Tottenham Marine gave us something to feel good about
The game itself was almost irrelevant. The score was certain.
The spicier stuff was the Airhorns and the people watching the game from their backyards from the houses that circled the field of Marine when the eight-tier club took on Tottenham Hotspur, the Premier League leaders, a few weeks ago. It was important that the teams in the English soccer pyramid were 161 places apart in the third round of the FA Cup on Sunday biggest mismatch in the history of the legendary tournament.
The relevant topic was the remaining magic of the oldest ongoing tournament in the world.
There is a perfectly coherent argument for getting rid of tournaments like the FA Cup. Any club in England can take part and get fame if they win enough games and that has real charm. But the tournament is mostly like any other competition that is not the Premier League or the Champions League: predictable. It’s a nuisance for the big clubs and an impossible dream for the little ones.
But every now and then a tiny club makes a breakthrough and you are reminded of all the virtues of the sport that are lost in this hyper-commercial age.
To like Sixth Grade Chorley knocking out Wayne Rooney’s decimated second division Derby County on Saturday.
Or Fourth tier Crawley Town Premier Leaguers Leeds United eliminated 3-0 on Sunday.
Or Marine even reaches the third round and disrupts four separate teams from higher divisions to get there. It didn’t matter that Spurs sauntered off to a 5-0 win. Or really that Marine was the first to approach the rating when Neil Kengni’s long-range shot almost surprised Joe Hart and rang the doorbell.
It’s nice when a group of superstars pits up against a team of more ordinary young men who are only playing a few hundred dollars a week when they’re not in jobs like garbage collectors. A club that had to beat Barnoldswick Town, Frickley Athletic, Runcorn Linnets, Nantwich Town, Chester, Colchester United and Havant and Waterlooville to get here. Teams that sound like they’re made up. A club that hangs the addresses of the neighboring houses on the fence around its field so that the ball boys know which doorbell to ring to retrieve faulty balls.
One of the great things about small clubs running in the FA Cup is that they get a financial slump that tends to far exceed their regular earnings in an entire season. Between TV money, prize money and ticket sales – the unique venues are drawn randomly, no matter how big the disparity is – a push into the third round when the pro teams join the competition can be transformative.
Marine threatened to miss all of that, however. It has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in income since the pandemic began, and even if a few fans were allowed into its small facility, it looked like the chance would be lost. But several new sponsors came in for the day when the game aired on a national BBC channel. And the club sold “virtual” tickets, a symbolic gesture in support of the fighting organization. After a push on social media The club sold more than 30,000 of several famous football players – far more than the capacity of 3,185 people in its stadium.
There is something disarming to see a team that played in the Champions League final two seasons ago emerge on an uneven field in Merseyside in the dead of winter to take on a group of semi-pros on a dream run.
This kind of disparity inoculates against the cynicism of the modern game and its undiminished drift from monetization. It’s a reminder of the democracy of this competition where any group of friends can come together and prepare for a game against Spurs, Manchester United or Liverpool. This type of one-off event for the Marine Club is very popular with all of us. The workaday men in their brush with glory.
It’s a feel-good story at a time that can feel hopeless.
Games like this raise the question of whether to introduce mechanisms into the tournament that will make them more common. Perhaps this is a self-destructive exercise as the uniqueness of such a matchup is part of the thrill. But it would, in a way, help share the game’s loot, because just a little more of the big money would go to places like the eighth tier, where the Premier League’s waste and rounding errors can persist in the game of breadth and depth .
But at least the affair was refreshing on Sunday. It was something else. Something that felt strangely achievable at a time when the sport’s elite were more inaccessible to fans than ever before.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a columnist at Emox News and a lecturer in sports communications at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.
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