Marine's Joyce ready to take down Mourinho and Tottenham in the FA Cup

James Joyce has gone from Tranmere to the Arctic Circle to achieve his dream of taking on Jose Mourinho… but the Liverpool fan and factory worker is ready to upset Tottenham with Marine in the FA Cup

  • Marine will host Tottenham Hotspur in the FA Cup third round on Sunday
  • The eighth tier side were handed dream draw against the Premier League giants
  • James Joyce dreamed of facing Jose Mourinho after growing up a Liverpool fan
  • Joyce though admits Marine’s glorious Cup run nearly ended in September 

James Joyce has been smiling ever since he eventually stopped screaming with joy. Sitting on the couch at home next to his dad Dave, eating chicken and rice, the Marine defender was overcome on the night of December 1 when fate presented the opportunity of a lifetime.

The prospect of facing Tottenham, Joyce explained, has made the last six weeks surreal.

Marine’s history-making squad have been in a bubble in more ways than one, riding the emotion of it all. They have been in Another Place mentally, so it seems fitting we meet on Crosby beach, near the Sir Antony Gormley sculptures which carry that title. 

James Joyce stands on Crosby Beach in the build up to Marine’s FA Cup tie with Tottenham

Sportsmail interviewed the Marine defender who will feature in the club’s dream tie

The closest Joyce has previously been to the big time in football was July 2016, when he played for Llandudno in a Europa League qualifier against Gothenburg. The match in Sweden attracted a crowd of 7,000 and the Welsh Premier League side lost 5-0.

This is something different. This is the FA Cup and a story that has sped around the world.

Joyce, who grew up in the early 2000s dreaming of playing for Liverpool when their rivalry with Chelsea boiled like a furnace, cannot believe he is about to face a Jose Mourinho team.

‘If someone had said to me as a 10-year-old, when I watched those Liverpool Champions League games, that I’d be playing in a game where Mourinho was manager, I’d have thought it would have been for Liverpool, not a non-league club in the eighth tier,’ said the 26-year-old.

‘Mourinho has been one of the best managers in the world all through my life watching football. It’s just an unreal moment, isn’t it?

‘It hasn’t sunk in that we are having this build-up, all this attention. This doesn’t happen to a team like us, does it?’

Joyce is now on his second spell with Marine having started his career with Tranmere Rovers

Those words lead to his smile temporarily disappearing for the only time. ‘To be honest,’ he added. ‘I’m going to be gutted when it is all over.’

Why wouldn’t he be? Joyce, who works on a factory production line making dashboards for Jaguar Land Rover, has had an eclectic career as a journeyman footballer since he left Tranmere as a teenager, having had schoolboy trials with Liverpool and Blackburn.

There was a three-month contract with Kiruna, a team from the town in Sweden that is in the Arctic Circle — ‘I’d have regretted it if I’d never done it’ — and a stint with FC United in Manchester was squeezed between two spells with Marine. Here is honest football, far removed from the razzamatazz and hype that comes in buckets in the Premier League, but the FA Cup has transported Marine into the realms of fantasy.

Be under no illusion — Joyce and his colleagues are having the time of their lives.

He lights up when telling stories about how he stashed five cans of beer in his kit bag before the round-two game with Havant and Waterlooville, ‘just in case’ there was a result for the ages. 

Marine players celebrate their second round win leading to a third round tie with Tottenham

Growing up in the early 2000s, Liverpool fan Joyce dreamed of facing Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho (above) when he was Chelsea manager during a period of rivalry with the Reds

‘I did have plans to work but as soon as we won…’ that telling smile breaks his flow. ‘Well, I had a couple of drinks and had to ring my manager Phil — “Listen, I don’t think I’m going to be able to make it in the morning”. I was supposed to be in at 6am. To be fair, he was all for it!

‘I’d say he was expecting the call after he had seen the result. They all love their footy in work, so I knew it wasn’t going to be a problem. They are always speaking to me about it.

‘I walked in on the Tuesday morning and it was amazing, with everyone saying they had watched it.’

Shift patterns mean there are times when Joyce cannot be selected by Marine manager Neil Young but he has been ever-present through this odyssey. One abiding memory is the lively coach ride back from Colchester after they had won 5-3 on penalties in the first round proper.

None of this, however, would have been possible without fate helping out on September 12. 

Joyce is pictured in action with Marine whose Cup run was nearly over back in September

In their first tie against Barnoldswick Town, close to the Yorkshire Dales, Marine’s cup run was almost over before it started. Had VAR been in play, it might not have got started at all.

‘Bayleigh (Passant, the goalkeeper) had been sent off, having given away a penalty in the first half,’ explained Joyce.

‘We managed to score a great equaliser then, in the last minute, Josh Hmami whips this great free-kick in. It hit the bar, bounced straight back down and came out.

‘Next thing, the linesman is flagging goal! The next day, the video of the game came out. There were stills of the ball dropping down and it looks as if it didn’t cross the line. Luck was definitely with us that day. To get as far as we have — it does feel like we have won the Cup.’  

Joyce admits he will be gutted when Marine’s incredible FA Cup run comes to an end 

So it should. The finance they have brought in through prize money and television deals has been a lifeline, preserving the club’s long-term future. For the community and what this all means to so many people in the area, it is impossible to put a price on the achievement.

‘If we do lose, of course I will be disappointed but I will still think back with a smile on my face, knowing what we have done,’ said Joyce, whose Christmas present to his dad was a half-and-half scarf featuring the names of Marine and Tottenham.

‘We’ve all looked after ourselves and been sensible. If you didn’t, you would only look back in the months and years to come and think “Why didn’t I just do the opposite for a couple of weeks? Was it worth it?” The sacrifice was only a couple of weeks. The pain — if you can call it that — was worth it.

‘Everyone is excited and made up for us. It just puts a smile on your face. Covid has really impacted the club more than the players. The main thing is the club are benefitting from it. That’s what we will take out of it all. It’s been unbelievable.’

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