This weekend, the x factor that makes the FA Cup such a special competition will be on full display. The Premier League’s fourth placed club, Tottenham Hotspur, will be traveling north to Crosby to take on an opponent unlike any other they will face this season. Waiting for Jose Mourinho’s men will be Marine A.F.C., a club founded in 1894.
While Tottenham play their league football to compete for England’s biggest prize, Marine exist in a whole other world. The Mariners are currently sixth in the Northern Premier League’s Division One North West, way down in the eighth tier of the English football pyramid.
This incredible disparity in league positions has lead to Tifo Football dubbing the game “The FA Cup’s greatest ever mismatch”:
It is not unheard of for non-league (outside the top four divisions) teams to make notable runs in the FA Cup. In 2017, Lincoln City turned heads by becoming the first non-league side in over a century to reach the quarterfinals of the competition. However, that Lincoln City team was in a vastly different position to this year’s Marine outfit. On top of their cup run, the Imps won promotion to the football league that season. Last season, they were promoted yet again, meaning that they are currently a League One side.
Marine, as an eighth tier club, are a further three leagues down the pecking order than Lincoln City were in 2017. According to Tifo Football, this is only the second time in the history of the competition that a team in the eighth tier has reached the third round after starting in the first qualifying round.
Just how high do Marine score on the underdog chart? The contrasting values of each club’s squad hammers home that point pretty clearly.
According to Transfermarkt, Tottenham’s squad is currently valued at $816.81 million. Marine, on the other hand, boasts a squad value of $413,000. Still using Transfermarkt as a reference, the Tottenham player with the lowest current market value is goalkeeper Alfie Whiteman. His market value is still $825,000, almost exactly twice that of the entire Marine squad.
Part of why a matchup like this is so intriguing to someone with an American sports background is because there is not really an equivalent within the United States.
The first comparison that comes to mind is March Madness. However, the standard one versus 16 seed matchup does not do the situation justice. Based on some quick calculations, the number of teams in between Tottenham and Marine means that a more realistic comparison would be 276 ranked Bellarmine taking on number four Michigan. Even then, the comparison fails to hold up. The players that make up both Bellarmine and Michigan are amateurs. While the gap in talent is there, the gap in money certainly is not.
The one American sport that offers enough levels to make a comparison would be baseball. Even then, I think the most realistic comparison would delve into the realms of amateur baseball. Take, for example, Massachusetts’ Intercity Baseball League. The rosters of the IBC are made up of a combination of college athletes and former pros. For us in the USA, seeing the IBC’s Lexington Blue Sox take on the Boston Red Sox would be completely unheard of.
Thanks to the FA Cup, we get to see such fairytale matchups become reality.
In an ordinary season, a team like Marine would hugely benefit from the ticket revenue generated by such a high profile fixture. Unfortunately, there will be no fans in attendance due to the Covid-19 Pandemic.
However, the soccer community has come together in a heartwarming way. At the latest update, Marine have sold 10,000 virtual tickets.
We have now reached 10,000 tickets sold for our match v @SpursOfficial. The emotion now for what the football world has done in our name is overwhelming. There is no better feeling than when football comes together. THANK YOU!
For people getting to know Marine, watch this: (1/2) pic.twitter.com/aJ3qnYQEXa
— Marine Football Club (@MarineAFC) January 9, 2021
As a club with such a small operating budget, Marine will get a tremendous amount of mileage from the income from the tickets and Sunday’s TV broadcast.
It is a nice reminder that, even in the midst of a season altering pandemic, the magic of the FA Cup remains.
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