MARK MARSHALL has a lot to be content about right now.
At the age of 29, the Jamaica-born winger has established himself as a key cog in the Bradford City machine that has left Stuart McCall’s side as one of only two in the Football League still unbeaten after the opening two months of the season.
Marshall has also banished the memories of a frustrating first campaign in Yorkshire, when he started just two league games from October onwards as then manager Phil Parkinson turned to others for an attacking spark.
Considering his career had been put on hold for two years after testing positive for a banned substance when at Barnet in 2012, being confined to a bit part role at Valley Parade was not part of the plan when moving north from Port Vale.
This time around, however, things have been very different with even Marshall’s one league game on the bench – the September 27 win over Fleetwood Town – bringing such an impressive cameo that he was restored to the starting line-up for last weekend’s 1-0 triumph at Chesterfield.
“It has been a great journey up to now and one I have taken a lot from,” said the Bantams winger to The Yorkshire Post.
“With what I have been through, it makes me appreciate the game.
“Football has given me nice things and made me laugh, but it has also made me cry. Despite that, the one thing I find is I love the game and that makes me always want to come back.
“Last season wasn’t the best (for me). As you could see from the style of play Bolton had against us (last month) under our previous gaffer, it contrasts to how we are playing and how I play. Now, though, I am starting games and that feels good.
“Football is all about ups and downs. On a Saturday, you might have an unbelievable game but then on the Tuesday nothing goes right. You go from being on top of the world to the bottom. But I wouldn’t change it.
“That is why I always say to kids, ‘Chase your dream’. That is what I am doing.”
Marshall, who moved to England at the age of eight, spent the early years of his career at non-League level with Carshalton Town, Grays Athletic and Eastleigh.
His big break came when Swindon Town offered a two-year contract, though even that was not straightforward with Marshall having initially been rejected following a trial. An attempt to sign Kevin Betsy floundered, however, and the Robins turned to the winger.
Two years and a change of manager later, Marshall was on his way to Barnet. He quickly became a regular at Underhill but, amid reported interest from a host of Championship clubs, a positive test for the banned substance, Methylhexanamine, suddenly meant his career was on hold.
Marshall, who insisted he had unwittingly taken the drug, could have crumbled, but instead he vowed to come back stronger than ever.
A figure still rightly revered at Valley Parade played his part in ensuring Marshall’s fitness levels never dropped.
“Jamie Lawrence is someone who I have done a lot of fitness work with over the years,” he said about the former winger who helped Bradford win promotion to the Premier League in 1999.
“He runs fitness camps all the way through the season and I did a few of them. Not every year, but a lot of them. Sometimes, I have to take a break because Jamie is very demanding. That is what I like about him.
“He puts you under pressure. But because he does it to himself, you don’t mind. Jamie is very, very fit and still has it.
“We keep in contact. I did ring him before joining Bradford (in the summer of 2015). He had great things to say about the club. He loved it here, that much was obvious.
“I asked if it was the right club for me and he said ‘yes’. We had a few chats this summer, too, even though I couldn’t do any training for a few reasons.
“Jamie is an inspiration. He took a wrong path (Lawrence served time in prison for robbery as a teenager) and admits that.
“But he was so, so determined to do his best. Now, he is the type of character who never lets anything get him down.
“His stubbornness is a big quality. It helped him achieve what he did. When you are in any area where competition is stiff, if you don’t believe in yourself then you won’t make it. Jamie helped teach me that and, hopefully, I can follow him in winning promotion with Bradford.”
Promotion, of course, is some way off yet. Nevertheless, City have started the season in fine style with the club’s unbeaten start – only Carlisle United in League Two can boast the same – meaning McCall’s men sit second with 21 points from 11 games.
“We can’t complain about how the season has gone so far,” said Marshall. “Being unbeaten at this stage is something we would have taken at the start.
“But, obviously, we had drawn a few and we needed (the recent) wins. Having said that, those draws could be important come the end of the season and we are only a few points off top. We are in a good position, but we want to push on.
“On a personal level, it feels good to be playing my part. I want to use what has happened (in the past) as motivation. I am a person who can take something away from any situation. Talking to you here is one of them. That is how I live my life.”
City’s start has ensured the transition from Parkinson to McCall has been a smooth one.
Marshall admits to relishing life under the former Scotland midfielder.
“The gaffer is a good guy,” he said. “He wants to play football and he is honest, too, and that is all you can ask for in a gaffer. His selections are based on performances – it means we know if we play well then chances are we keep the shirt.
“That honesty makes players respect a manager more. He is a top man and I am enjoying working under him.”