Vale ‘Gentleman’ Joe Marston, an Australian Sporting Pioneer

 

 

Much like British pop invasions of the US the pioneers of Australian football (soccer) heading to Europe to try their luck also went over in waves. In the late 80s and early 90s the likes of Eddie Krncevic, Robbie Slater, Graham Arnold and Frank Farina plied their trade in France and Belgium forging ahead with careers and breaking away from the semi-professional NSL. John Kosmina was on the books of Arsenal for a time and, of course, Craig Johnston starred for Liverpool but put all Aussies offside by saying playing for the Socceroos was like surfing for England.

While the Continent is now full of Australian players, tributes must be given to players such as in what now seems an age ago before the influx. The 1950s was a time where a number of players tried their luck in England.

One of these players was the great Joe Marston.

Joe was born in Leichhardt in 1926 and was a stand out player from the age of 16 with his local side Leichhardt-Annandale as an Australian international in the times where the Socceroos were in their infancy. In post World War II Sydney Joe was playing between stints doing painting jobs and working as a lifesaver. It was doing the later up on the Central Coast when he received a telegram from England and the then recently relegated club Preston North End. The Lancashire club wanted to bring Joe over for a trial after other clubs such as Blackpool had shown an interest but made no formal offer after a supporter of Joe’s club had written letters to clubs crowing of his skills. This was no mere hop skip and a jump to Preston in 1949. It would be a four day plane journey like following the line over the map in the Indiana Jones movies then a train ride up to Preston with no guarantee of a long term contract. Thankfully the club paid for the travel for Joe and his wife Edith.

Upon arriving in Preston he was beset by photographers and others curious to see who this antipodean was. Word had reached the club he was a lifesaver on the beaches of New South Wales so the novelty factor alone had many curious and even more so when Joe cheekily said he had saved dozens of people to further fuel the imaginations of the fans. All this was especially a novelty seeing as Preston was a town of people who primarily worked in the cotton mills that were owned by members of the club’s board. Life savers weren’t really required for Preston’s River Ribble.

Despite having to train in the snow (coming straight from an Australian summer no less) he was offered a contract within weeks but played in the reserves for the rest of the 1949/50 season. Joe wasn’t that concerned for the most part looking at giving it a year in the UK and seeing how it would go like a pioneer Aussie backpacker. In the 1950/51 season though his fortunes turned when put into the middle of defence halfway through the season. Around a year after he had first arrived with Edith he made his debut against Notts County and went on to play 196 consecutive games for the club. The amazing injury free run may have been down to Preston’s extraordinary physio Des Coupe who had been blinded in World War 2 whilst serving on a British battleship but could know what was wrong with a player by getting them to run alongside him with one hand on the player’s shoulder. Joe was also someone to get along well with the club directors when a time when players were like children in the eyes of the bosses at the club and should ‘seen and not heard’. The Marston’s weren’t really up to speed on the class system in the UK.

This relationship also resulted in the club slipping extra food to the couple as well in a time of rationing following the war with a large supply of coal also provided to ensure they could cope with the harsh English winters. Coal was initially refused to Joe and Edith until the club realised that Joe could probably play cricket too being Australian so he paid for his coal in the winter by playing cricket for a local side in the summer.

As Preston got back to winning ways and rose from the second division back up the first division table Joe’s reputation rose with it. After finishing second to Arsenal in the league in one season Preston made it to the FA Cup Final in 1954 and would play the league runners up West Bromwich Albion who were racked with injuries. This was a time when the FA Cup Final was THE event in football in the UK. The World Cup still wasn’t taken that seriously in England, there were no European competition such as the European Cup and players dreamed of scoring the winning goal in a cup final, not to win the league. After heading down to London on the Tuesday the WAGS came down later in the week for the big game with Edith getting a major thrill meeting fellow Aussie Errol Flynn in a hotel lift in West London. In what was a heartbreaking loss, Preston were 1-0 down but then rallied making it 2-1 early in the second half. West Brom equalised from the spot though on the hour and then won it with last minute goal to the striker Frank Griffin, a player Joe was unfortunately marking during the game. Despite being the first ever Australian to play in an FA Cup (and one of only four Australians to play in the final over history) he was inconsolable feeling he had let the people of Preston down even though they showed up in their thousands to welcome the team home on the train.

Joe was voted in to replace the great Albert Finney as captain for the 1954-55 season which would be his last in the UK. They missed home and disconcerting incidents such as seeing players cough up large black phlegm during some of the smoggier days were clinchers. During this time he also made an all star English team that would play and all star Scottish team where he would become close friends with the young Manchester United star Duncan Edwards who would tragically die in the 1958 Munich Air Disaster. For his final match at Preston’s Deepdale ground a band was hired and played ‘Waltzing Matilda’ and ‘For he’s a jolly good fellow’ as a send off as well as receiving a watch. After 6 years and over 200 games the adventure was over and the Marston’s returned to Australia with a new daughter in tow and tales to tell. Upon his return to Australia Joe got a factory job, went back to his old club and caught up with old friends like nothing had happened, living a humble life in between coaching stints and representing Australia against visiting European clubs and countries. He also coached the Socceroos, the first man born in Australia to do so. His time in England and historic FA Cup Final appearance were lost in time to the greater Australian sporting public.

Only in later years have Joe’s achievements been celebrated by not only the governing body of the sport in Australia but also the wider general public. The medal for best on ground in the NSL and now A-League Grand Finals was named in his honour. He was also included with other Australian sporting legends in a stamp series by Australia Post as well as being depicted in a mural with other Preston North End legends at Deepdale, showing the admiration for a key player during a competitive time for the club where they fell just short of winning silverware. Joe wasn’t the first Australian to play in the UK of course, that was in the late 1800s and nor was he the only Australian playing in England at that time. In the 50s there was also Ken Grieves who went to England to play cricket for Lancashire but then played in goal for Wigan also when it was discovered he had a talent for that sport too. There was also Eric Hulme who played on the South Coast and Charlie Perkins who left Australia to escape racism in sport and found a more accepting time in England despite a coach at Everton calling him a ‘kangaroo bastard’ and only playing at an amateur level in between shifts at a coal mine.

‘Gentlemen Joe’ was by far the best of this bunch though and the first to be celebrated as a success in England long before a Kewell or Cahill ever graced those shores. With the news of his passing at the age 89 on the Central Coast a connection to a long lost time for the sport and a real pioneer in this country is now gone but will never be forgotten.

About Dennis Gedling

RTR FM Presenter. Glory Guerrillas Producer and Co-Host. Contributer to Football Nation Radio and Football West. Worships at the feet of the mighty Cats, Socceroos, Matildas, West Perth, Glory and Glasgow's Green and White most of the time.

Comments

  1. Patrick Skene says

    Good one Dennis,
    Joe was a pioneer and a gentleman.
    Love the coal story!
    Thanks.

  2. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    A fine tribute Dennis, this story should be more widely known. A reflection of the way stories were (not) told about the non-mainstream sports back then, which makes your bringing it to our attention now even more important.

  3. Great article Dennis. A great tribute to a player who started the export of out great players

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