Having never been to the ground before, I was pleased to find that there was still a little room left in the car park when I arrived. A friendly gentleman directed me to a spot (blocking someone in) and closed the gates behind. The car park was now full. I made a note to be close to the exit at the final whistle so that I could get out and not cause a blockage to the car behind me. This idea failed miserably as it turned out.
I was pleasantly surprised by the Alfred Davis Memorial Ground. This is a real old style traditional non-league stadium full of character and history. As you walk in from the car park end through the single turnstile you pass the changing rooms and officials facilities on your right. These are separated from the palying surface by a service road which, when the players are coming out or returning, is gated to allow free access. The pitch is to your left and directly in front of you, at this point, is the main stand, a rather grandiose old wooden stand set back from the playing surface and proudly displaying Marlow FC on its facia. At the far end of the ground, behind the goal, is a covered standing area and opposite the main stand is another covered standing area. The near goal, at the car park end, is just backed by hard standing. There is also another turnstile entrance to the ground at the far end, diagonally opposite the car park entrance.
So, with the stage set and the teams about to emerge, I took up a position on the far side of the ground for the first half. I was soon joined by a very friendly local who, it transpired, was a former Marlow player from some time ago. We chewed the cud about all things football, from local non-league through to international. He told me that the club was looking at building a new stadium out of the town and selling off the Alfred Hall Memorial Ground. Now, I understand that teams have to make ends meet and that prime land close to a town centre can fetch a good price but this is a piece of footballing history. This is not unique to Marlow. It is happening up and down the country and I really think that football, the community, needs to do something to prevent it from happening. Instead of ploughing countless millions back into top flight football, let's put a larger amount back into the lower leagues to save these old stadia. I am sure that these new purpose built grounds are cheaper to maintain but seriously, they have no soul, no character. Do we really want to see the likes of the Alfred Hall, Eynsham Park, Hardenhuish Park or Bell Close replaced by identikit grounds like Creasey Park (no offence Dunstable, a lovely facility, but it's a little too sterile, too clean for my liking). Rant over and on with the game.
Despite it being a cup game, Slough had what looked like a strong side out including former Marlow defender Dan Hicks returning to his old club for the first time. They were coming into the game on the back of winning the Southern Premier Team of the Month for October. Of course, true to form, they had gone on to lose their next league game. Marlow had followed up their 5-0 league win over Bashley with a comfortable 3-0 FA Trophy victory against Larkhall. So, we were all set up for a good local derby contest.
The opening salvoes were quite even before Slough began to take control of the possession. This pattern followed for the majority of the first half, Slough having the lion's share of the ball but not really threatening the home goal too much. When Marlow did attack they showed that they had enough to worry Slough. With the first half drawing to what looked like a goalless conclusion, Marlow grabbed a goal somewhat out of the blue. A ball was played down their right-flank for Marcus Mealing who steadied himself and unleashed a 25 yard dipping volley over the keeper. It was a fine effort that looked initially like it was going well over before it took a vicious dip into the net.
Pretty soon after the referee blew for half-time with Marlow still leading 1-0. I tweeted at the time that I thought it was a fairly even half, fully expecting to get some differing opinions, especially from the Slough contingent. However, what I meant was that, although Slough had much more of the ball they had rarely got a shot on target. Marlow meanwhile, had less possession but had made something of one of their chances.
However, just four minutes into the second half and it was actually the home side who scored. Once more it was a break down the right hand side and when the ball was chipped over the advancing keeper Yashwa Romeo was there to apply the simple touch over the line.
The two goal margin was not to last long though. Within a minute Slough had a goal back. Following a bit of pinball in the Marlow box the ball fell to the feet of Ryan Hope who's fairly tame shot somehow squirmed under the keeper and trickled over the line. Slough now had the bit between their teeth and the wing play of Lewis Putman on their left was causing all sorts of issues for the Marlow defence. It only took 6 minutes for the equaliser to arrive. A slip up in the home defence let in Gurkan Gokmen who saw his initial effort blocked by Iain McCulley in the home goal. However, when the ball rebounded back to Gomen he made no mistake with the second attempt. Back on level terms and there was a certain inevitability about what was to follow.
Slough were now having all of the ball and, contrary to the first half, were actually threatening the Marlow goal with almost every attack. The home defence managed to hold out for another 20 minutes but was powerless to stop yet another Putman cross eventually reaching Hope who smashed home his second and Slough's third goal.
Four minutes later and it was, effectively, game over when a low driven shot from Scott Harris flew past McCulley to make it 2-4. Then, with 6 minutes remaining, the excellent Putman got his reward for a sparkling second half performance when he collected a ball in the box and was allowed to turn and slot the ball into the far corner. There was a definite case for the initial crosser of the ball to be flagged offside but it wasn't given and the goal stood.
In the final minute of normal time Putman produced another perfect cross from the left which was met by the head Harris for his second goal of the evening. There was just injury time for Jay Welch to curl a lovely effort beyond Mark Scott but it was purely a consolation for Marlow and the game finished 3-6, with 8 of the 9 goals coming in breathless second half.
Having totally forgotten about the gates across the access road, I then found myself locked into the ground until the players had left the pitch. Unfortunately, the person parked behind me had already got out but couldn't move until I got there. So, if you were trapped behind me last night, my apologies.
Finally, if the talk of a new stadium is true and you haven't been to The Alfred Hall Memorial Ground, get out there as soon as you can before it is too late. It's too good a non-league stadium to miss out on.
Marlow FC - @marlowfc
Slough Town - @sloughtown