LIVERPOOL: English football minnows Marine are preparing to host mighty Tottenham on Sunday (Jan 10) in what will be the biggest mismatch in FA Cup history.
Paul Leary, chairman of the eighth-tier club, says he is the most excited non-league chairman in the country ahead of the glamorous fixture against the eight-time winners.
There has never been such a wide disparity in league positions between two teams at the third-round stage of the competition, when the big teams enter the fray.
Spurs are fourth in the Premier League, while Marine ply their trade in the Northern Premier League Division One North West.
The club, located in Crosby on the north-west coast of England, near Liverpool, have battled their way through seven rounds to reach this stage for just the second time since they were founded in 1894.
"In 1992-93, we played Crewe Alexandra, and in 2021, Spurs - there's a little bit of a difference," chuckled Leary.
Harry Kane and Son Heung-min will face a team of part-timers including Danny Shaw, a physiotherapist who has been working in a COVID-19 recovery ward.
Due to social-distancing protocols, Jose Mourinho's men will have to prepare for the game in a function room usually used for weddings.
Similarly, for health reasons, Spurs chairman Daniel Levy will be served a "five-star lunch box" instead of the traditional buffet.
"There is no doubt it is the most special FA Cup game in FA Cup history," Leary told AFP by phone from the club's 3,185-capacity ground, which will be empty due to the ongoing lockdown in England.
"Marine, on step eight of the football system, playing Tottenham Hotspur, one of the best sides in the Premier League and one of the top teams in Europe. To welcome them into the ground on Sunday is a magical moment," Leary said.
Leary, who has been chairman for 16 years, said the game was a bright spot, coming days after the latest nationwide COVID-19 lockdown came into force.
"It has helped put a smile back onto people's faces."
"LABOUR OF LOVE"
Leary said Spurs may have the stars, but they will face a team that have bonded as they have made progress.
"The players have been absolutely fabulous in this cup run," said the qualified accountant.
"There is an exceptional team spirit and clear bonding has been going on in the last two to three months.
"We have had COVID round us all the time, whether it be temporary lockdowns or permanent ones.
"This at least gives fans something to shout about. It is fantastic."
Despite losing out on match revenues of around £100,000 (US$135,000) because of the ban on spectators, Marine will receive £75,000 from the BBC, who are showing the game live on television.
The dugouts have been sponsored by former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher, who lives in the town and gave the keynote speech at their 125th anniversary dinner.
Tottenham, used to playing in their gleaming £1 billion London stadium, will have to quickly adapt to the more modest surroundings.
The side of the ground that features the dugouts where Mourinho and his opposite number Neil Young will sit backs onto houses.
"On the mesh fence there are the relevant house numbers," said Leary.
"So if the ball goes over it, the ball boy, or why not Harry Kane, can go around and knock on the door, introduce himself and ask for the ball back."
Leary, who has been a board member since 1978, admits it is a "labour of love" but there are many like him who have given decades of service to the club.
"It feels worthwhile when the atmosphere in the town is amazing due to the game," he said.
"People are going into the local shop and buying scarves and programmes.
"They have been coming up to me and wishing me well and congratulating us in putting the club on the map in the football world."