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Tuesday 10th January 2016 ko 19.45

Southern League Division One Central

MARLOW 1 (Poulton 2)

ASHFORD TOWN 0

Att 122

Entry £8

Programme £1

There are many reasons why you’d want to visit the Alfred Davis Memorial Ground, but may I suggest a detour first to the Compleat Angler? The pub-cum-hotel claims to be in Marlow but since it’s on the Berkshire side of the William Tierney Clarke-designed suspension bridge over the Thames, I reckon it’s in Bisham! Wherever it is, the view over to All Saints Church is spectacular, and its also a high-class place to grab a pre-match beer. Of course the Compleat Angler also happens to be where in 1870 Marlow FC were formed. 

Times were different then, the club played at Crown Meadow, and the trains ran on the single track spur from Bourne End called for no obvious reason “The Marlow Donkey.” In 1871 the club entered the FA Cup in it’s first year and are now the only club to have entered it every subsequent year, although they didn’t play in it in the 1910/11 season. This was the club of Cuthbert Ottaway, captain of the England side that played in the first ever international vs Scotland in Glasgow in 1872. The club moved to Crown Meadow in 1919 then to the current ground in 1928, and the frankly stunning stand dates from 1930.

There are plans for the club to move to a shared facility with Marlow RUFC at Little Marlow Gravel Pits freeing up the Davis Memorial Ground to be sold for housing. And let’s face it, with Marlow being situated between the M40 and M4 in prime commuter-belt, the land must be worth a fortune! The club seem under little or no pressure to sell, and moves to out-of-town locations are often fraught with danger, so perhaps the relevant statistic was that Wycombe Council threw out the club’s proposal in 2009!

On a personal level I visited in 1994, for Marlow’s FA Cup first round tie against Oxford United. I discharged myself from hospital following surgery 2 days earlier to be there, and ended up being carried into the ground to watch my side lose 2-0 to a side featuring two ex-Oxford United legends in Peter Rhoades-Brown and Les Phillips. A third, Ceri Evans sat watching a couple of rows from me in the stand and a fourth Peter Foley was Marlow manager. Sadly very little footage seems to exist of the game, just this short clip of one of John Caesar’s goals.

I remember the Oxford fans applauding the Marlow team from the pitch at the end and some even followed Marlow in the second round, although I’m bound to say that may have had something to do with the tie, they drew swindon town away!

Now you might have thought that would have been Marlow’s finest ever cup run, but they’d made the semi-final in 1882 losing to eventual winners Old Etonians at the The Oval.  But even if you were to ignore the FA Cup’s infancy they’d played Tottenham Hotspur in 1993, in a Third Round tie! The tie was switched to White Hart Lane, and Marlow lost 5-1 but there was significant background to the game.

As one of the leading lights of the amateur game, Marlow were invited in 1894 to join the newly founded semi-pro Southern League, but declined the offer. Their place went to, yes, Tottenham Hotspur and the rest as they say is history!

Who knows what would have happened if Marlow had have turned professional? As happened with so many clubs that retained amateur status, the likes of Oxford City and Harwich & Parkeston for example saw themselves overtaken by lesser clubs that embraced professionalism.  I think of Marlow as an Isthmian League club and as such was shocked when they were relegated into the Hellenic League in 2012. Thankfully their stint at Step 5 last only one season, as they went up as champions the next year.

For all of that history, and the quite wonderful ground, I did approach this game with a certain amount of trepidation. During pre-season Robyn and I watched Marlow play Ascot United at Bisham Abbey and were rather put-off by the antics of the players, particularly goalkeeper Simon Grant. I hoped we wouldn’t see a repetition, but sadly we did.

Marlow won, Nathan Paulton’s header from an early corner saw to that, and Ashford Town offered far too little in attack for them to have deserved a point. But as I slowly walked round you could hear Grant’s foul mouthed critique of the referee, and what was the Marlow subsitute (you can see him in the background of the picture of the two managers shaking hands) doing trying to wind up the away bench at the end? Marlow won after all, and as my carload headed back to Oxford Robyn summed up all our thoughts neatly.

“Lovely ground, lovely people off of the pitch, but I don’t want to go back until they sort out their players.”

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