Marlow await chance to hail Caesar and the Doc

Mike Rowbottom reports on the surprisingly suitable credentials of a Di adora club looking to topple Swindon
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The Independent Online
Victory for Marlow over Swindon Town in today's third-round tie would be regarded by most at the club as their greatest achievement. It would not, however, represent their greatest success in a competition which they have entered every year since it began in 1871-72, when they were among 15 clubs who contributed £25 towards the first trophy.

In company with Blackburn Olympic, Old Harrovians and Derby Junction, Marlow have appeared once in an FA Cup semi-final; and unlike the others, they are still here to recall the fact.

They were beaten 5-0 in 1882 by Old Etonians, who went on to defeat Blackburn Rovers in the final. That semi-final at The Oval was watched by a crowd of 8,000, which included a large part of Marlow's population of around 5,000. "The town was reported to have been deserted," Michael Eagleton, Marlow's chairman, said.

Since then the population of Marlow has grown and the football club, which pre-dates all but six of the current Premiership sides, does not count on achieving a similar effect 112 years on. "Marlow is not a football town," Eagleton said. "It is rowing, rugby, cricket, and football whenever we do something special."

Something special, at least in the FA Cup, has been achieved for four consecutive years now - in the last three seasons this side from the Diadora League has come through to face Plymouth Argyle, Spurs and West Bromwich Albion.

But for all the specialness, Marlow have been outdone by the rise to the Second Division of the team three miles down the road. No one at Marlow likes to mention them by name. Whisper it - Wycombe Wanderers.

"Whatever we have done, the club over the hill has done better," Eagleton says. "We normally get in hundreds what WW get in thousands."

As if to compound matters, Wycombe play host to West Ham tomorrow. But as that match is already a 9,000 sell-out, Marlow may benefit from an overspill. They are already counting on four busloads of supporters from Oxford United, who have no game on Saturday.

That might appear a gesture beyond the general call of sportsmanship, given that Marlow knocked the Second Division promotion contenders out of the first round of the Cup. But the clubs are interconnected.

Before the season, half the Marlow team followed the then manager, Dave Russell, to Slough Town. The new manager, Peter Foley - who stands level with John Aldridge on 93 goals as Oxford's all-time highest scorer - brought in half a team of Oxford United men, including Les Phillips and Peter Rhoades-Brown. The irony of their victory over Oxford was felt more acutely by Rhoades-Brown than possibly anyone else, given that he has a full-time job as Oxford United's Football in the Community Officer.

The scorer of both Marlow's goals on that occasion, John Caesar, is preparing for Saturday in the knowledge that any repeat of that form will provoke another spate of the newspaper headlines, "Hail Caesar! I came, I scored, I conquered!" - which have marked a career that has been followed with interest by several League clubs.

Caesar, a 29-year-old bricklayer, is one of Marlow's relative veterans, having joined the club six years ago from the nearby Diadora League Third Division side, Flackwell Heath. "It was just a case of joining the neighbouring club," he said. "I thought it would be the same kind of thing."

The same kind of thing, only different, is what it has turned out to be. But while Marlow have dazzled in the Cup this year, their League form has been so dismal that relegation remains a looming threat. That contrast is something no one at the club can fully explain. Not even "The Doc".

The dressing-room term for Ceri Evans, a 31-year-old central defender with five years' experience at Oxford United and 84 caps for New Zealand, may not be original but it is accurate.

Evans, a former Rhodes Scholar at Worcester College, Oxford, is a qualified doctor who is in his first year of studying psychiatry at the Maudsley Hospital in south London.

A scorer in the last round against Woking, Evans is still recovering from a cartilage operation, but the chances are that he will play against Swindon.

During his international career, he took part in three World Cup qualifying campaigns and played twice against the likes of Lineker and Platt when England toured the Antipodes in 1991.

There are times when the banter comes as a lovely relief following the demands of a job which even the medical establishment acknowledges is unusually stressful.

"It can be disturbing because you do deal with people in a lot of distress," Evans said. "As a doctor you know how to distance yourself, but it is more difficult in psychiatry because you are dealing with people on a more person-to-person basis.

"I am the new boy on the block, though, and I'm enjoying it. If you are a cardiologist you don't necessarily develop chest pains yourself. When I turn up to training the usual question I get is whether I've met Hannibal Lecter that day. It's all stereotypes, but you play along with it."

And so this unstereotypical defender prepares for Swindon and their combative player-manager, Steve McMahon. It should not prove unduly stressful for a man who is used to difficult cases.