Football: looking for a miracle in the FA Cup

Football: looking for a miracle in the FA Cup

The third round of the FA Cup – the stage at which Premier League clubs enter the fray – can be relied on to throw up David vs. Goliath clashes, said Henry Winter in The Times. And this year it featured the biggest mismatch in the competition’s history: a clash between Merseyside-based Marine FC – a team made up of “teachers and students, bin-men and plumbers” – and eight-time champions Tottenham Hotspur. Marine compete in the eighth tier of English football, and are currently 161 league places below Spurs, said Sam Carroll in the Liverpool Echo. Most years, they get eliminated from the FA Cup in the qualifying stages; this season, however, a series of unlikely victories – including a penalties win over Colchester – secured them a third-round berth. No one seriously expected them to trouble Spurs, but just in case, a beer fridge was installed in their dressing room, to aid celebrations should a miracle occur.

For 24 minutes, a miracle almost looked possible, said Chris Bascombe in The Daily Telegraph. Unused to playing in such humble surroundings (a function room serving as a changing area; a pitch on which each pass “took several bobbles before reaching its destination”), Spurs began anxiously. And 19 minutes in, the home side even came close to scoring, when trainee plumber Neil Kengni struck a “swerving 30-yard dipper” that thundered into Joe Hart’s crossbar. But after that, the visitors’ “ultra-professionalism and international class” enabled them to seize control of the contest. In the space of 13 minutes, they scored four times, including a hat-trick from Carlos Vinícius. In the second half, “we did witness history”, but only when 16-year-old substitute Alfie Devine added a fifth to become Tottenham’s youngest ever scorer.

Televised live by the BBC, this match “might have felt like a bleak, forced, even rather grim occasion” imposed on the nation at a time of crisis, said Barney Ronay in The Guardian. In the event, it proved to be “an uplifting piece of theatre”, and a welcome sight of something “fond and familiar”. For months, sports fans have had to stare at the “dystopian hellscape of empty plastic mega-stadiums”. Here they were greeted with the sight of Marine’s cosy pitch, lined on one side by a row of Victorian terrace houses, in the gardens of which actual fans were gathered. Even José Mourinho rose to the occasion, said Martin Samuel in the Daily Mail. Despite having to sit on a plastic chair in a technical area “so tight his feet almost encroached onto the pitch”, Tottenham’s manager conducted himself gracefully, and paid Marine the respect of picking a strong side. The result was a contest that “encapsulated the spirit of the FA Cup, and lifted the mood of a nation in troublesome times”. 

Comments