|Venue: Marine Travel Arena Date: Sunday, 10 January Kick-off: 17:00 GMT Coverage: Live on BBC One – build-up starts 16:30. Live commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live plus text commentary on the BBC Sport website|
At non-league Marine they are not just rolling out the red carpet for Tottenham’s FA Cup visit, they’re also bringing in the carpet cleaners.
Paul Leary, chairman of the club that plays in the eighth tier of English football, is determined the boardroom floor at the Marine Travel Arena is spotless for Sunday’s third-round tie with the eight-time winners.
While Spurs, fourth in the Premier League, can call on the services of World Cup winner Hugo Lloris and England captain Harry Kane if needed, Northern Premier League Division One North West Marine will feature NHS workers, teachers and a refuse collector.
It is the biggest gulf at this stage of the famous competition’s history.
“It’s like a dream. We were two minutes from going out to Barnoldswick Town in the preliminary round,” says life-long Marine fan Barry Lenton.
“Four months on and we’re getting ready to welcome Tottenham. It’s surreal.”
Although there is an overwhelming sense of sadness that the biggest occasion in Marine’s 127-year history will take place without fans, excitement is building in the town of Crosby, seven miles north of Liverpool city centre, where the Mariners are located.
So what can Jose Mourinho and his players expect when they arrive at the intimate 3,185-capacity Marine Travel Arena, a world away from English football’s top flight?
From wedding party to dressing room
Spurs players are used to stylish down-lighting, leather seats and personalised locker areas to hang their kit in at their £1bn Tottenham Hotspur Stadium home.
This weekend they will get changed in a room which has a bar and, in normal times, is hired out for wedding receptions and birthday parties.
Mourinho will deliver his team talk in the Arriva Suite instead of the away dressing room due to social distancing rules and the size of Tottenham’s travelling contingent.
The function room, which seats up to 150, was closed for most of 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic. Including disco and security, it costs £220 for an all-day wedding in the room.
It has been transformed into a dressing room for the visitors, who could include England midfielder Dele Alli and club-record £55m signing Tanguy Ndombele.
“Marine is a volunteer-run community club full of character and history,” says Leary, a qualified accountant who describes his role at the club as a “labour of love”.
“We will make sure everything is right and proper for Tottenham.”
‘Five-star’ lunch boxes
Marine were managed by Roly Howard between 1972-2005 – recorded in the Guinness World Records book as the longest reign in football – and the history of the club, founded in 1894, is proudly on display in the boardroom at the back of the main stand.
Before the pandemic, visiting directors could help themselves to a buffet in the boardroom. “You’re not allowed to do that these days,” adds Leary.
Instead, Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy and his travelling party will be presented with “five-star” lunch boxes individually prepared and packed.
“We’ll get the carpet cleaned as well,” says Leary pointing to the grey flooring in the boardroom.
“To be able to say to Tottenham ‘welcome to the Marine Travel Arena’ will be very special not only for myself, but for our committee and many volunteers who work tremendously hard.
“There will never be another moment like it.”
‘Fancy a glass of red, Jose?’
The compact Marine Travel Arena is located about one mile from the beach, home to Sir Antony Gormley’s iron men statues, on College Road and is surrounded by shops, cafes and businesses, many of whom advertise in the club programme.
Marine are at the heart of the community, organising and delivering food boxes to vulnerable people.
Inside the tidy three-sided ground is a main stand with 389 seats.
Both dugouts are down a narrow stretch of pitch directly behind houses on Rossett Road, with fencing numbered along the side so ball boys and girls know which door to knock on if the ball lands in a garden.
For the last round against Havant & Waterlooville, which was also played behind closed doors, several home owners were seen climbing trees and peering over walls and fences to watch.
“They are only a couple of metres away, close enough to hand Jose a glass of red wine,” laughs Leary.
Lenton, who has watched more than 2,000 Marine matches since 1964 and put together the club’s 125th anniversary book, adds: “It’ll be very different to what Tottenham are used to but I think they will be impressed by the facilities.
“We are well-known in non-league circles and well loved. People like Marine because it is a friendly club.”
- Stream eight live FA Cup third-round games this weekend on BBC iPlayer, the BBC Sport website and app. Find out more here.
‘It’s not far from me’
Tottenham fans have set up several GoFundMe pages to help raise money for Marine, who have launched a £10 virtual match ticket with a raffle to recoup some of the potential £100,000 they stand to lose from having no fans present and lost sponsorship.
By Wednesday they had sold more than 5,400 virtual tickets, while a US-based Spurs fans blog has raised enough money to sponsor the shorts for the tie.
Hundreds of souvenir half-and-half scarves, designed by Crosby-born fashion entrepreneur George Davies, have been sold online. Former Liverpool and England defender Jamie Carragher, who lives in the town, is sponsoring the dugouts and pre-match warm-up tops through his JC23 Foundation.
Despite the absence of supporters, Leary hopes global interest in the tie will attract new followers to the club, whose average league attendance in 2019-20 was 446.
Since drawing Spurs, Marine have fielded media enquiries from Russia, Australia and Thailand, while Everton boss and Crosby resident Carlo Ancelotti has sent his local team a good luck message – as well as an invitation to Mourinho.
“I have to invite Mourinho for a drink after the game if it will be possible – it is not far from me,” said the former AC Milan, Real Madrid, Paris St-Germain and Bayern Munich boss.
“I have to talk to him about the beach and the nice area that Crosby is.”