MARC BIRCHAM TALKS QPR, BECKS, BUTCH, AND BREAKING RECORDS
Interview: Josh Millar
Images: Offside Sports Photography
“I joined QPR when I was nine, and I was there until I was 15. I loved the club, but at the time they weren’t producing many young players so the decision was made that I would go to Millwall.
"My dad wanted me to go there because he used to play for them. I was so upset, but my dad told me that being a professional footballer was the best thing that could happen to me, so I left.
“I made my debut for Millwall purely by accident. The first team had a bad result, and Jimmy Nicholl arranged a reserves v firsts game at The Den.
“We had a trialist right back who was meant to be playing, but he didn’t turn up, so I said I’d play there. I played well; I scored one and set one up, and Jimmy told me I’d be playing for the firsts against Preston on the Saturday and that I’d be playing wing back. I’d been a central midfielder all my life!
“I played with Ray Wilkins who was one of my heroes. He had signed a couple of days earlier on loan. I got a tiny bit nervous before the game, and Ray calmed me down. ‘You alright, Birch?’ he said. ‘Don’t worry, you make the run, and wherever you are, I'll put the ball on your foot.’ I made about four runs in the game, and he put it right on my foot every single time. I was up against their best player; Kevin Kilbane. I played really well, we won 3–2, and I set up the last goal with a cross and got man of the match.
“When I went back to Loftus Road, people couldn't believe that I was signing for them, because I had a chance to sign for Birmingham in the Premier League and QPR were in Division 2 at the time. You’re always told to play at the highest level you can, but the only reason I ever kicked a ball was to play for QPR. So my only worry was if I didn’t do well and if the fans didn’t take to me, would it affect the love affair for my club? It was probably the best decision I ever made.
“People always remember me for the blue and white hair. When me and my brother were kids, I said if I ever played for QPR I would do it, and as soon as I signed my brother reminded me about it, so I had to do it. In the following four games, I was booked three times and sent off, so I don’t think the refs liked it. I also kept getting letters off parents telling me that their kids had been suspended from school for copying it so I thought I better dye it back to brown!
“The reason I ended up playing for Canada is because I originally got called up for Wales. My grandad was born in Winnipeg, but on the way back they stopped in Wales to register the birth, and that’s why they thought I was eligible. But then I got a letter from UEFA telling me my grandad was technically Canadian, so I couldn’t play for Wales. Luckily for me, the Canadian General Manager was over watching Paul Peschisolido, and he liked the look of me and offered me the chance to play for them.
“The first game was Northern Ireland away, and I had learned the words to the national anthem by watching South Park. But then before the match, ‘God Save the Queen’ came on and I started singing it! Then I went and scored at Windsor Park on my debut and got in the Guinness Book of Records in the process. I’m the only person to ever score for their country without setting foot there.
“I was going to go to LA Galaxy towards the end of my career because Frank Yallop was manager, and he wanted me to sign. It was the same summer David Beckham joined, and Frank wanted another English boy to help him settle in which I was absolutely fine with, but my wife at the time was pregnant and wanted our child to be born in England.
“People always ask me if I regret not playing in the Premier League when I had the chance, but the only regrets I have are my injuries. All I ever wanted to do was play for QPR; it was my dream. People might say that’s not the most ambitious dream, but it was good enough for me.”
This originally appeared in Issue 16, which is still available in limited numbers. For more great football writing about stuff you actually care about, you can buy our magazine or subscribe for a year here.