Marine versus Tottenham Hotspur. If one fixture encapsulates the magic and beauty of the FA Cup, it’s this one. The non-league part-timers have created history by becoming only the second team from the eighth tier to reach the Third Round of football’s oldest competition. The fact they will take on Jose Mourinho’s Premier League leaders just makes the narrative even more spellbinding.
David Raven, 35, and 33-year-old Niall Cummins, the scorer of the winning goal in the final minute of extra-time against Havant and Waterlooville, both thought the chance for such a match had gone this late in their careers. But come the second week of January, they will be taking on Harry Kane and Co. at the 3,185-seater Rossett Park situated in Crosby, the little corner of Liverpool that Everton boss Carlo Ancelotti, a previous resident of Milan, Paris and Madrid, has fallen in love with. The big names just keep coming. Next, it’s the Special One.
“Seeing Jose Mourinho here, I don’t know if it will be hysterical or brilliant,” laughs Cummins in disbelief during an exclusive chat with The Sportsman. “Marine’s technical area is one of a kind, one big stride and you’re on the pitch, but it will be really fascinating to see. I heard our manager was offered a sausage butty in the last round from someone in one of the gardens behind him. I can’t imagine Mourinho turning that down! It’s unique, but we deserve the chance we’ve created.” They really do. It’s taken Marine seven games to get to this point. Having got the better of league opposition in the shape of Colchester United in a first round penalty shootout, the clash with Spurs will be another challenge entirely. But it’s one the Marine boys are relishing.
“I couldn’t believe the draw, my phone went barmy for about two hours!” Raven tells us. “I’d just got in from work and sat watching it with my wife and little girl on TV. I thought this chance, the excitement, had gone but it’s come back round again.”
Raven, who started his career with Liverpool and spent seven years in the Football League before a lengthy spell in Scotland, now has a nine-to-five job as he approaches the end of his career, teaching the next generation of talent at a football academy on the Wirral where he was born.
“The lads who’ve done this for years, going to work while training twice a week and playing at the weekend, I take my hat off to them,” he says of a squad which includes a binman, a security guard and a communications contract manager. “It’s really tough balancing everything. You get out of bed after a game and you’re still stiff, still tired, but you have to get up for work. It’s a massively different world. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as intense as being a professional and you’re not training anywhere near as hard but that’s just because you can’t - with a full-time job, your mind is taken.”
Captain Cummins, a PE teacher who speaks to us after a full day at school, agrees, “I find managing it hard. For Colchester away, I had to book half a day off work… If the Tottenham game goes ahead on a Sunday evening as rumoured, that’s awful because I’ll be up at 6.30am and going to work at 7! It’ll be a real shame.”
In facing Spurs, Raven’s career has come full circle since his Reds debut actually came against the north Londoners in the League Cup back in 2004.“It was a blur but I loved it,” he recalls. “The crowd, White Hart Lane, playing under the floodlights. I remember I was very nervous but settled into the game and played quite well. It was one of the highlights of my career, the build-up, finding out I was in the team. I found it so exciting and such a buzz.”
Things got better at the end of that season as Liverpool lifted the Champions League trophy after that comeback against Milan. Being in the right place at the right time matters in football, and though Raven didn’t feature in the European Cup final, a slice of luck gave him a moment he’ll never forget.
“We weren’t in the squad as such so we were on a separate plane,” he explains of the trip home from Istanbul. “With two separate flights, we were delayed so when we got to Melwood the open-top bus had already left, meaning some players missed out. Myself and Darren Potter had already booked a night out with our girlfriends anyway so we stayed at the training ground and got in the showers to get ready.
“Someone came running through though and asked ‘Do you want to get on the bus?! It’s coming past now!’ so out of nowhere me and Darren Potter jumped on the bus - next minute we’re going through town and there are thousands of people. We were on the top deck with the trophy… and we still had our night out too!”
Raven is no stranger to his own tournament exploits, scoring the decisive extra-time winner for Inverness Caledonian Thistle against Celtic and Virgil van Dijk in the 2015 Scottish Cup semi-final.
“That was probably the best moment of my career... Celtic, Hampden Park, it didn’t get much bigger than that when I scored to put us through, the joy and emotion was the pinnacle,” he reflects. “I missed the final through injury but dealt with that through the highs of the semi. They still talk about that today up there.”
He has also come up against Cristiano Ronaldo in the past, not that he remembers it... “It was years ago, apparently, though I didn’t know at the time!” he says candidly, amused that he doesn’t instantly recall taking on the five-time Ballon d’Or winner in an England youth game.
Facing Harry Kane shouldn’t faze him then, although his students have asked how he’ll try to halt the Tottenham talisman. “I don’t know any other way to prepare apart from how I have the last 17 years so nothing will change that,” he insists.
Cummins, meanwhile, has been bowled over by the media attention the draw has brought, and has been contacted by journalists from all over the world. Getting the winner against Havant put him in the spotlight but he is an Arsenal fan too, which makes the tie that little bit tastier.
“It’s a once in a lifetime thing,” he says, agreeing with The Sportsman when we compare the Premier League elite to Hollywood A-Listers. “We're Cyclops and they’re Brad Pitt!” he laughs. “It’s polar opposites. Look at their squad… World Cup winners; a World Cup Golden Boot winner… my lord, it’s frightening! We’ll have a game plan and we’ll know what to do, but David versus Goliath was a closer fight, put it that way.”
“It’s what it’s about,” adds Raven of the tie. “Young kids here on the sidelines, hopefully, looking at the England captain walking out; making them dream and people being inspired by the game.
“To score a winner against Tottenham? I can’t begin to imagine it! We have to try and hit them on an attack... use the stadium, the pitch, use all these little advantages to make it as hard as we can. We’re not going to lie down, give them the ball and let them beat us. That’s not how we are.”