Football: Pint and a pizza keeps Marples on his toes

FA Cup countdown

Chris Marples posed for photographs lying back in his seat, holding a pint in one hand and a fag in the other. "If it was good enough for Leeds in the Seventies it's good enough for me," he said. "They're drinking and smoking in every picture you see."

It was not a normal portrait of a footballer about to play the biggest game of his career, although no one could accuse the Emley goalkeeper of being conventional. He might have been preparing to face the West Indies as England's wicketkeeper; he has a two-foot steel rod in his leg; there is absolutely no chance of his meeting a curfew before the club's FA Cup third-round tie at West Ham on Saturday.

Throw in the fact that he has been Emley's saviour in two penalty shoot- outs, his nicknames (derived from his bright orange shirt and a, shall we say, full figure) are Tango man or Tellytubby, and that the west Yorkshire club from the Unibond League have never been to the second round before never mind the third, and Marples is a bona fide leading actor in the commodity they call the romance of the Cup.

Marples, 33, joined Emley (population 1,800, average attendance 250) after a broken left leg ended a career that spanned more than 300 League games and spells at Chesterfield, Stockport County, York City and Chesterfield again. A phone call from Ronnie Glavin, Emley's manager, persuaded him to try non-League and this season, particularly in the Cup, he has been outstanding.

In the first round he made three saves in the penalty shoot-out against Morecambe and two more against Third Division Lincoln City in the last round.

"I have a routine," Marples said. "I watch which corner the players look at first and study the way they run up to the ball. This year it's come off all right, other times I've looked a right fool. I had a terrible penalty record at Chesterfield."

Against Morecambe and Lincoln, Emley had to score goals in the last five minutes to earn extra time and the shoot-out. Go in to the village and the message is consistent about Saturday's game. West Ham (members 8,000, plus, average attendance 23,00) will probably win but not as easily as they think. Three people were almost word for word the same: "This team never know when they're beaten."

Marples knows more than anyone. His broken leg came when he dived at the feet of a Scunthorpe player three years ago almost to the day. "The lad tried to jump me to be fair," he said, "but my leg got caught in the turf and collided with his knee, breaking the tibula and fibula. It was very nasty. At the time there wasn't any pain, but 10 minutes later I felt it all right."

Three operations and 18 months trying to get fit proved futile in Football League terms and he will play at Upton Park with a quarter-inch rod running through a bone from the top of his knee to his ankle. Fine, unless he gets a serious injury which would entail smashing the tibula completely to remove a piece of metal that will bend but not break.

"I worried about it at first, but the surgeon says I'll be all right if its kicked," he said. "I've been advised to have it removed, but at the moment I'm having no pain, so while it's like this I'll keep it in."

Marples, as he admits, did not always show such fortitude. Big things were expected of him when he succeeded Bob Taylor as Derbyshire's wicket- keeper at 19, playing as first choice for the county in 1985 and 1986. He was young, talented, but too keen to go to the bar.

"I was a young lad then and things were coming too a bit too quick. I'd just won the Fourth Division championship with Chesterfield at football and I had too much time on my hands and I like a pint, so... If it had happened a few years later I'd have handled it better.

"I blame myself. There was talk about me going a long way in cricket, but I didn't prepare myself properly for the game. It got to the stage where you have a drink after the game, you drink at the hotel, with the meal, afterwards in the bar.

"I was my own worst enemy. Geoff Miller and Kim Barnett both had words with me but, being a young lad, you think you know better than anyone else. In some ways I wish I could turn the clock back, but I've had a good football career, enjoyed my life."

Marples probably could not change anyway. Even at the start of the current run, which began at Workington on 13 September and will stretch to nine matches at West Ham, he was out with Barnsley's manager, Danny Wilson, on the eve of the game and he now considers it an essential good-luck omen that he does the same before every Cup tie.

"I'd had a few beers with Danny and on the way home I stopped and had a pizza - a margharita with garlic on it. I get stick off the players' wives saying `you're humming, get away from me' but I've had it every round.

"Danny says I ought to stay up here on Friday, go to the pub with him and he'll drive me down to the match on Saturday morning, but I don't think Ronnie would like that. So Friday night in London I've got to find a nice garlic pizza. And some beers."

At least he will have a presence in the penalty area on Saturday and he expects he is going to need it. "Realistically, we've got no chance. In the old days you used to get more shocks, but now I think the Premiership is pulling away from the rest. Our attitude will be that we've got to enjoy the day. We're not a kicking side, we'll try to play them at football and hope we don't get slaughtered.

"When I came to here I never thought I'd play a Third Division side again never mind the Premier League. If we get beaten five, six or seven, I'll still enjoy it."

As Marples points out, the omens are not promising. Both a dislocated shoulder and his broken leg came in the last two Januarys he played, but at least someone is optimistic. Under the Welfare Ground main stand some one had gone to the trouble to change the lettering on the official notice board. It read: "Emley FC welcomes the directors and officials of West Ham FC to the FA Cup replay. 14 January, 1998."

If it happens no one will enjoy the occasion more than Marples.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
Life and Style

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Sudan, the last male northern white rhino
environmentThe death of a white northern rhino in Kenya has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells