DAVID RAVEN's fondest recollections of his time in the Highlands are his days by the riverbank. The 35-year-old, goalscoring hero of Inverness's Scottish Cup semi-final win over Celtic in 2015, would wile away his spare time fishing for trout and salmon often with then team-mate Gary Warren for company.

“I still miss it now, in fact it's probably the biggest thing I miss,” says Raven, who left Caley Thistle in 2018 after six years there and is now in English football's eighth-tier with Marine, via spells at Wrexham and Warrington Town.

“It was completely brand new to me. I just saw the guys on the river and I thought I'd love to do that. I got all the gear and just got stuck right into it. John Docherty was our kit man at the time and he showed us the ropes and it just went from there,” he adds of a pastime he still keeps.

“It is not the same as up there, you're not five minutes away from a salmon river [here], casting lines out on a beautiful river surrounded by mountains, it's just not the same. It's like I've driven a Ferrari and I'm looking at driving Fiestas for the rest of my life.”

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Tomorrow, Raven will make a stab at attempting to reel in his biggest catch yet when the great whites of Tottenham Hotspur arrive at the Marine Travel Arena for an FA Cup third-round tie against the non-league side who sit seventh in the Northern Premier League North/West division, a full 162 places adrift of their more illustrious counterparts.

Big fish and minnows, Ferraris and Fiestas. These are good analogies for where Raven will find himself tomorrow evening. A sense of occasion has gripped the coastal Merseyside town of Crosby, where Marine are based – and beyond: the club has appointed a media specialist specifically to deal with enquiries for the big game, a steady stream of cars and vans belonging to the BBC's Match of the Day team have been arriving since Wednesday and there will be a significant police presence to manage traffic flow around the ground before, during and after the game.

Jose Mourinho's pampered millionaires will change in the club bar ahead of kick-off whereupon they will take to a pitch cordoned on either side by terrace houses whose numbers are dotted on plaques around the perimeter fence. The system is in place so that club officials know which door to knock to collect wayward balls after the match.

“We are surrounded by houses,” says Raven. “If you bash the ball into the stand you are often going into houses after the game to ask for it back. We're in a small community. It paints a little picture of what type of place it is. With the fans being in it would have really played to our advantage because it's compact and it would have been nice and hostile.”

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Instead, the game will be played out in front of the emptiest full house in recent times. More than 5000 tickets have been sold – mostly to Tottenham supporters – but Covid restrictions mean that no-one will be allowed to attend. That figure is just 250 short of Marine's record attendance which has stood since 1949, when a team of touring Nigerian footballers, playing barefoot, beat the hosts 5-2. Five days later, the Nigerian select travelled to White Hart Lane to watch Tottenham play Sheffield Wednesday. It was at the London venue that Raven started out on his senior career, playing a part in a League Cup quarter-final win over Spurs in 2004, having come through the youth system at Liverpool.

Having faced some of the London club's best then, he is unsurprisingly not daunted by the prospect this time around. His biggest concern is one that most of the population can identify with: wondering whether he has caught the virus. Raven and his team-mates are awaiting the outcome of a second round of Covid tests to see whether they will be clear to play.

“We got tested last night [Thursday]. I could well be positive myself; I get the test result back in the morning [Saturday], I just don't know. Everyone is more nervous about that than the game. I think it will only take two or three lads to test positive to call the game off. We have 16 players at the moment; we've lost a couple to the virus already.”

Raven's biggest victory as a professional came in that Scottish Cup semi-final triumph over Celtic but he says a win tomorrow for a squad made up of bin men, NHS staff, teachers and factory worker - whose maximum wage is £300 per week - would top that.

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“It would be a bigger achievement in my eyes just because of the gap between the sides. Obviously there was a gap between Inverness and Celtic but it wasn't as big as this. We're part-time, lads that are working. In terms of an achievement this would be the biggest.”

Having seen off League 2 Colchester United in the first round proper, Havant and Waterlooville, from National League South, in the second and beaten five other teams in qualifying to get to this point, Raven, who works as a coach at Ellesmere College in Shropshire, is just grateful for a new lease of life.

“I thought this was all gone,” he says. “I had made peace with the fact that football had fizzled out and this was a transition to the next thing in my life. I nearly retired in the summer, I was weighing up my options. I was doing a bit of soul searching, 'did I really want to carry on?' It's been the best decision I ever made. We've played these big games and it's been brilliant. I can look back on 2020 with fond memories. I know a lot of people can't, so I'm lucky in that sense.”