In the mind’s eye, his last sentencing was like the opening titles to the 1970s BBC sitcom, Porridge. “Marlon Francis King, you are an habitual criminal, who accepts arrest as an occupational hazard, and presumably accepts imprisonment in the same casual manner”. It is now thirteen years since King’s first appearance before the beak and since then he has managed a further thirteen criminal convictions, two of which have ended with him having the opportunity to recreate his favourite scenes from the aformentioned TV show at his leisure. In 2002, he was sentenced to eighteen months for receiving stolen goods, which was reduced to nine months after an appeal that was supported by his club at the time, Gillingham, who also paid his wages while he was in prison. He was eventually released on licence having served five months of his sentence.
His second spell in prison received rather more publicity. He was found guilty in October 2009 of sexual assault and Actual Bodily Harm, having punched a 20 year-old female university student in the face, causing a broken nose and split lip for which she was treated in hospital and sentenced to eighteen months in prison, in addition to being placed upon the sex offenders register for seven years. He was released at the end of July last year, having served half of his sentence, and has now been picked up by Championship club Coventry City. In the interests of completeness, here is a brief précis of the remainder of his greatest, as it were, “hits”:
- 1997: Convicted of wounding, having head-butted and punched an opposition player in the face during an amateur match, fracturing his cheekbone.
- 1999: Convicted on two counts of theft and two counts of fraudulently using a tax disc.
- 2002: Convicted for driving with excess alcohol and while uninsured.
- 2002: Convicted for criminal damage and attempting to obtain property by deception.
- 2003: Convicted on two counts of common assault.
- 2005: Convicted for threatening behaviour.
The curious question at this stage is what Coventry City see in King. The disruptions that his own behaviour has forced upon his playing career has limited him to just 350 appearances in twelve years and only just over 100 goals in that time. Coventry may see this as enough of a track record to justify signing him, but the baggage that he carries brings a whole host of issues that simply don’t apply in the case of most professional footballers, even if we discount the moral aspect of signing him. It’s easy enough to do when we consider that the overwhelming majority of football clubs simply don’t have any morals when it comes to signing players, which makes looking for an aspect to their decision easy. It doesn’t exist.
From a purely practical point of view, however, there are question marks over the wisdom of Coventry City him. If a football club considers the signing of a new player to be a sizeable investment but the player has a poor reputation off of it, it surely becomes a trade-off. How much trouble is the player likely to be versus how good the player is. Marlon King is a reasonably good player at the level at which he will be playing, but he’s nothing extraordinarily special and, let’s be honest, he has a terrifically bad reputation. Considering the sheer volume of misdemeanours in his past, it is less likely than it would be with most that he will rehabilitate himself this time around. It’s not a matter of “not giving him a second chance”. He’s on his fifteenth, already.
Then there is the broader picture of Coventry City Football Club. The Sky Blues have picked up some pretty horrendous PR over their decision to sign him, and the decision might yet hit the club in the pocket. Coventry are hardly packing out the Ricoh Arena this season and King’s arrival at the club is hardly likely to bring droves of new supporters through the turnstiles unless he starts scoring a lot of goals, and quickly. Some, though, may even pick this as a tipping point to leave and some may choose not to return to Coventry City until King has gone. It may only take a tiny number to hit the club in the pocket – just 100 people staying away at £30 per ticket would cost Coventry £3,000 per home match – money that they can ill-afford to lose. This, it could be considered, may be the hidden cost of Marlon King.
The fact of the matter is that Coventry supporters seem to have mixed blessings on the subject. One Coventry blogger seems to have summed up the general feeling of a sizeable proportion of the club’s supporters in saying, “If Attila The Hun was alive today and he was a prolific goalscorer and played football at a high standard, and Aidy Boothroyd said that Attila was a nice chap really I’d say to Aidy go on then sign him up!”. Gauging where they all stand on the subject is obviously tough (a Coventry Evening Telegraph poll on the subject put the split at about 50/50, but self-selective polls are obviously unreliable), but there seems to be a number that are unhappy with the signing, but a widespread boycott of the club on moral grounds seems highly unlikely.
Some might argue that Marlon King needs to hire himself a PR man. He could certainly do with showing a little humility, but he may not care what others think of him. At this stage, though, the ball is in his court to come good and rehabilitate himself if he wants to, and he genuinely doesn’t care in the slightest, the absolute least that we expect of him is to stay on the right side of the law from now in. We shall see if he can, but in the meantime critics are perfectly entitled to have reservations over his past behaviour until he proves that this time he has changed. To this extent, scoring a lot of goals for Coventry City in itself is not enough. It wouldn’t matter if he walked into the Coventry City team and proved (against, it has to be said, much of the previous evidence on display) that he was actually the greatest footballer in the world all along. This is about Marlon King as a person, and if he hasn’t changed he will deserve all of the opprobrium that he will no doubt receive.