Marlow's magic

Norman Fox explains how poor relations became rich in Cup lore
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The Independent Online
THE United States Soccer Federation, which recently accepted that a proper national league is a forlorn hope, might find some of the reasons for their failure in next weekend's FA Cup third round. Half the trouble has always been that Americans c an't understand a game in which logic is regularly turned on its head. Try explaining why it is that a team such as Marlow, floundering in a league comprising, by and large, clubs from places no tourist ever discovered, has a reasonable chance of beating Swindon Town, a team last year in the Premiership.

Marlow's Cup success is illogical even by FA Cup standards. They are still labouring deep in the Diadora League, just as they were when they beat Oxford United to reach the second round and as they were last month when they beat Woking.

They had no right to beat Oxford, the Second Division leaders, but they are the club that in the past three seasons have tilted at Plymouth Argyle, Tottenham Hotspur and West Bromwich Albion. Everything about them symbolises the audacity of the small club that rises to the annual challenge of the Cup, but more so. Who was hailed as the hero when Marlow beat Oxford? A bricklayer by the name of Caesar. Headline writers saluted him, but John Caesar thought there was nothing dramatic about it. "I'd had thissort of little ding-dong with the manager earlier in the season and that gave me a gee-up."

The manager is Peter Foley, who is not always successful in his "ding-dongs" with players. He had one or two with his skipper, Dave Lay, who told him he was depressed by Marlow's poor league form. Lay went to Slough just before the tie with Woking, leaving bad feeling among his former colleagues, one of whom remarked last week: "I hope he gets more depressed when we beat Manchester United in the fourth round."

Foley would like someone to explain to him why Marlow have a dreadful league record but keep succeeding in the Cup. "Somebody up there keeps blessing us. But it's only a bit of fun for us. It keeps the pressure off the league business."

He admits that the win over Oxford involved some inside knowledge. For a start, Foley played for the club and still jointly holds their goal-scoring record with John Aldridge. In addition, one of Marlow's regulars is Peter Rhoades-Brown, also a former Oxford player. Actually, nearly half the team are former Oxford players. The match against them was embarrassing for Rhoades-Brown, who used to provide the crosses at Chelsea. Now 32, his full-time job is the Football in the Community officer for Oxford United.

Foley loved beating his old club. "I predicted Rhoades-Brown would score the winner in injury-time, it would cost Oxford a million quid and he would get the sack." As it was, Rhoades-Brown probably only avoided the sack because he himself drew a diplomatic clean sheet.

They had no right to beat Woking either. Woking were second in the GM Vauxhall Conference, Marlow were second to bottom of the lesser Diadora League, and in the second minute of injury-time, having seen their goalkeeper, Kelvin Mitchell, sent off, were looking sure to finish second best. Then Ceri Evans, a trainee psychiatrist, headed in a free-kick from Rhoades-Brown. Evans, a New Zealand international, is another ex-Oxford United player; he spent five seasons there while studying for his doctorate.

Everything about Marlow seems to follow a classic romantic pattern. The victory over Oxford was their first home win of the season and on the previous Saturday they had managed a 1-1 draw at home to the only club below them in the league, Wokingham, who were down to 10 men after 12 minutes at which point Marlow were one up.

Foley was livid, but he believes Marlow have some special FA Cup pedigree. They should, since they have played in it every year since they were founded in 1870. Not that history is going to mean much to Swindon's new manager, Steve McMahon, whose job is to put steel into his team and end Marlow's bit of fun. Logically, he can't fail . . .