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You may have missed this tiny but statistically amazing bit of news.

Here’s the first thing you need to know. The English Premier League that has teams like
Liverpool and Arsenal is only the top level of the whole English football pyramid. Below that league are numerous lower divisions – each containing 20-ish teams – going from pros down to semi-pro to amateurs, and then spreading out geographically. At the conclusion of each season a few of the best teams in each division are promoted up to the next level, swapping with the worst from above, and the whole system is shuffled a little. So, in essence, all teams are connected, and any team can rise or fall through the system over the years.

Here’s the second thing. The oldest existing football competition in the world is the FA Cup. It’s the first football trophy, from before there even were leagues. The FA Cup takes EVERY team in England and throws their name in a hat, and draws them out in pairs. It’s single elimination. So in Round 1, half the teams in England get knocked out. In Round 2, the number is halved again. And every round’s draw is pure luck. Your team may get paired with a giant in an early round and lose, or you may have a good run of luck, and form. Nightmare scenarios. Cinderella City.

A third thing. FC Marine is a tiny little semi-pro club from along the Mersey River outside Liverpool. They play in a league EIGHT levels down from the Premier League; about 150 teams separate them from the very top. Their stadium, Rossett Park, was built in 1894 and holds 3,185 fans. It only recently got lights. On its exterior fence, the staff has painted the numbers of the adjacent homes, so that when balls fly out into neighbors’ yards the team knows which door to go knock on.

A fourth thing. Marine is so far down it had to go through 4 rounds of qualifying just to get into this year’s FA Cup, and squeaked through, barely. But then, miraculously, once in, they survived Round 1 by beating a 4th-division team in a penalty shootout, and made it through Round 2 by beating a 6th-division team by a 1-0 score.

A fifth thing. When the Round 3 pairings took place, Marine was drawn against Tottenham Hotspur, one of the most potent teams in England, and the world. And, thanks to the hat, the game was drawn as a home game for Marine. (This would be like your kid’s travel team getting to host a game at your community field against the Portland Timbers.) It is the most lopsided pairing in the century-plus history of the world’s oldest competition, and represents a huge, possibly franchise-changing amount of cash to the team, regardless of the expected outcome. And if they win, well…

But finally, here’s the sad thing. Their fans can’t go see the game. Due to Covid restrictions, the game will be played behind closed doors. In addition to fans missing out, Marine is expected to lose some 100,000 pounds of revenue in and around the stadium, and 20,000 pounds of advertising support. The Spurs have generously donated all the manpower to manage the game, administer Covid-testing, etc., and their fans are gobbling up commemorative scarves and banners, to help offset the loss.

But it still sucks. The game will be available on ESPN+. I assume Marine gets some share of that revenue. You can also buy a virtual ticket online for 10 Pounds, essentially making a donation. Normally leading up to a game I’d be saying “C’mon You Spurs!” But I gotta say, part of me is pulling for the lads from Liverpool. C’mon Marine, make yourselves proud.

Marine FC hosts Tottenham Hotspur! ESPN+. Sunday January 10, Noon Eastern

Mike Keeler

– Mike Keeler

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