Doug Marsden: The man, the myth, and missing in Greece since 2004
It’s a story with a question mark as its ending - what happened to Doug Marsden?
Between the mid 1990s and early 2000s he forged one of the most intense rivalries in Scottish ice hockey, built his reputation as an iron man player who skated through brick walls, and then vanished amid a police probe into funds which had disappeared from the club relaunched by the fans who idolised him.
Separating the man from the myths surrounding his life as a party animal and team leader - a man who inspired seasoned hockey players, and a man who remains held in high regard by many - is almost impossible.
“A great hockey player but a bad human being” was the summary of one who saw both sides of the coin at very close quarter.
Even if only half the stories told about Marsden are true, there would still be enough to make one hell of a movie.
But it’d lack that definitive ending.
November 2014 would have been Marsden’s 50th birthday.
His family in Caledonia, Ontario, marked it with an announcement in their local paper, the Sachem and Glanbrook Gazette.
It carried a photo of him in his trademark round specs and short spiky hair, above a poignant message: “Missing since October 2004 while in Faliraki, Greece. We miss you but haven’t lost hope for your return.”
Seventeen years on, the trail remains cold.
He ended up in Greece working the doors of a club, via a taverna in Corfu, and possibly Tunisia where he never returned from holiday after disappearing amid the probe into thousands of £s missing from a rescue fund set up by Paisley Pirates fans.
By then Marsden had quit his day job as a car salesman, and, aged 33, had gone AWOL.
The stories quickly surfaced of the company he had kept, and also, allegedly, upset. People whose wrath you really did not want to incur.
Being indestructible on the ice didn’t translate to everyday life when his ability to charm and smile his way out of every tight corner suddenly faded.
His lifestyle was no secret - he was nicknamed ‘CC’ after the Canadian Club whisky he drank - and neither was the partying, but Marsy still held the respect of his team mates because he showed up every night, and he was the sort of character fans love.
Marsden, the man, was more complex.
One recalled how he was a neat freak - his flat was as immaculate as his personal life was chaotic.
He was intelligent and charismatic, but was destructive in his behaviour to those closest to him. Some pegged him as a functioning alcoholic.
He was at the very heart of a rollicking, hard-hitting Paisley team which set out to physically intimidate and steamroller every other club in the league, but, one theory goes, that his heart remained in Fife.
“He loved the place and immersed himself in it,” said one. “But he wanted to be top dog - and he realised he could never take over from Mark Morrison - Mo got their first.”
Offered that chance in Paisley, he jumped back west to the club where he first made his name in 1993-94 where he logged 151 points and 196 PIMs in 43 games.
With the club under new ownership and a burning desire to eclipse Flyers, Marsden built a seriously talented team around a core of experienced skaters, many of them from the Kingdom.
The next two seasons saw a rivalry ignited which was every bit as intense as the classic Flyers-Racers games of the Heineken era.
Chic Cottrell, Flyers assistant coach recalled: “The games were brilliant. Huge passions - unbelievable atmosphere.
“You knew it was a powderkeg. At any time it could be a classic game or a bloodbath - sometimes even both.”
Cottrell rated Marsden highly.
“The toughest, best on ice leader over 60 minutes you could have on your team - I would have Marsden against anyone in a fight, even guys like Mike Rowe.
“He was solid - I never saw him start a fight, in fact I’m not sure I ever saw him fight, but he had a presence and that was enough.”
“In the room he was a quiet guy, but when he spoke, guys listened. Something about him commanded respect.”
That intensity quickly transferred west as he set about building a team designed to intimidate.
On the first night of the season he took Pirates to Dumfries and told them not to cross the centre ice, instead line up and stare down Vikings.
They were bombarded for the first 20 minutes, but emerged with the win and a clear message which they wanted to send to the rest of the league.
Marsden wanted to be tougher than every other team and, he would carry his entire club on his back if needed. That gave his skaters confidence - they knew no-one would touch them such was his presence. One compared him to a svengali.
But if Paisley was the pinnacle of his career - culminating in a memorable Scottish Cup triumph on Fife ice - it was also his downfall as he got embroiled in the wrong company.
“He was able to charm and smile and get himself out of problems. Everyone seemed to love him,” said one.
But, the flip side was dark.
Hitting the headlines for being arrested in his sponsored car only to confess he’d forgotten to tell the club his licence was already revoked marked the beginning of the first end.
It was also a public glimpse into a life that was starting to get messy.
The party lifestyle also started to take a toll. It was certainly no secret - one recalled picking him up at 8:00am to find him reeking of booze - but he was still the bedrock of the team. If he went, so, potentially, did the dressing-room.
Season 1997/98 saw Marsden head to North America and a spell with Freno Fighting Falcons in the WCHL where further knee injuries added to the sense his body had taken enough of a battering.
Aged 35, he was on borrowed time as a player. Innovative cadavaric surgery in Caifornia got him back on the ice, even if it took him two days to be able to walk properly again after every game. It was a heck of a price to pay for the freedom to roam around the ice pad and be at the heart of a sport which had been central to his life since childhood.
He returned in 1998/99 to be part of the Edinburgh Capitals roster - he was also commercial manager, a day job that didn’t work out either - but a freak collision with a team mate left him facing pioneering shoulder surgery.
With his skates hung up, he returned to a new Paisley Pirates funded by a fans’ appeal.
Once again, Marsy’s charisma and charm put him in control, but things were starting to unravel.
He was unreliable, and often skipped, or was very late, for meetings - “he was like an eel, you never quite got your hands on him” said one.
Ultimately, he went AWOL amid reports of missing money and increasingly troubling stories of the company he kept off the ice.
Before leaving, Marsy made one final visit to Kirkcaldy for Neil Abel’s testimonial match.
He walked into the Fife Lounge in an all-white suit, sporting dark shades and an accent more akin to Miami Vice than the small town of Caledonia, Ontario.
He kept his shades on while playing, and jumped into a car being driven round the ice by a sponsor without taking off his skates, much to the consternation of the driver. The showman was back for one last spin round the ice.
“He never really wanted to grow up” said one who had a ringside to the chaos in Paisley.
But, the hockey memories endure.
Marsden leading his team’s celebrations at that cup final … Marsy nailing Lee Mercer with a hit into the Fife bench sparking the infamous brawl broadcast live by the now defunct Sky Scottish satellite station … Marsden and Simon Leach destroying Whitley on their own ice pad ... and Marsden the man who took Paisley on a rollercoaster ride of excess and entertainment in equal measure.
Frank Morris played with, and against Marsden, and classed him as a friend.
Describing him as “an absolute pleasure to play on the same team with” he added: “He was a phenomenal hockey player who brought so much talent, passion and friendship to the table. He oozed class and determination.”
Pick any player who was around at that time and you will find similar sentiments expressed to this day. Marsden’s influence was extraordinary. He was loved despite his flaws.
He was a true leader and a trusted team-mate in a sport where guys look to others to have their backs at all times.
But he was also a man with many demons, a man with two very different sides to his character; a man whose final resting place remains unknown.
Not everyone responded to calls to talk about him for this article - bonds forged in dressing-rooms remain strong despite the passing of time – but those who did, spoke with genuine warmth.
Frank Morris spoke for many when he said: “I often think of Dougy and his positive, infectious passion for life and how he was such a positive influence on everyone who came around him. I miss you brother. Thank you for the great memories.”
Stories of his Marsden’s death have been re-told many times - most of them wrapped in myths and re-packaged so often they have become accepted as fact. “Those who know, know” said one.
The anecdotes are very easy to harvest and roll out one more time, but to focus solely on the good times would be to do a huge dis-service those whose lives were tangled up in, and in many cases, deeply damaged, financially and emotionally, by the chaos he inflicted.
Seven years have lapsed since his family wished him a happy 50th birthday in absentia.
Seventeen have passed passed since he was last seen in Faliraki
The question mark at the end of Marsy’s story remains ...