Twenty-five miles separate Marine AFC and Chorley FC in England’s northwest, however, this weekend the difference between them will reduce further as their tasks align with both attempting to cause an FA Cup third-round upset.
Marine, based in Crosby on the Merseyside coast, host Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday while 24 hours earlier Chorley, 20 minutes south of Preston in Lancashire, will welcome Championship side Derby County.
Marine host Spurs in their biggest game
For Marine, this is the biggest game in their 126-year history as Jose Mourinho brings illustrious Premier League opposition to Rossett Park for the first time. The Marriners have featured in this stage of the competition before when they were defeated 3-1 by Crewe Alexandra in 1993. But taking on Spurs not only represents an unforgettable day for manager Neil Young, who calls himself the ‘diligent one’, and his players but also the biggest underdog appearance in the competition’s history.
Marine are currently sixth in the Northern Premier League Division One North-West in English football's eighth tier and thus are 162 places below Spurs in the football pyramid. It is a fairytale story but only possible due to the late turnaround in their preliminary round tie against Barnoldswick in September when they were losing with three minutes remaining before managing to claim victory. They have also needed penalties twice and extra time to continue this seven-round magical journey.
For Chorley, this is their first time in the third round. The Lancashire club are in National League North, the sixth tier, having been relegated in the summer after their first season in the National League was curtailed after the suspension to Covid-19. Jamie Vermiglio, the manager and also local primary school headteacher, has already led the team to an historic upset in the first round against neighbours Wigan Athletic.
However, despite facing Derby in name this weekend they will not be doing so in practice. Derby’s first team and their high-profile interim manager, Wayne Rooney, will not be present at Victory Park after more than seven members of staff and players tested positive for Covid-19 this week. Instead a mixture of Under-23 and Under-18 players will make up Derby’s match-day squad while the rest isolate as a precaution.
Derby's first team will not be present
That hints at the backdrop to which this weekend’s FA Cup third-round ties will be played. Some have already been called off, but it will still be a weekend that will live long in the memory for both Chorley and Marine.
Nevertheless, the biggest of weekends will also be bittersweet. The pandemic means that not only will Derby’s first team be absent but also fans won’t be able to take in this once in a lifetime game.
The lack of fans is particularly hard to take for Marine, who were set to welcome a few hundred prior to the lockdown being reintroduced. It is a tough situation for the Merseyside club, who were set to bring in £300,000 from this cup run, given that their league is currently suspended and match-day income has been non-existent for the past 10 months.
This competition has therefore proved a financial lifesaver. “It is scary to think where we'd be without the FA Cup,” said Young, who has split his managerial duties with working for Merseyrail for the past 28 years. “Our revenues are usually through the gate and at the bar.”
To fill the financial hole that the Spurs game would have replenished, Marine launched a raffle and the response has been amazing - especially from their north London visitors who have promoted the idea on their social media channels and encouraged financial support from across the world. Around 5,000 virtual tickets have been sold, raising over £20,000. “The response has been fantastic,” said the club’s chairman Paul Leary. “Not only from Marine fans but also from Tottenham supporters.”
And so the biggest of days for Marine and Chorley come to pass in the middle of unfortunate circumstances. They will be played against an uncertain backdrop, key protagonists will be missing and, of course, the atmosphere that the supporters bring will be noticeable by its absence. Yet, these cup ties are still special and will at least bring a little warmth to FA Cup evangelists.