Marine FC on the comeback trail
Background Image: Susan Nugent
When I joined the media team at Northern Premier League side Marine Football Club in January this year, there was an air of celebration around the place. The Crosby-based club had just entered their 125th year and there were plans for celebrity dinners, announcements of commemorative kits and the publication of an anniversary book. The team went on a six-game unbeaten run from the New Year until the last weekend of February.
However, things soon turned sour. Results declined and in April, Marine suffered their first-ever relegation. Most of the team departed, including former Blackpool FC young player of the year Danny Mitchley, on-loan Everton goalkeeper Joe Hilton, and highly rated centre-back Chris Doyle.
Manager Neil Young stayed put. He vowed to bring Marine back to where they belong and embarked on a huge rebuilding process. While much of the facilities at the Marine Travel Arena were renovated thanks to the Premier League-supported Football Stadia Improvement Fund, the entire squad received a similar kind of renovation. The manager kept on only the players he knew would fight for the club to get them back to where they belong.
After Marine had flirted with relegation for several years, Young was tasked with creating a squad with a winning mentality from almost scratch. The majority of last season’s players were scrapped, the sole survivors being tenacious ex-Liverpool midfielder Steve Irwin, former Manchester United and Chelsea youth player Kenny Strickland, French striker Brett Mbalanda, and fan-favourite goalkeeper Germano Mendes. Niall Cummins also made his loan spell from Curzon Ashton permanent, the striker whose injury issues coincided with the team’s drop in form in the latter stages of the previous season.
Young signed almost an entirely new squad, using his extensive contact list to draw some talented players to the club. Marine, considered Liverpool’s premier non-league side, were now going to be up against the city’s fastest-growing one, The City of Liverpool. Marine had gone from step three English football down to step four. Young’s earlier pre-season squads consisted almost entirely of trialists who had to convince the manager of their worth and commitment to be able to sign for the club. St. Lucia international Josh Solomon-Davies was part of that group as the club strengthened in all areas. Another new addition was former Liverpool winger Craig Lindfield, who already has ten goals and nearly as many assists to his name this season.
Marine have been an almost ever-present in the promotion places of the Division One North West of the Northern Premier League so far this season, but Young is still not happy, demanding only the best from his squad. After a 2-1 victory over Pickering Town in early September, Young insisted he wasn’t pleased with the performance and needed more from his players. He has had no qualms about cutting the deadwood, dropping multiple players throughout the season and bringing in younger, hungrier ones.
The club are on another six-game unbeaten run, but it doesn’t feel the same as the one earlier in the year. That run never actually got Marine into the top half of the table, whereas this one has them chasing a league title and hungry to get back up to step three football. CEO James Leary says that there is ‘a great togetherness at the club at the moment which I haven’t seen for a long, long time’, as Young’s new-look squad are out to avenge the club’s first-ever relegation to take Marine back up.
With tasty local derbies coming up like a Boxing Day clash with the City of Liverpool, Young’s Marine are still strengthening their squad. They recently brought in strong players like former Liverpool midfielder Jordan Lussey, on-loan Southport striker George Newell and recognised goalscorer George Hassall. Young’s refusal to ever settle for what he’s got is currently paying dividends at Marine, and something tells me he won’t even stop at promotion...