Evo-Stik Northern Premier
Tuesday 18th September, 2012
A short trip to the coast this evening to see Liverpool's senior non-league side, Marine. The Mariners, as they are known, are based in Crosby, which is just north of Bootle and the city centre of Liverpool.
The Arriva Stadium is a tidy little ground. Behind one goal is a lovely 389 seater stand with terracing in front of it, as well as a nice disabled area. There is also some uncovered terracing alongside this stand which runs towards the corner flag. On the other side of the stand lie the changing rooms.
On the opposite touchline is a nice little covered stand. Again, this is very narrow, with only two steps of terracing, but it's cosy enough and is a nice addition to the ground. Behind the other goal is an uncovered terrace with around half a dozen steps.
A mention must also be made for the fantastic programme and club shop, which must house over 5,000 programmes from every club imaginable in both League and non-league circles. A fantastic way to spend a good half hour before the game, browsing for a hidden classic. At the time of writing, most of them were only 20p each, or 6 for £1. A real treasure hunter's paradise!
On to the match. Tonight's game pitched 2nd placed Marine against surprisingly struggling Kendal Town, who were lingering towards the relegation zone having had a poor start by their standards. The form table suggested that a home win would be on the cards, but I knew that Kendal are usually a decent side in this division, and that their league position perhaps didn't reflect their ability.
This turned out to be the case in the first half. Marine never looked dangerous going forward, and it was Kendal, wearing all red, who took the initiative. Goalmouth action was at a premium, but chances did come and go, infrequent as they were.
The game needed some magic, and on 36 minutes it got it. Daniel Wisdom found himself free 20-25 yards out, and smashed a ball into the top corner. The Marine keeper was nowhere near it even at full stretch, and the 30 or so away supporters behind the goal celebrated a well deserved lead for their team. This is how it stayed until half time, but not before Kendal's number 8 should have buried a great cross from the best player on the pitch this evening, the Cumbrian's number 9 - Scott Harries.
As the players emerged for the second half, it was Kendal again who looked the brighter. Scott Harries was booked for a petulant dive when he wasn't really going anywhere, and there were a few meaty challenges being put in, but on the whole it looked like Kendal would be good money for their points.
However, football is a weird and wonderful game at times, and a great run by Nicholas Rogan four minutes later, helped along by some rather generous Kendal defending, gave Marine a lifeline with a quarter of an hour to go. I remarked to a nearby Kendal fan that they had put themselves under needless pressure now. At 2-0, they were cruising, but one moment of slack defending had given Marine a way back into the match.
The home side huffed and puffed, and the fans behind the goal raised their voices and spurred on the men in white. The goal didn't come, and it looked like Kendal would be going back up to Cumbria with three very decent points in the bag.
Marine had other ideas, and in the 90th minute, John Shaw sent the relatively sparse but vocal home support into raptures as he smashed the ball into the back of the net to earn them an unlikely point.
The point means that they top the Evo-Stik Premier tonight, and as it stands - with a long, long way to go - will be playing Conference North football next season. I mention the Conference North, because Marine have a setup to support football at that level. The ground is really striking. It's just a shame that they can't get a few more through the turnstiles. 294 is a decent enough Tuesday night crowd, but the size of the local suburbs make you wonder why they can't be pushing 400-500 on a regular basis. Indeed, the population of Crosby alone is over 51,000 - about the same size as Scarborough. Only Liverpool and Everton, and perhaps Southport to the north, are the real rivals in terms of teams to support (meaning no disrespect to Bootle, leaders of the NWCL Premier at the moment, but on crowds of just over 100).
Regardless, on a bitterly cold night on the Merseyside coast, it ended 2-2. Marine will be delighted, Kendal will be disappointed, but that's football. I expect both of these clubs to be knocking on the door of the play-offs come the end of the season.