English (United Kingdom)
Joe Marston By Greg Baum Print E-mail
Tuesday, 29 July 2008 00:23



Tim Cahill should become the third Australian in an FA Cup final next month. But Joe Marston did it 50 years ago, writes Greg Baum.

Fifty years ago this week, Joe Marston became the first Australian to play in an FA Cup final. His team, Preston North End, lost to West Bromwich Albion, but the experience remains for Marston the highlight of five extraordinary years at Preston, where he became so loved that he was recently named as the club's fourth greatest player. In what is a parable of Australian soccer, Marston is a legend, but not in his own country.

At 24, Marston played for Leichhardt-Annandale, worked at making paint brushes and spent weekends as a surf lifesaver. He was on a patrol boat on Christmas Day 1950 when the call came. He and his wife Edith flew to England, with overnight stops in Singapore, Karachi and Cairo.

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In Cairo, they bought D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover - then banned in Australia - but burnt it before landing in London. It was early February and snowing; neither had seen snow before.

Preston, in Lancashire, was a big and old club that had just been relegated to the second division, a rare indignity. Australians were scarcely in demand, but Marston had impressed when playing for the national team.

At the station in Preston he was met by several hundred fans and began to grasp the gravity of what he had got into. The Marstons were befriended by two directors, who owned a cotton mill and an egg factory respectively, and seemed to employ everyone in town. Edith remembered that everyone curtseyed.

Marston spent the first year in the reserves, then got his chance through injury to another player. Previously a full-back, he moved to the centre of the defence and never looked back, playing 196 consecutive games. Preston had returned to the first division and finished runners-up to Arsenal on goal difference in 1952-53.

Marston and Preston came to love each other dearly, though conditions were often harsh. Marston remembered playing in gluey mud, in snow and ice, sometimes in a gritty smog so thick he could not see the other end of the ground.

Half the Preston team was English, the other half Scottish, then a sublime combination. "Preston suited me," he said. "They played football, with short passing, always on the ground." He formed a fast friendship with Tom Finney, one of England's finest, that lasts to this day.

Marston lived the professional's life. He was not allowed to ride a motorbike, nor dance after Wednesdays. He wore a collar and tie everywhere.

In the summers, he played cricket. "Being an Australian, they thought I could play," he said. "I made a duck in my first game!" England was still on postwar rations, and his cricket exploits earned him extra coal for the fires that never seemed warm enough.

Marston said the board encouraged him to have children and suspects it was to strengthen his link to the club and town. He and Edith had a daughter, but after three years grew homesick for sun and informality. The fans rallied to pay the Marstons' fare home for a holiday, on the condition that he returned. He did, of course, though in the meantime Arsenal had offered Preston £80,000 for him.

On their way back to Australia, the Marstons went to the 1953 FA Cup final, the most famous of all, in which Stanley Matthews's Blackpool beat Bolton Wanderers 4-3. Edith, as much a soccer fanatic as her husband, remarked to Joe that it would be wonderful for him to play in it one day.

In the next year's FA Cup, Preston beat Derby (pictured right : Programme from FA Cup 3rd Round), Lincoln and Ipswich to reach the quarter-finals, where they disposed of Leicester City at the third attempt. In the semi-finals they defeated Sheffield Wednesday 2-0 in front of 75,000 on a heavy pitch at Maine Road, Manchester.

Preston was abuzz. Before the final, the team stayed in London at the Savoy, where Edith met Errol Flynn in a lift one morning. The players wore new suits to Wembley, courtesy of a sponsor.

Marston said he had not been nervous before the match. "Tommy Finney said I was ice-cool." he said. "I could hear the crowd when we walked out and we were introduced to the Queen mum, but once the ball was kicked and we started running around, I didn't hear anything except when a goal went in."

West Bromwich went ahead, but Preston hit back with two goals, only for West Brom to equalise again. Marston said he was not that bothered because West Brom had several injured players and he was sure Preston would win the replay.

But the Midlands side got the winner with less than two minutes to play. "That was a killer," he said. "It was a terrible feeling. I felt sorry for our players, but especially for our supporters. We let them down."

The next day, the team returned to Preston, where an open-topped bus awaited to take the players to the town hall for a reception. The people were 10-deep in the streets, which only deepened the players' gloom.

"I've got a photo of us on the steps of the town hall," said Marston. "We weren't happy chappies."

Marston was made captain of Preston the next year and played for an English League selection against the Scottish League. But he was 28, and the pull of home was strong, despite entreaties from fans and a fund started by the Lord Mayor to keep him.

For his last match at Preston, the club hired a band that played Waltzing Matilda and For He's A Jolly Good Fellow. The board gave him a gold pen-and-pencil set, the staff and players a chiming clock (which still works) and a fan gave him a Bible printed on rice-paper.

He still has his Preston jersey, but had to throw out his Australian one. "I painted in it and it got dirty," he said. "We didn't think about things like that. It wasn't commercial then."

Marston played 37 times for Australia, was captain and briefly coach. He has returned to Preston only once, when trying to instil professionalism into a Sydney western suburbs team in 1967.

But he keeps in touch with surviving teammates, especially Finney. Marston is now depicted in a mural at the ground. "It was a wonderful time," he said.

Joe is now 78 and he and Edith live quietly on the Central Coast. They are still passionately interested in soccer, together watching every FA Cup final and many other dead-of-the-night games.

Marston follows the byzantine workings of Australian soccer with paternal anxiety. He believes the Socceroos must play more in Australia for the game to prosper.

Dozens of Australians have played in England since Marston, but Craig Johnston is the only other one to have reached an FA Cup final, with Liverpool in 1986 and 1988.

Next month, Tim Cahill will become the third when he appears for Millwall against Manchester United.

Kick-off will be as an old clock chimes midnight on the NSW coast, and 50 years will roll away.


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