Marine's James Joyce lifts lid on FA Cup tie against Tottenham

Banter with Gareth Bale, staying in a four-star hotel the night before and a pre-match full English… Marine defender James Joyce lifts the lid on the FA Cup tie of his dreams against Tottenham

  • Marine looked to pull off the biggest shock in FA Cup history against Tottenham
  • The eighth-tier side hosted Tottenham on Sunday, but ended up losing 5-0
  • James Joyce played the full 90 minutes, and gave Sportsmail an inside look  

What does a footballer experience in the hours before the biggest game of his life?

Marine AFC looked to defy the odds and pull off the greatest FA Cup shock in history on Sunday, when Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham visited Rossett Park with 161 places between the two sides in the English football pyramid. 

Tottenham ended up running out 5-0 winners on Sunday, thanks to a hat-trick from Carlos Vinicius and strikes from Lucas Moura and 16-year-old Alfie Devine. 

Marine defender JAMES JOYCE provided Sportsmail with a candid insight into the 48 hours building up to their clash with Spurs, involving WhatsApp messages, roadblocks and a full English breakfast.

James Joyce comes up against Tottenham star Gareth Bale during the historic FA Cup tie

Joyce played every minute against Jose Mourinho’s side, who ran out 5-0 winners on Sunday

Friday night  

The excitement is building and the team’s WhatsApp group doesn’t stop pinging with messages. 

There is also a serious element to the chat, though, as we are discussing the previous night’s training session when we all got tested for coronavirus.

It was our second round of tests and the idea that we might have picked something up to stop us playing is sickening. It takes me a little bit longer than normal to get to sleep. 

I couldn’t imagine getting this close to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and it being taken away from me.

Marine squad weren’t just nervous to face a Premier League side, with Covid tests looming 

Saturday morning

Not surprisingly, I’m up early. My phone has been buzzing for a while and I’m getting plenty of messages about my appearance on the sports pages of the Daily Mail. 

My Dad, Dave, works at the same factory as me, so there are messages from his mates as well as mine. It’s unbelievable, I can’t believe it’s happening.

The best message of all, however, comes around 10am. We get news from the club on WhatsApp that everyone has tested negative. You can’t imagine the relief. 

The non-league side aimed to take the most professional approach possible to the clash 

With that taken care of, I get my overnight bag sorted out and I meet Ryan Wignall to get the train into town.

Outside the station, David Raven is waiting to give us a lift to training, which is a godsend. Win, lose or draw, I can have a drink afterwards. 

I had one glass on Boxing Night, after we had beaten City of Liverpool, but since then I’ve sacrificed everything. It’s been well worth it.

Saturday afternoon 

We’d normally train at our stadium but not this time: we arrive at Liverpool’s Academy in Kirkby and the mood among the lads is better than I can ever remember. 

We are spoilt with these facilities and it gives us the feeling of what it must be like for professionals team.   

Marine had a huge swell of support in the build-up to the FA Cup game from across the nation

The first thing the gaffer (Neil Young) does is commend us for the way we have conducted ourselves in relation to Covid-19. 

Nobody has done anything to jeopardise the game. He then tells us about all the goodwill messages he has received from people such as Ian Wright and Alan Shearer.

Everyone, it seems, is rooting for us and the training session that follows is fast and intense. It’s similar to the one that we had before we played Havant & Waterlooville in the last round, all sharp stuff to get the legs moving and the lungs open. We all have a good blow at the end of it.

Saturday evening 

This is a treat. We are staying at the Radisson Blu in Liverpool city centre, which we did before Havant also (can we do the same again?).

The only other time we have stayed in a hotel was at Colchester in round one and that was because it was so far away.

We sit down to watch Arsenal v Newcastle but, really, nobody is paying too much attention. We are having too much of a laugh, this is the time of our lives. 

The Marine players were treated to a four-star hotel the night before the historic fixture 

For dinner it’s a combination of pasta, chicken breasts and veg — proper footballer food! — and it certainly tastes better than if I was doing it!

Everyone starts heading up to their rooms after dinner. I just try to drift off to sleep watching Match of the Day. What a day.

Sunday morning 

I wouldn’t say I’m a big breakfast person but I make an exception. We have to be down to eat between 8.30 and 10 and I’m confronted by a feast: sausage, bacon, eggs, hash browns — the works. 

You might think there would be nerves but, looking around the lads, I think everyone feels the way I do. You spend your life dreaming about something like this.

The drive in  

As soon as we got on the coach, we had the music on loud. It was the best atmosphere I have seen on a bus. 

There were no nerves. On the way down, Mex — our kitman — came to the back of the bus and said: ‘Listen, I’ve had a call — College Road is busy.’

We turned onto College Road and, first of all, we saw a few people waving. Then we got closer to the stadium and, all of a sudden, there are people everywhere. We all got our phones out and I’ve got a couple of nice videos.

Marine fans gathered in the street to welcome their hom-town club’s players to the ground

The atmosphere around the FA Cup clash was a new experience for the non-league outfit

The match 

We tried to treat it as any other game. You might get a bit star-struck when you first see them but when the whistle goes, you are just playing a game.

You know, I was happy to see Gareth Bale warm up. I had a couple of words with him when he first came on. He was blowing a little bit so I said, ‘Are you a bit tired?’ and he told me he had only started training yesterday.

Then he said: ‘I’m just starving, hungry!’ I said: ‘Don’t worry, you have got a Tesco meal deal waiting for you off the club!’ We had a little laugh over it. Just to be on the same pitch as him is something I will never forget.

Joyce got Man of the Match for his tireless display chasing down Premier League opposition 

The club gave me man of the match, which was a nice little bonus. As soon as the final whistle went, it was back to reality and you realise who you have played against. We have to think what an achievement it is.

Tottenham’s players left a bag of shirts for us and I ended up taking Matt Doherty’s home. They told us they are going to wash the ones they wore in the match and send them on to us, so hopefully I will get Bale’s shirt then! I can’t ask for too much. It’s been an unforgettable experience.

James Joyce was speaking to DOMINIC KING




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