CROSBY, England (AP) — Marine’s part-time players had been holding off Tottenham for 20 minutes when apprentice plumber Neil Kengni spotted his chance.
Some 30 yards (meters) from the goal of Joe Hart, who has played at a World Cup for England, Kengni unleashed a shot.
Surely the semiprofessional eighth-tier club could not take the lead against the Premier League’s fourth-place team? Only the crossbar spared the blushes of Tottenham and Hart, who tipped the ball over to be sure.
Incredibly, it took Tottenham 24 minutes to beat goalkeeper Bayleigh Passant in the biggest mismatch in FA Cup history as Carlos Vinícius — filling in for the rested Harry Kane — broke the unexpectedly long deadlock on Sunday.
“For an eighth-tier team to see out Tottenham for 24 minutes is something special but we felt there we could have kept them out for a little bit longer,” Passant told The Associated Press. “It was just a lack of concentration.”
It didn’t always look like 161 places separated these sides in the English football pyramid as Marine defended valiantly against the 2019 Champions League runners-up.
Tottenham went on to win 5-0 — with Vinícius scoring a hat trick — but that is only the same goal margin the London club beat Manchester United by earlier in the Premier League season.
“We showed fight and determination that we didn’t want to make a laughing stock out of ourselves,” said Passant, who also works in a supermarket. “People around the world and in Crosby can be happy with us that even though we got beaten 5-0 we tried our best.”
This was the ultimate culture shock for the millionaires of Tottenham. They changed in a wedding venue that’s part of Marine Travel Arena. Unlike Tottenham’s new $1.5 billion stadium, this is a sparse venue crammed between two streets of red-brick terraced houses with one small stand. Due to the pandemic, the only supporters able to watch in person were in the gardens of Rossett Road separated from the narrow touchline by a low, brick wall.
A few supporters stood on the wall and peered through the fence struck over manager Jose Mourinho and the Tottenham bench. Others climbed trees to gain any vantage point and blasted horns. The best view of the Tottenham players was in the streets of this Liverpool commuter town as fans lined the roads — despite the country being in a coronavirus lockdown — to see the team bus arrive.
While Harry Kane was left behind in London, this was still a Tottenham side packed with international stars, including Gareth Bale — one of the world’s most expensive players. Yet even a trip to Marine saw Bale’s frustrations continue with a free kick saved by Passant.
“We started seriously and we finished seriously,” Mourinho said. “We tried to kill the game as soon as we could.”
A moment of Tottenham history was created not just by playing the fixture but by Alfie Devine at 16 years and 163 days becoming the team’s youngest-ever player and scorer. It was the only goal in the second half after Brazilian Lucas Moura had also scored from a free kick before the break.
“It was overwhelming but there was also disappointment,” Passant said. “It’s just unfortunate at the end that we conceded five goals.”
This was no rout or humiliation for the Marine players who will go back to their day jobs, uncertain when they will play again with the Northern Premier League Division One North West on hold during the new lockdown.
And when the final whistle blew after a valiant display they went over to thank the fans peering from Rossett Road gardens.
Even without a crowd being allowed in, enterprising Marine sold more than 30,000 virtual tickets for 10 pounds each ($13.60) — ensuring the windfall from the cup run, including prize money and television cash, exceeds half a million pounds ($678,000).
“The cup run has been a lifesaver for us financially for where we are in non-league,” Marine manager Neil Young said. “We don’t know what is coming next, and I just wanted to make sure we had a huddle and told them how well they have done.”