnley 1936-48; managed Rochdale 1958- 60, Blackburn Rovers 1960-67, Sheffield Wednesday 1968-69, Bury 1969; married; died Rotherham, South Yorkshire 1 January 1998.

Before a combination of Jack Walker's millions and the inspirational guidance of Kenny Dalglish brought fame and success to Blackburn Rovers in 1995, only one man since the Second World War had given the homely football club from the Lancashire textile town the faintest whiff of championship glory. His name was Jack Marshall and, whereas those modern messiahs had untold financial resources at their disposal, three decades earlier "Jolly Jack" was forced to watch every penny as he led a make-do-and-mend side to the summit of England's premier league.

"Marshall's Misfits" sat proudly, albeit briefly, atop the old First Division on Boxing Day 1963, their presence on that lofty pinnacle a tribute to the manager who had constructed an attractive, attacking team, substantially from erstwhile unconsidered talents.

It couldn't last and Rovers were overhauled subsequently by the big-city brigade from Liverpool and Manchester. The unavoidable springtime sale of their star centre-forward Fred Pickering to Everton, one of Blackburn's chief rivals, proved the final nail in that season's title aspirations, all the more poignantly since Pickering had been converted by Marshall from a plodding reserve full-back, the player's rise to prominence thus personifying his boss's shoestring shrewdness.

Thereafter, with seeming inevitability as the fortunes of most small- town clubs began to nosedive following the abolition of the players' maximum wage limit, Rovers declined during the remainder of Marshall's Ewood Park reign and an exhilarating period of their history was over.

Jack Marshall had entered professional football as a player at Burnley in 1936 and emerged as a capable full-back before injury forced his premature retirement in 1948. He became a coach, serving Bury and Stoke City before joining Sheffield Wednesday in 1954 and assisting the national boss, Walter Winterbottom, with the England "B" team.

In 1958 Marshall stepped up to management, experiencing relegation from the Third Division with Rochdale in his first season, but performed impressively enough to take charge of the top-flight Blackburn, a club riven by internal strife, in 1960. He embarked on a sorely needed team- rebuilding job with gusto, disregarding reputations and experimenting boldly while enjoying admirable support from the classy stalwarts Ronnie Clayton and Bryan Douglas, with the result that Rovers became one of the most entertaining sides in the land.

However, the slide that followed the euphoria of 1963/64 led to demotion in 1966 and Marshall's resignation in 1967. Later that year he was appointed assistant boss of Sheffield Wednesday, shifting to the manager's seat in 1968. He worked hard at Hillsborough but left after a disappointing 1968/69, later taking over at Bury for a brief spell before spending the decade leading up to his 1979 retirement back at Blackburn as club physiotherapist.

It was fitting that Marshall should finish his footballing days at Ewood Park. As Rovers fans with long memories will confirm, when "the team that Jack built" crops up in conversation, it is not always the Walker version which is being discussed.

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