There is an inherent jealousy in football. Fans will go to great lengths to disparage the supporters of rival, more successful teams. Many managers will use all the tactics in the book to get under the skin of their opposing number in the dugout. We will all marvel as successful teams falter but few will really believe their own words when they root for the “plucky underdog”. But once in a while there will come a team who virtually the whole of the game will be willing to win, even though the chances of that happening are so slim.
The story of Marine AFC’s FA Cup run and subsequent 3rd round draw to face Tottenham Hotspur has been well documented, but the most interesting aspect to me wasn’t the game itself but how the club adapted their business model in the face of adversity to financially benefit beyond their wildest dreams.
Every season Non-League clubs up and down the country hope that this will be “the” season. A run of good early season form, a slice of luck and some cup heroics is the. normal formula that sets up the David vs Goliath tie. Last season it was Chichester City away at Tranmere Rovers, next season it could be anyone, but every club will hope it is them. In most instances, the David’s will get the neutrals on their side, as well as the bitter rivals to Goliath but that never really translates into anything apart from platitudes.
The draw for the Third Round saw Marine paired with the then Premier League leaders, but more importantly, with Liverpool moving from Tier 3 to Tier 2, they would be hosting the game in front of fans. Not as many as they hoped, but even so the stands and the terraces on their three sided Rossett Park ground would be full come 3rd Round Day.
Unfortunately, on New Year’s Eve Liverpool once again entered Tier 3 which meant that there would be no fans able to attend the game. Whilst the Match of the Day cameras would bring in some vital revenue, the club faced losing out on the gate receipts. That was until someone came up with the idea of selling a virtual ticket for the game.
There’s a saying that is often used to explain the relationship between price and demand. The simplistic view is that when price rises, demand falls. But that isn’t always the case because price is only an issue in the absence of value. Value is something that is very subjective – people don’t donate to charity for instance because they physically get something in return, they do it because they believe in the cause and they feel better about donating – the value is altruistic.
For the price of a standard match ticket of £10, you were entered into a prize draw to be the manager for a game in pre-season. But that wasn’t the value, the value was knowing that you were “virtually there”, being a part of the club’s biggest ever game. The club didn’t have to create a pitch, the tipping point was the circumstances the club found themselves in, a unique set of fortunate events that they could either take advantage of or pass on, potentially never presenting themselves again.
The original aim was to sell enough tickets to beat their record attendance of approximately 6,000 when they took on a bare-foot Nigerian team in 1949. Two days before the game they passed that number, then hitting 10,000 with twenty-four hours to go.
By the time the game kicked off, the club had sold over 30,000 virtual tickets at £10 each, including one each to the BBC MOTD team Gary Lineker, Ian Wright and Alan Shearer. The 6.8 million who tuned in on the BBC, plus 1.3 million on iPlayer saw the side from the Northern Premier League put up a spirited performance, but as soon as Spurs took a first-half lead, there was never a doubt about the end result. For the 30,000 plus who bought a virtual ticket, the value they got wasn’t being entered into the prize draw to manage the side in a pre-season game but it was the feel-good factor of being a part of the club’s most famous day.
Virtually all of those who bought a ticket will have watched the game with the warm feeling that they had played their part in the match. To most, £10 was a small amount that makes little difference to our daily lives, but to a non-league club who had been denied the opportunity to earn it themselves in the normal manner, it was incredibly valuable.
Few Non-League chairman won’t be jealous of Marine’s cup run that will have seen them gross around £500,000 and bring them national and international prominence. Whilst jealousy is one of the seven deadly sins, you have to admire the strategy the club took to capitalise on a very unique set of events and hope that they use the cash wisely to build a better future for themselves, their community and Non-League football as a whole.
One day, when fans and football can safely mix again, there will be a big party in Crosby to celebrate the historic cup run, where the fans and local community can all come together and everyone who bought a ticket, no matter where they are in the world can feel good about the value they provided and received from this amazing story.