From Sydney to Wembley - Marston's long haul to Cup final

Nick Harris talks to the former Australian centre-half about his memories of playing for Preston in the final 50 years ago
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The Independent Football

When Joe Marston's old clock chimes at midnight on Saturday in New South Wales, it will be 3pm in Cardiff and 1954 all over again in his head.

When Joe Marston's old clock chimes at midnight on Saturday in New South Wales, it will be 3pm in Cardiff and 1954 all over again in his head.

Then, aged 28, he became the first Australian to play in an FA Cup final, for Preston against West Bromwich Albion. Although he was on the losing side and his memories of that game remain bittersweet, his affection for the Cup, and indeed the English game, where he spent an extraordinary five seasons, remains undimmed.

Speaking from his home on the central coast this week, Marston said that this year's 50th anniversary of his big day at Wembley will have a special resonance. Millwall's Tim Cahill will become only the third Australian to play in an FA Cup final ­ after Joe in 1954 and Craig Johnston, of Liverpool, in 1986 and 1988 ­ and Marston is hoping Cahill can succeed where he failed. "I always watch the FA Cup final, it's still one of the top games in the world," he said. "And I'll be supporting Millwall because you've got to support the Aussie."

Cahill's parents took out a £4,000 loan when he was 16 to fund his dream of playing in England. He made his Millwall debut in May 1998, and hasn't looked back.

"It's going to be a big thing for Tim, I know that from experience," Marston said. "He's done well so far [as Millwall's top scorer in the competition] and now anything can happen. All I'd say to him is play to the best of his ability and go out and enjoy his game."

Marston certainly enjoyed his own playing days, describing his lengthy career as "blessed". Another description would be "unconventional", at least in relation to his sojourn at Deepdale.

A paintbrush maker by trade, he played centre-half for Leichardt-Annandale in Sydney and spent his spare time as a volunteer lifeguard on Sydney's north shore. It was while he was doing a shift there on New Year's Eve 1949 that he received a message that a scout from England had seen him play and that Preston wanted to give him a trial. They were even prepared to pay £665 to fly Joe and his wife, Edith, to England.

The trip took four days, with overnight stops in Singapore (where Preston arranged a room at Raffles), Karachi and Cairo.

The culture shock didn't stop there, with Joe and Edith both amazed not only by their first sight of snow but by England's rural landscape. They had expected an industrial sprawl.

The football was less of a culture shock, with Joe passing his trial with flying colours and earning an immediate place in the reserves.

His starting wage ­ £7 a week, £2 win bonus and £1 draw bonus ­ was less than he'd made in Oldfields factory back home, but life was good and first-team football beckoned.

"It's a different world these days for our young guys like Viduka and Kewell, there's so much money in the game," he said. "But even then footballers were treated like something special.

"Sure, we had to follow the rules. We had to take our own socks and boots to the games, and soap and towels for that matter. We had to wear a collar and tie wherever we went. We had restrictions like not being allowed to ride motorbikes or go dancing after Wednesdays. But there weren't any bad times, really. I was blessed."

Marston's big break came courtesy of a bad break (of the leg) for Preston's regular centre-half, Harry Mattinson. Joe replaced him in 1951 and was ever-present until 1954, making 185 league appearances.

He also represented the English League against the Scottish League, rooming with Manchester United's Duncan Edwards.

At Preston, winning the Second Division title in 1951 was one high point. A neck-and-neck battle with Arsenal for the First Division title in 1952-53 also brought a season of good memories.

Arsenal eventually won the title by a 10th of a goal on goal average, although Preston took a moral victory by beating them soundly during a 14-match unbeaten spell during their run-in.

Marston has no doubt his day at Wembley was the single most memorable occasion of his time in England, despite the result. Lining up alongside Tom Finney, who had been voted Player of the Year that week, and Tommy Docherty, he even thought victory was within Preston's grasp as they led 2-1.

Even when West Brom's Ronnie Allan equalised for 2-2, he thought Preston would win the replay.

Maybe he thought, Finney would have a better game then, instead of being man-marked out of action. Then Frank Griffin scored late to make it 3-2 to West Brom and Preston's dream was over. "I'm not one for big emotions," Marston recalled. "But I did have to take a few really big breaths out there at the end to cope. It was a bitter pill, actually."

The day was also memorable for the post-match sentiments of a team-mate, Willie Forbes.

"He was a heavy smoker, Willie, and he took out his match box and emptied it on to the floor. Then he used it to scrape the mud and bits of turf off his boots and he stuffed the box with the proceeds. 'This is what I'll keep, this is my souvenir from today,' he said. He was right. We all took something away."

Joe went back to Australia, where he won 37 caps and also coached his country. From Preston he took away a barrow load of memories, and, as a gift from his team-mates, a chiming clock.

Roll on midnight Saturday, and roll back the years.



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