Chris Marples: Football’s Last Ever Professional Football Cricketer

Surrounded by photographs of footballers and cricketers at the Cricketal centre in Chesterfield that he now runs, the crack of leather covered cork ringing inside his ears and medals glistening around him, Chris Marples is the one man who can say that he has graced a pitch with Sir Ian Botham, Sir Vivien Richards, Frank Lampard and Rio Ferdinand. 

In-fact there are only 140 in history that can say they have shared a pitch with both footballers and cricketers. So when the break of Chris Marples Tibia and Fibia echoed around the 8,000 ears in Chesterfield’s Saltergate stadium. It was a sound that not only ended two careers but also an era. That of histories last ever professional football cricketer. 

When he finally recovered he was only able to play non-league football for Yorkshire side Emley. Riotously turning up to matches hungover and smelling of last nights’ garlic pizza, a lucky charm that took him all the way to Upton Park to face Harry Redknapp’s famous West Ham side. 

But, one of the greatest matches in Emleys history nearly did not happen with the players going on strike: “The chairman was being a bit greedy and wasn’t going to pay us. We said that if you don’t pay us an appearance fee when there will be 20,000 there then we won’t play and you won’t get anything, it got a bit nasty, but he had to give in as we wouldn’t have played.

“I had no nerves whatsoever, I was part time. I remember one of the rounds we played against Lincoln and John Beck had a thing about playing music loud inside the dressing rooms to try and upset you, and our lads were dancing to it. 

“Then to go to West Ham and only narrowly get beat 2-1 against a star studded international side, including the likes of Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand, John Hartson and Stan Lazaridis. 

“When we got back Harry Redknapp came in and said ‘you guys have given us the fright of our lives’ and opened a bar for us.”

Marples was arguably part of Crickets greatest generation. The UK had an influx of foreign players, the level of which we have not seen since. As well as Botham and Richards, the wicketkeeper also faced up against Gordon Greenidge, Malcolm Marshall and Sylvester Clarke. 

While never one to be overwhelmed, Marples gazed at the photographs surrounding us, and divulged: “These guys were just freaks. Just their sheer quality really, they were possibly the best there has even been and to be part of that era was something special. 

“I played against Richards and he got 120, he was fantastic. I played against Imran Khan and he got 100. Graham Gooch got 100 against us too.”

“It was an age where there were a lot of good overseas players here, and no disrespect to the overseas now, but they are not, for me, the same quality as they were.” 

But could we ever see the return of the Football Cricketer? Marples asserted: “I was the last footballer cricketer, there has not been one since and there certainly won’t be another one. Now the lads at Derby finish in September and report back in November, you cannot turn over the two.

“It was extremely physically demanding, no breaks, no holidays, I actually played football and cricket on the same day on one occasion. 

“You would start a three day game on a Saturday, play a football match on a Sunday and finish your three day game on the Monday and Tuesday. Then start another game on the Thursday. You would sometimes go two and a half, three weeks without having a day off.” 

The Wicketkeeper was already playing for Derbyshire when Chesterfield sounded him out as a replacement for the departing second choice goalkeeper Paul Gregory. 

The now 51-year-old had been at his home town club for just four games when the sides number one Jim Brown broke his finger, therefore promoting the Derbyshire wicketkeeper to the first team. Maples cemented his place in the side and went on to play a leading role as they won promotion.

“It was my first season, I played 38 games and kept 25 odd clean sheets, which was a club record.

“People go years without winning anything, so to win that in my first season was quite amazing, quite frightening when you look back at it.” 

His professional career ended in 1994 with a horrific leg injury, in that season the Spireites went on to win the playoffs. Despite making 23 appearances, Marples was unable to attend due to financial restrictions at the club, with poor treatment also clouding his departure.

“The most disappointing thing about the injury was, I could have put weight on and perhaps played again, if the treatment had been a little bit different. 

“Just two weeks after the stitches had heeled I was having to go down to the swimming pool, I wasn’t getting any time off. Then they tried to get me running and there was no way that I was able to. After a year there was still a fracture there and I had got a metal rod down my tibia.”

Marples now sits in the Cricketal he runs, almost shouting above the din of the cricket balls hitting the bats of his students, with both football and the injury long behind him. 

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