Marine FC has been in existence for 129 years and chairman Paul Leary told LBN that since the FA Cup tie against Spurs in 2021 revenues and attendances have rocketed, putting the club on an all-time high. Tony McDonough reports
Marine FC is at a “high point in its history” following its 2021 FA Cup third round tie against Tottenham Hotspur with a huge rise in both revenues and attendances.
When player turned TV pundit, Robbie Savage, pulled Marine’s name out of the hat for an unlikely third round FA Cup appearance in late 2020, the Mariners were already record-breakers.
Their cup run to the third round had seen them record seven straight victories without any replays. When they lined up against Spurs at the Marine Travel Arena in Crosby on January 10, 2021, they were in the eighth tier of English football.
Spurs, of course, were flying high in the Premier League. They were 161 places above their Merseyside opponents, a record for the FA Cup.
In the Sunday teatime game, the London club handed out a 5-0 thrashing to Marine, a result that surprised few people. However, Marine were ultimately the winners. The “romance” of the FA Cup has translated into significant tangible benefits for the club.
Although he would not offer precise figures, club chairman Paul Leary told LBN annual revenues were now four times what they were before the pandemic. Average home attendances in 2019 were 350 to 400. The current season this figure was 1,200.
“In fact, in our last five home games our average attendance has been 1,600,” said Paul. “Data from the ticket agency shows up to 75% of our regular supporters live in the immediate area – L21, L22 and L23. The rest come from the wider city region.”
Thanks to the match being televised live Marine was exposed to both a national and a global audience. According to the BBC, 9.2m watched the tie in the UK. ESPN was the overseas broadcaster and it reported a global audience of more than 30m.
Broadcast fees and FA prize money alone were worth £500,000 to Marine.
A further £300,000 was raised from the sale of 32,202 ‘virtual tickets’ to fans of Tottenham and other clubs who wished to support Marine but were unable to attend the match due to COVID-19.
However, it was touch and go whether or not Marine would be allowed to host the tie. Paul explained: “The biggest win was the people at Marine persuading the football authorities that the match could go ahead.
“It was at the peak of COVID. We had just four days to show our ground was a safe venue both from a COVID point of view and to handle a tie involving such a big club.
“And we did that. It was a massive test of our resources. The game itself was probably the most magical game in the history of the FA Cup. The financial impact of that game was absolutely massive. It was amazing for the club to receive that level of income.
“Before that FA Cup run Marine had never appeared live on TV at any point in our history. In that FA Cup run we were live four times.”
Marine, which is an unincorporated association jointly owned by its members, invested the windfall back into the club’s facilities. It opened a new bar and bistro and made improvements to the stadium.
“We decided as a business to invest the windfall in improving the club’s facilities,” added Paul. “We have improved the stadium and the club rooms, we have had a complete refurbishment. We have invested in new facilities.
“We still pinch ourselves, to be quite honest, just how much it has changed the club.”
Marine was founded in 1894 by a group of local businessmen and former college students. It was named after a nearby seafront hotel.
It moved to its present home in 1903. The stadium was formerly known as Rossett Park before being renamed as the Marine Travel Arena. Marine currently employs 12 people full-time – more on matchdays.
“It has a squad of 30 players who are employed on a part-time basis and average around 10 to 12 hours a week.
Marine is run by a volunteer committee who, said Paul, “do it for the love of the club”. He himself joined as a 25-year-old in 1978 and has been chairman for 18 years. He added: “It only seems like yesterday.”
James Leary, Paul’s son, is chief executive of the club. In his most recent blog he talked about a new 10-year front of shirt and stadium sponsorship deal with Marine Travel.
He also mentioned the possibility of further investment into the stadium. And the club is also looking to bring in new sponsors for next season. New commercial manager Cara Leach started took on her role at Marine in February.
Paul explained: “There are areas of terracing that are not currently in use for spectators. So we are in talks with regards to developing those areas. Improvements we have carried out the last couple of years means we are ready if we are promoted into the next tier.
“All the improvements we have made in the past 20 years have had support from the Football Foundation and the Premier League Stadium Fund. To access the fund you have to demonstrate a need.
“So we are talking about longer term changes from the Football Foundation if the eligibility is met.”
On the pitch, Marine has enjoyed a strong season. They finished ninth in the Northern Premier League Premier Division, having been promoted the previous season. It was its highest league position since 2012.
It also enjoyed cup success, winning the Liverpool Senior Cup for the first time since 2008. Marine beat Runcorn Linnets 4-3 on penalties in the final at Widnes. They took 1,000 supporters to the game. Last time they were in the final, they only took 200 fans.
Paul is also proud of the work the club does for the local community. He added: “Our registered charity is Marine in the Community. The staff and volunteers do an amazing job on the many community projects they have undertaken on a day-to-day basis.
“One of the projects Four Clubs – One Goal. It is an anti-knife crime project involving Liverpool, Everton, Tranmere Rovers and Marine.”
Paul would like to see more of the billions going into the game at the top level trickling down a bit more than it does.
He said: “The Department of Culture, Media and Sport have been having discussions recently about getting more money to come down to the grassroots and non-league system.
“There are billions of pounds swilling around. Even a half of 1% coming downwards would make a huge difference.
“We are at a high point in our club’s history. The impact of the Tottenham game gave us the ability to invest and grow our income streams. Our attendance has continued to improve and we are always looking to be bigger and better.”
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