By Sam Millne

When Marine began their FA Cup journey in 2020 against Barnoldswick Town, nobody could have imagined what took place just four months after.

Seven rounds later, they faced Tottenham Hotspur of the Premier League.

Jose Mourinho’s side were top of the Premier League at that point – 161 places above Marine in the football pyramid, a record gap between teams in an English football fixture.

The Crosby team’s run to the third round of the FA Cup generated vital income during a pandemic.

And when they drew Spurs, the club knew it was a huge opportunity to secure its future for years to come.

BBC announced the match would be broadcast on BBC One and awareness of Marine’s underdog story grew rapidly.

With fans unable to attend the Marine Travel Arena due to coronavirus restrictions, over 32,000 virtual tickets were sold for the match at £10 each.

One of the chief beneficiaries of the cash influx has been Marine In The Community.

The charity was set up in early 2019 and has gone from strength to strength in the last couple of years.

Graeme Gardiner, Director of MITC, explained how the cup run has impacted the organisation.

“With the money from the FA Cup, the big difference to us was the virtual ticket.

“If you wanted a ticket, you paid £10; if you wanted a community ticket, it was an extra £10.

Graeme Gardiner – Director of Marine In The Community

“I think we had somewhere in the region of 5500 extra community tickets were bought so that was a nice bonus for Marine In The Community.

“We’ve put it to one side and we’ve got some projects that we want to do with it – that’s something that we don’t want to waste and not use.

“Some people say ‘if it weren’t for the FA Cup’.

“Well, strictly speaking, Marine In The Community was well set up already; it was already being successful and it was already gaining funding.

“The big thing there, that any club can learn from, is if they hadn’t had a community section, then that funding wouldn’t have gone to the community section.

“So having that community section allowed the club to develop even bigger and in a better way.”

MITC provides several services for people in the wider Crosby area including walking football for seniors, a community café and free line dancing.

Arguably its biggest success, though, has been its free lunches.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, they have had to adapt, as Gardiner said: “Just as things were starting to pick, up the pandemic came along in the March and everybody stopped.

“All the school work stopped, all the girls’ football stopped, all the violent reduction work stopped. It was like ‘what do we do next?’

“From there, we decided that it was so bad – the lockdown – that we had some funding and we would continue the lunches. But this time, we would take the lunches out.

“It started with 23 or 24 and it wasn’t long before we were doing 60 and getting requests all around Liverpool to do these lunches.”

In total, nearly 5,000 free lunches have been delivered since the beginning of the pandemic and, from their outreach to isolated individuals, the charity started to enhance what they were doing.

A typical week at Marine In The Community 

“From there we actually started to do other things and at the same time this linked into the FA Cup.

“Marine then went on this amazing run in the FA Cup which was great for the community because when the media were coming down and wanting to see what’s going on at Marine, they found that Marine Football Club was more than just a football club and it was very much embedded in lots of activities in the community.”

Another of the schemes that MITC has become involved with is the ‘Four Clubs. One Goal.’ initiative that has seen Everton in the Community, the LFC Foundation, Tranmere Rovers Community Foundation and Marine come together in a campaign to reduce crime on Merseyside through Crimestoppers.

Gardiner said the programme, supported by Liverpool legend David Fairclough who also acts as an ambassador to MITC, is ‘to get the word out about reducing crime and also how they can get support with knife crime, drugs or even in any sort of abuse that might be getting carried out.’

James Barrigan played in midfield for The Mariners against Spurs and is also involved with the community aspect of the club, coaching football to primary school children.

He said: “I like doing bits in the community. I think it’s good to get to know the club and the people who support the club as well.

“I think that’s always an important part of being where you are and I’m obviously very happy here, so I think doing a bit of coaching with the schools in the area will be good.”

The awareness raised by the cup run and subsequent good form in the league has meant attendances have nearly doubled this season.

Barrigan spoke of how important the supporters are to the team.

“The fans are brilliant and you probably see it on Twitter all the time.

“The Crossender Way are always putting directions on how to get to the away games.”

James Barrigan in action against Havant and Waterlooville

Matthew Roylance is a member of The Crossender Way, an independent fan group.

He talked about the club’s smart investment: “There are plans to redo the pitch which would be a massive fundraiser for the club.

“I think the club has invested the money very very well because it would have been very easy to splash out and get a load of washed-up football league players on contracts, pay them a load of money then see if we can go up.

“That would have been really tempting but the club haven’t done that.”

With The Mariners currently top of the Northern Premier League West, things are looking up at Rossett Park and success on the pitch can only mean growth off it for Marine In The Community.

Featured image credit: Paul Moran

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