Mark Leech remembers a special trip away with England to Turkey back in November 1984 during which the legend of Captain Marvel burned at its brightest…
The ’84 match was an afternoon kick off in Istanbul, which back in the 80s meant, wow, we can shoot England in daylight, and get some stock pictures up and down of Bryan Robson and Co.
Most of all we wanted Mark Hately, who was at AC Milan at the time, and he was meant to be the great prospect. He’d scored that goal in the Marcana in the summer, got his move to Milan and had started banging in a few goals there.
We thought, well the Wembley lights were unbelievable back then. To even get a colour picture from Wembley was a work of art in itself. But to get him in daylight was well worth shelling out quite a few quid for the official trip to Turkey, with the under-21 game thrown in.
And we flew out those days Sunday night. We got there, and Sunday football was rare then in England, but Hately had played for Milan. As soon as we arrived we were thinking, here we go: the wind up. “What you out here for lads? Hately? Well he got injured today playing for AC Milan.”
We didn’t believe a word of it, but it turned out to be true. We were trying to think, who’s the replacement then? And it’s Peter Withe; not quite the same draw. If I’d have known that team news before I wouldn’t have gone, and I would have missed out on such a great trip.
Most press parties stayed with the first team, but we and a few others—a few photographers, a couple of journalists—went on a coach trip from hell, across the water somewhere and into the middle of Asian Turkey; a place called Bursa. 30 years ago now, you’d have thought third world doesn’t come close to it.
We ended up there. That Sunday night, we were in the hotel and had a quiet meal. The next day we were bored and there was nothing to do, so we went out for a drink on the Monday afternoon in Bursa, which maybe wasn’t a smart idea. We noticed that after we got a few down our necks, people were leaving the party. They saw where it was heading.
I was with a couple of guys—my mates Joe Mann and Duncan Raban—and we ended up in a little bar, sitting in the middle of it, just goofing off putting ice cubes down each other necks. And sitting all around us at the bar were a load of one-eyed, dangerous looking Turkish men. One came up and said: “You English, you crazies, you stop your crazy now!” To which my mate Joe said, “Ah, you speak English. Do you understand, ‘fuck off, mind your business’, then?”
We groaned. The guy came back and said: “These at the bar. These are all my brothers.” And Joe, sitting there with us two, the three of us together, said: “These are my brothers. What do you want to do about it?”
I thought, oh no, with Midnight Express still fresh in my mind. And the the guy came back and said, “I like your spirit. We buy you some drinks.” That could have gone either way, and I didn’t have much money on it going that way.
Anyway, it descended into a heavy evening, and luckily the under-21 team doctor gave us a couple of pills—one for the upset stomach after we had some food on the street corner, and one for the hangover—and we went and covered the under-21 game.
David Seaman was in goal. I think a guy called Ian Snodin was the star man then, and a lad from Grimsby Town was playing up front. And Paul Parker, who would play in the 1990 World Cup.
But I can’t remember that game too well. It was a bit of a blur, and we were back on the coach, back up to Istanbul; arriving late, all having an early night.
We got to the game and the light was very flat. It wasn’t great, and we all thought we’d sit on the sidelines, get some Bryan Robson stock, some Ray Wilkins stock and Tony Woodcock and John Barnes and so on.
[Mark can be spotted in a fetching blue anorak in the video above around the seven minute mark.]
And so we were sitting on the sidelines, and I think by half-time England were four or five goals up. We thought, “Ah, this was a game to shoot the goalmouth!” So for the second half, stable door time, I went to the goal and the only goal picture I got was Viv Anderson’s; the eighth goal in an 8-0 win. Unheard of, playing over there.
Walking down at half-time with England 5-0 up, so obviously English, so obviously going to do the England attack, was quite an experience in Istanbul. Somebody said, “I might stay this end.” I thought, I’ve come all this way. Another hundred yards won’t hurt. I’m going to make that despite what’s coming my way from the stands.
Bryan Robson scored his hat-trick—I can’t really remember the goal now—but there weren’t any real England supporters at one end, so he just seemed to run and give his big hat-trick salute to the photographers, where we were.
I was shooting it in colour, with a very slow shutter speed, no auto-focus; one frame of Robson up in the air, punching the air in his England shirt. And these were the times when I’d got back, I’d have processed that film through the night in the colour laboratory, converted it to black and white negative, made prints which I’d take round the newspapers, which I did on Thursday afternoon.
They were doing the big follow up, and I walked into The Sun, and they just had this “Captain Marvel” headline ready and a big square with nothing in it. They were looking at the various pictures they’d received, some from wire agencies, which were pretty poor quality back then.
And I was looking dishevelled after a pretty long trip, and they probably thought I was just some old messenger boy shuffling in with a picture. I dropped it on the desk. They didn’t look at me, they just looked at each other, high-fived and dropped it in the page and though, “We’re up the pub!” Job’s a good’un.
I’m so pleased that picture was a part of the legend that was Robson. He couldn’t have played like that now, but he went in. When they got the ball he just got it back off them with ferocity of tackling, gave it, probably out wide to Barnesy or somebody, who bombed it into the box, he arrived late, and bang! They could not stop him.
People might look back at him now and think he didn’t do well as a manager or a coach; whatever they want to say about him. But to be out in Istanbul that day, I can’t remember an England player, of any era, to put in a performance like that for his country, and taking so much pride in it as well.
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