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Exclusive: Marine manager Neil Young aiming to put on Tottenham Hotspur show in FA Cup ‘surprise’


Gareth Bale on College Road. Jose Mourinho in the Marine Travel Arena dugout. Joe Hart watching balls sail into Crosby Village.

Tottenham Hotspur are coming to Marine. It is, still somewhat inexplicably, happening.

And the man at the centre of it all is Neil Young.

The Marine boss, who signed a new, long-term contract until 2024 before Christmas, admits preparation has been ‘hard’ for the eighth-tier club – who compete in the Northern Premier League North West – with media commitments and coronavirus testing.

On Saturday, he was given the news that his entire playing and coaching staff had returned negative results, meaning he has a full squad available against the Premier League visitors.

But while Marine have not turned out in the league since Boxing Day, Tottenham qualified for the Carabao Cup final on Tuesday.

Young, somehow, remains relaxed, even in a week when Everton had to step in at short-notice to provide their Finch Farm training facilities after the original camp was frozen over.

Young told the ECHO: “Everyone is looking forward to the game.

“From a personal perspective, the media attention has gone through the roof, as you would expect. But we’ve got to embrace that for the profile of our football club.

“The preparation has been a little bit ski-whiff from normal. We had covid-19 tests on Thursday and Saturday and were just trying to find anywhere to train. It’s a real David and Goliath story.”

David and Goliath remains an understatement of some proportion.

Marine have sold 10,000 virtual tickets for the clash since government tier rulings meant Hotspur would visit a closed stadium. At £10-a-go, the earnings are still dwarfed by the weekly wage bill at Spurs.

But it is not just financial disparity, either. Young has watched his side win seven games in the FA Cup this season as Hotspur lace up for the first time on Sunday.

The Mariners’ victory over League Two side Colchester United – away from home nonetheless – was supposed to be the shock of the competition but they have a chance to make not only football, but sporting history against Mourinho and his men.

Up against Bale, Erik Lamela and Giovani Lo Celso will be Danny Shaw, an NHS worker, and James Barrigan, a refuse collector turned midfield maestro.

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Marine also boast teachers and football coaches while, in the dugout, there is a Merseyrail veteran.

Young is 28 years in the post with the Liverpool travel company.

“People are excited for me!” he laughs.

“They know I’ve been in football for a long time with different clubs, but from a single game perspective, this is obviously the pinnacle for me to be able to come up against Jose Mourinho and a fantastic Tottenham team.”

Young runs through the players who could turn out at the Marine Travel Arena.

“Alderweireld, Lamela, Lo Celso, Tanganga, Rodon, Dele Alli,” he says. “One thing you know with Jose is that he takes every cup competition seriously.

“Maybe against other clubs, you might come up against a number of under-23s. But I don’t think many u-23s have even made the Europa League squads. I think they’ll be very strong.”

And what if they are? Is there the temptation to send his team out with a smile, and tell them to enjoy the occasion? Savour it? It might never come around again, after all.

Young isn’t sold on the idea.

“We’ve got personal pride,” he rejects. “We want to make sure we put on a show.

“What that show looks like against the opposition can come in different forms.

“I know we’ll be organised and the lads will give everything they have. If they perform like they have done in other rounds of the competition, we will be fine.

“We might get beat, we might win. We might lose 5-0. But if they put that work ethic in we will surprise a few people and show why we are in the third round of the FA Cup.”

Neil Young dedicates FA Cup visit of Tottenham Hotspur to Marine volunteers

Neil Young has dedicated the visit of Tottenham Hotspur to the volunteers and committee members at Marine.

Young, who signed a new long-term deal at the Marine Travel Arena before Christmas, is hoping to mastermind the biggest shock in FA Cup history when Spurs arrive today.

The game will be played behind-closed-doors but has been selected for live screening on BBC One (5pm).

Young told the ECHO: “Everybody’s health and safety is the main thing and our supporters, I know, will be getting behind us from their living room.

“Our biggest disappointment is that fans can’t come in to see this game, people who have supported us for 20, 30, 40 years.

“To see the people’s faces…Paul Leary [chairman], Dave McMillan [vice chairman], Richard Cross [secretary], the fans and committee members who have been doing this day-in, day-out for no reward except watching and supporting the team.

“This day is for all of them. And it’s not just for those who can be there on the day. It’ll be for the volunteers who cannot be there too.”

Mourinho has promised to select a strong Tottenham team and Young is excited by the prospect after starting his management career in the Birkenhead Sunday League with Queen’s Park 24 years ago.

He said: “It is fairytale stuff. We want to enjoy it, but make sure we put a spectacle on for people watching in terms of what we’re about.

“Not just the game itself, but we want people to go away thinking, ‘What a good club Marine is.’

“This game hasn’t come round in 126 years. Who says it’s going to come round again?

“I always link back to Queen’s Park, and if someone would have told me I’d one day share the pitch in the FA Cup third round with Jose Mourinho, you would never have believed it.

“He is one of the most decorated managers in the world with legendary status.

“We might not be able to share a drink afterwards, but maybe he’ll have a little bit of advice for me.”

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