Mansfield Town groundsman Michael 'Mez' Merriman relishing big day against his heroes Liverpool
THE festive period has not seem much respite for Mansfield Town's groundsman and kitman, Michael Merriman.
But while days off have been hard to come by over Christmas and New Year as he has battled against the elements at the One Call Stadium, there has still been a smile on Merriman's face.
For the popular 'Mez' has been dreaming of tomorrow ever since the FA Cup draw was made.
Having worked at Mansfield for more than a decade, and also being a huge Liverpool fan, the tie is a dream come true.
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And after first beating the frost thanks to the heated blowers and tented cover to get the replay against Lincoln on last month, he has now been battling the rain to get the pitch right for tomorrow's clash.
Against the Imps, getting the game on proved pivotal as Louis Briscoe sealed a 2-1 win on a freezing night to set up this red hot fixture.
But after the rain turned the pitch into a mire on Boxing Day, Merriman has been working to restore it, a task not helped by constant rainfall afterwards that saw last weekend's match with Grimsby fall foul of the weather.
A drier spell this week has helped matters and, together with 18-year-old son Scott who helps with the kit, they cannot wait to get the game on.
Merriman said: "I can't wait for it. I am a massive Liverpool fan, my son as well. Before this job I used to go regular, with my wife, well, she was my girlfriend then.
"We used to go on the bus from Shirebrook and travel up and then I got this job and couldn't but my son Scott has been a few times recently – a few big ones, like against Barcelona.
"But for the last few weeks it's been busy for us just trying to get some of the water off the pitch and I do the kit as well, so we have been getting that sorted.
"It's the same kit, just with nice embroidery around it with the FA Cup written on the shirt.
"To be fair it has been crazy and we have not had any time off. People break up from their normal jobs and we have been here getting the pitch sorted, looking after stuff at training.
"The Lincoln game was crazy. I have never felt so ill in my life watching a game of football. I don't think I watched half of it.
"It cost us £4,000 for the covers and they were fantastic to be honest. Without that the game would never have been on.
"We have frost covers but they would never have coped with how bad it was, we needed the blowers.
"I have been here about 13 years and I have seen people come and go and big games come and go.
"But this is up there with the best and obviously we want to get back into the Football League but after the doom and gloom of the last few years, this is a nice distraction.
"We will be in early, about 7.30am to give the pitch a roll and mark it all out ready. My son Scott will be putting the kit out, he works with me now. I will get him hanging the kit out. Hopefully then we can sit back and enjoy it!"
Merriman remembers well the day Stags hosted a friendly with Kevin Keegan's Manchester City in the summer of 2003, a game the Stags won 2-1 in front of 6.655 fans.
Some big names with Liverpool ties were there that day but tomorrow, in the FA Cup, with the Reds in town for real, it will be even more surreal for Merriman.
"We were only on about the Man City friendly the other day, as there were a few Liverpool lads here that day with Anelka, Robbie Fowler, Keegan and my lad brought his Liverpool shirt down to get signed.
"They also had David Seaman, Joey Barton, Sean Wright-Phillips. And we beat them as well!
"So it will be amazing watching the Liverpool players walk down the corridor, it is not every day you get to see that."
As for the outcome, is it a giant-killing Merriman wants to see?
Kind of. Although maybe after taking it to a replay at his beloved Anfield.
"I want a draw," he said with a huge grin. "I want to go to Anfield under the floodlights. You can't beat Anfield under the floodlights.
"My first ever game was a floodlit one and I walked out and it was 'wow'. I would have been about 17 and it was against SK Brann in the European Cup and Tore Andre Flo absolutely murdered us.
"We all thought he was signing for Liverpool and then he went to Chelsea.
"There have been some great nights there, it has been frightening really. It would be nice to go there with Mansfield.
"I will be a bit nervous tomorrow but we all have to enjoy it."