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Despite Covid, the romance of the FA Cup is alive, especially at Marine AFC
When we drew Marine AFC for this third round match it was the largest gap between two teams at this stage of the FA Cup. Spurs were top of the Premier league and Marine are in the eighth tier of English football in the Northern Premier League (Division One Northwest). Marine are only the second team from this tier to reach the third round, and they have played 7 games to reach this stage. The previous occasion was Chasetown FC in the 2007-08 season. Chasetown lost 3-1 at home to Cardiff in front of 2,420 people on 5th January 2008. One of the goalscorers was Aaron Ramsey, before he was signed by Arsenal. Cardiff got all the way to the final that year when they were beaten by Portsmouth. Could there be some kind of positive omen here for Spurs?
At the time of the draw, Marine (located at Crosby, in the northern suburbs of Liverpool) were in Tier 2 regarding Covid restrictions and were hoping to be able to host a crowd of their avid fans, which might have numbered 1600. That hope disappeared with the raising of tiers to a level where we are now once again in a national lockdown. No fans will be allowed but the game will be shown live on BBC 1 and kicks off at 5pm on Sunday
Of course, the tie has captured the imagination of more than the football world and having been deprived of precious match day revenue, Marine have made good use of social media and have sold thousands of virtual match tickets (including many to Spurs fans – me included), along with merchandise such as programmes (recommended) and half and half scarves.
Marine have attracted other sponsorship including that of Jamie Carragher, who has stepped in to sponsor the Marine FC dugouts & pre-match warm up tops, through his charity the JC23 Foundation. Whilst naturally Marine dream of the miracle of a win, even the losers of third round ties earn a prize of over £20,000. Add to that the TV money, and this event is not only historic, but life-giving to one of England’s grass-roots clubs, who are suffering so badly in these Covid-19 affected times.
Marine AFC was founded in 1894, and is a member of both the Liverpool County and Lancashire County Football Associations, and currently play in the Northern Premier League Division One North West. Other clubs in their division include Brighouse Town, Clitheroe, Kendal Town, Ossett United, Ramsbottom United and Tadcaster Albion.
Marine have played no less than 7 games already to reach this phase of the FA Cup. If Spurs were to go on to reach the cup Final itself, they would only play six games. Marine’s opponents this season have included Colchester (away) in the first round. Even to reach that stage they played a preliminary round game and four qualifiers. Marine beat a former league side – Chester – in the final qualifier. Their match against Colchester ended 1-1, but Marine won 5-3 on penalties. Thus, they did better than Spurs in an ill-fated Carabao Cup tie in September 2019. 28-year-old centre-back Anthony Miley, who scored against Colchester has previously played for clubs such as Colwyn Bay, Conwy Borough, Bangor City and Bala Town.
It was Marine’s club captain Niall Cummins who scored a dramatic 120th minute winner in the second round game against Havant & Waterlooville to give his club a fairy tale entry into this round, and this fantastic draw. Cummins’ CV includes Garstang, AFC Blackpool, Burscough and Curzon Ashton. Just to learn the names of such clubs is an education let alone their precise location.
Marine's 35-year-old right back David Raven has played against Spurs before. In 2004 he played all 120 minutes for Liverpool in our Carling Cup quarter-final at White Hart Lane, which we lost on penalties. Raven also played all 120 minutes of Marine's first and second round games in this season's cup run.
Previous FA Cup games against “minnows” come to mind such as Marlow in 1993 and Margate in 1973 come to mind. Spurs fielded strong sides in both those games, but it is hardly likely that Jose Mourinho’s selection will include many of his first choice players with a midweek Premier League game against Aston Villa (Covid permitting) to follow. In 1993 Marlow had been drawn at home, but the venue was switched to White Hart Lane where Spurs won 5-1. This will be the first time we've faced non-league opposition in the FA Cup since a third round win against Altrincham back in 1995.
Jose Mourinho does have a history of fielding strong teams against weaker opposition in cup ties for Spurs and in his previous appointments in England with Chelsea and Manchester United. I am sure Spurs will want to offer some form of respect to Marine and their fans, meaning some of the big names will appear. Every one of those representing Marine will be playing with the hearts of lions without a doubt.
Football is a great sport for statisticians and enthusiasts such as me who try to find connections between opponents both at team and player level. Would you believe there is a player who has represented both Marine AFC and Tottenham Hotspur Football Club? That player is John Lacy, who joined Marine as a 17-year-old in 1968. Born in Liverpool in August 1951, John Lacy played for the “Mariners” before moving to London where he studied at the LSE and played for London University and Kingstonian before his professional career began at Fulham. Lacy signed for Spurs and played alongside Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa on his (and their) Spurs League debut against Nottingham Forest in August 1978. Who needs six degrees of separation, eh?
Of course, we are hoping for Spurs glory in this year which ends in the famous “one”. Ricky Villa scored a famous goal 40 years ago against Manchester City, who we will play in this years League Cup Final. Jose Mourinho is a serial trophy seeker and winner. Could we make it to this year’s FA Cup Final? In theory, this first hurdle could not be easier for us, and I expect us to win handsomely, but I am not going to predict a scoreline.
Let’s hope we all enjoy our day – most of us in front of a TV screen.
On this historic day for Marine, they have a high-profile referee - Michael Oliver. Note that there is no VAR for this match, although there are 9 Third Round venues where VAR will be in operation. I dare say this will be Mr. Oliver’s first visit to the Marine ground. It will be his 40th game in charge of Spurs. His first game with Spurs was also a third round FA Cup tie 10 years ago when we beat Charlton 3-0
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