The third round of the FA Cup is the round for which the term, the magic of the cup, was made for.
- Marine FC, from English football’s eighth tier, sold 30,000 virtual tickets for its FA Cup tie with Tottenham Hotspur
- Football matches in England are being played without crowds due to coronavirus
- Marine FC lost 5-0, but another non-league side, Chorley, beat Championship team Derby County 2-0
The prospect of David vs Goliath clashes at this stage of the competition — when Premier League teams enter the draw for the first time — has ensured it is one of the highlights of the football calendar.
For lower and non-league teams that make it this far in the competition, the prospect of drawing one of the Premier League big boys is enough to guarantee a huge financial windfall.
Unfortunately, COVID has put paid to crowds of any sort in England, but that didn’t stop Marine FC from making the most of their opportunity when it took on Tottenham Hotspur at its Rossett Park stadium in Crosby, Liverpool.
Eighth-tier Marine FC, a whopping 161 places below Tottenham in England’s league system — the biggest ever gap between teams at this stage in the competition’s history — decided to sell virtual tickets to the game instead.
The club said prior to the game that it was set to lose as much as 100,000 pounds ($175,000) by not having fans present in the 3,185-capacity ground, but countered that by offering virtual tickets for 10 pounds ($17.50).
Incredibly the club sold over 30,000 of those virtual tickets — including one to Spurs manager Jose Mourinho — which helped the club recoup those losses.
The suburban setting of Rossett Park meant that a lucky few were still able to watch the match from their back gardens, making for a unique atmosphere.
Crowds also lined the route of the team coach as it arrived at the stadium, before the Spurs players got out — the stadium car park was too small for the bus — and walked to the club’s function room, which acted as a makeshift dressing room for Spurs’ travelling contingent.
Unfortunately for Marine’s supporters, they could not get the fairytale result, losing 5-0.
The hosts did hit the cross bar early on with the score at 0-0 through Neil Kengni, but a hat-trick from Carlos Vinicius, along with goals to Lucas Moura and Alfie Devine, saw the Premier League side home.
The players were unable to swap shirts due to COVID restrictions, but Tottenham did leave a set of clean match shirts as souvenirs.
The eighth-tier Northern Premier League Division One North West is considered non-elite sport, meaning Marine does not know when it will next be in action.
“The cup run has been a lifesaver for us financially for where we are in non-league,” Marine manager Neil Young said after the match.
“We don’t know what is coming next, and I just wanted to make sure we had a huddle and told them how well they have done.”
Other lower league sides did have some success in the FA Cup.
Sixth-tier Chorley beat a COVID-hit Derby County side from the second-tier Championship, 2-0.
Derby were forced to feature under 21s and youth players due to a coronavirus outbreak in the squad.
League Two (fourth tier) Crawley smashed Premier League Leeds United 3-0.