There was no shock to end all shocks, no humiliation either, and the surrealism of Tottenham visiting Marine in the third round of the FA Cup was not diminished by a straightforward win for the team 161 places higher in the English football pyramid. As Gareth Bale sprayed passes around Rossett Park, José Mourinho sat on a chair with the garden of 19 Rossett Road behind him and a cardboard cut-out of Jürgen Klopp over his right shoulder.
“Three Lions” blared out from number 11 during the closing minutes while Gary Lineker and Alan Shearer threw a few shapes on the makeshift TV gantry nearby.
“I was happy when they brought Bale on so I could be on the same pitch as him,” said the Marine left-back, James Joyce. “I saw he was blowing a bit towards the end and asked him if he was done in. He said he was starving. I said don’t worry about that, the club has provided you with a Tesco meal deal for after the game.”
A magnificent cup run is over for only the second team from the eighth tier of English football to reach round three, although its impact will be lasting. Marine launched a virtual ticket appeal to compensate for £100,000 in commercial revenue that stood to be lost when the game was moved behind closed doors. When the final whistle blew on Spurs’ professional victory over 30,000 tickets had been sold and over £300,000 raised. This could be the last game Marine play all season – the Northern Premier League division one north west is suspended until at least 6 March and a restart looks highly unlikely at present – and every penny counts at non-league level.
Marine acquitted themselves well in the biggest game of their lives, holding their Premier League visitors at bay for 24 minutes before Carlos Vinícius commenced his hat-trick. Alfie Devine came off the bench at half-time for Spurs and straight into the record books as the club’s youngest goalscorer when he added the fifth. Both Neil Young and Bayleigh Passant, Marine’s manager and goalkeeper respectively, were unhappy with the manner of the goals conceded. They had nothing to be disappointed about. Non-league football had a much-needed day in the spotlight and, but for the scenes outside the ground before kick off, the club from Crosby delivered in every respect.
Social distancing went out the window as hundreds of people lined College Road to witness the arrival of the team coaches. Mourinho and his players alighted on the road outside the ground, opposite Smithie’s Hairdressers and a few yards down from ’The Bug’ (as The Edinburgh public house is known locally) before making their way to the function room that served as their changing room. Even with nine changes to the team that beat Brentford in the Carabao Cup semi-final in midweek, this was still a Spurs’ side worth popping to the bottom of the garden to see. Heung-Min Son and Bale may have been on the bench, and Harry Kane rested completely, but Moussa Sissoko, Lucas Moura, Toby Alderweireld and Dele Alli all started and the visiting squad boasted over 400 international caps between them.
For Marine the task was easier in theory than practice: keep things tight, stay in the game and capitalise on any opportunity. For 24 minutes that adhered to the plan and were inches away from taking a truly stunning lead from their first attack. Neil Kengni, collecting the ball deep in the Spurs’ half, ran at a back-tracking defence before unleashing a 30-yard drive that smacked against the top of Joe Hart’s crossbar. The former England goalkeeper tipped the rebound over for a corner having been caught out by the dip on Kengni’s initial shot.
“Come on Marine, these are shite!” bellowed a home fan, clearly over-intoxicated by the near-miss, from behind Passant’s goal. Spurs soon put him right. The fairytale evaporated in the space of 14 first half minutes as Alli stepped up a gear and four goals, all from Brazil, punctured Marine’s bubble.
Alli made the first when he exchanged passes with Gedson Fernandes and crossed low to the far post where Vinícius bundled the ball around Passant before lashing home on the goal-line. His second was a little further out, and again created by Alli. The Spurs’ playmaker picked out Matt Doherty’s run with a perfectly weighted cross. Passant, released by Tranmere last year, produced a fine save to turn away the defender’s header but could only tip the ball into the path of Vinicius for another tap-in. Moura scored the third, curling home a free-kick from 20 yards, and Vinícius claimed his hat-trick following more good work by Alli. The Brazilian forward reacted sharply after Josh Hmami failed to clear and beat Passant with a dipping shot from just inside the area.
The romance of the occasion had faded for Marine, but did not disappear from the tie completely. Devine replaced Sissoko become the youngest debutant in Spurs’ history at 16 years and 163 days. The midfielder, signed from the clear-out forced on Wigan when they went into administration, soon claimed the title of Spurs’ youngest goalscorer when he cut inside from the left and beat Passant with a powerful low drive to the near post.
Spurs did not declare at five. They were held there by a determined Marine team despite fatigue kicking in and Bale entering the fray for the final 25 minutes. A glorious defeat.