Tuesday 8th December 2020 – 7:45pm KO – FA Trophy 2nd Qualifying Round
Almost a year ago to the day I treated The Current Mrs Fuller to a day at the races and then an evening out in Marlow, one of the most picturesque towns that sits on the banks of the Thames. Of course, there was a slight ulterior motive. After dinner at The Ivy, a night at the Complete Angler and then lunch at Tom Kerridge’s Hand and Flowers, we would head to the Alfred Davis Memorial Ground for Marlow’s Isthmian League game against Bracknell Town.
I’d delivered on my part of the bargain, but the elements then failed me, with the heavy overnight rain causing the game to be postponed. Karma perhaps for trying to sneak a game in on a weekend when I was supposed to be focusing on CMF rather than football.
Three hundred and fifty-two days later and I was back, this time despite heavy overnight rain, the FA Trophy tie against Nuneaton Borough was going ahead. The irony of our COVID times was that Marlow Football Club had been due to celebrate their 150th birthday last weekend with a meal at said Complete Angler but that fell afoul of the current restrictions.
A lot of the enjoyment you get from visiting a new ground is rarely related to the actual match itself. It is the people you meet, the quirkiness of the ground, the back stories and the food and drink. Marlow ticked all of the above (OK, a cup of tea and a Mars bar may not be a royal feast, but it is most welcome on a freezing cold night). However, when you get a game high on controversy, which compels you to not take your eyes off the action, and you throw that in the mix then you have a memorable occasion.
The Alfred Davis Memorial Ground was named after the club’s former secretary who went house to house in the town to raise funds for the football club to have a new home. He posthumously raised enough for some land to be bought and in 1928 they relocated to the current spot. The pride of place in the ground is the wooden grandstand that offers fine views of the action which opened some time around 1930. Trivia fact for you: Marlow are the only English club to have entered the FA Cup in every year since it first started in 1871.
Marlow fan Kerridge has put the name of his pub on the stand at one end, which at the far end is a narrow walkway with a high wall that results in off-target shots rebounding back into play.
With the pause in league action for both sides this was a welcome return to competitive football. Step 3 Nuneaton Borough lined up with former Reading striker Leroy Lita up front who despite his aging years, looked lively all night. It was no surprise that the away side looked the stronger in the opening exchanges and took the lead when a Carl Baker free kick on the edge of the Marlow box was smashed home.
However, the biggest talking point of the game came in the 43rd minute. The ball was kicked out for a Nuneaton throw but rather than using the same ball, a new one was thrown to the attacking side by their bench, which is against the COVID-19 protocols for football at the non-elite stage. Nuneaton counter attacked and scored. The Marlow players and the bench were incensed, and the referee knew he had an issue. The debate raged for 7 minutes before the referee announced the goal should stand.
Ninety second later and the referee pulled up with a thigh strain. After some lengthy treatment from both physios, he decided he couldn’t continue, and the PA announcement went out for “any referees or linesmen in the crowd tonight”. With just 135 in attendance the odds on finding someone were slim but eventually a young Marlow fan (16 years old so I understand) stepped forward and agreed to do it. There was a rumour that he had rung his Mum to fetch his kick but with time ticking on and the players essentially having been standing around for 15 minutes already he walked onto the pitch in his tracksuit bottoms and trainers.
The second half saw some decent shouts from the home side for penalties, eventually getting one in the 75th minute but by that stage it was game over as the away side had taken a 4-0 lead, the pick of the goals being a powerful shot from the edge of the area by the impressive Carl Baker.
Whilst thousands will have been watching Manchester United’s latest tale of woe play out in the warmth of their front rooms, the hardy souls who came down to support not only their local team but Non-League football in general will have gone home satisfied in seeing a decent game of football albeit probably not the result they wanted. It is because of clubs like Marlow and their former secretary Alfred Davis that we have a Non-League game today. COVID-19 can try to break that but 150 years of fighting against the odds to survive will see clubs like Marlow come out the other side, whenever that may be.