FOOTBALL: Marine making the most of it

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While other Merseyside teams struggle to restore former prosperity, Marine are once again setting the standard for others to follow. The little club from the Liverpool suburb of Crosby are, however, facing an uphill battle to realise their potenti al.

Since joining the Northern Premier League (now known as the Unibond League) in 1979, Marine have only once finished outside the top 10 in the Premier Division. Second in 1992, fourth in '93, they won the title for the first time last season and, 11 points clear at the top of the pack, are so far mounting an impressive defence of the championship.

However, the shortcomings of their Rossett Park ground meant that Marine were not promoted to the GM Vauxhall Conference last term, and they will not go up if they retain their title. The main problem is that the stadium only has spectator accommodation on three sides of the pitch.

"We're spending over £200,000 on seating, terracing, turnstiles and segregation to satisfy all but one of the Conference requirements," Tom Culshaw, Marine's chairman, said this week." We've got a nice compact ground that is more than adequate for our average crowds of around 500, and we're not going to commit financial suicide and bankrupt the club just to satisfy the whims of certain people.

"The Conference must decide what they want to be: the top of the non-League pyramid or the bottom level of the Football League," Culshaw added. "It seems they only want to admit clubs whose grounds are good enough for the Football League, which is ridiculous. We want to play at the highest level possible in the non-League pyramid, as we know we don't have the crowd potential to survive in the League, but we want to stay at our ground. Relocating to an out-of-town site would be too costly and would alienate our support."

Roly Howard, the longest-serving manager in senior football who has been in charge of Marine for 22 years, has kept his successful squad together - which would not have been the case if they had been promoted, as several players would have found the demands of Conference travel too great. Howard's major signing this season has been his top scorer, the former Preston striker, Liam Watson, who has hit 11 goals this term. His partnership with the experienced Chris Camden has been interrupted, howe v er, asCamden has a leg in plaster after being carried off at Bamber Bridge on Tuesday.

"We've proved in Cup games over the years that we can live with the best in the non-League game," Culshaw said. "Being denied promotion is not a disaster, but we still want to climb as high as we can. Hopefully someone will see the light." In the meantime, all Marine can do is keep winning.